The vote is in, the voices have been heard and the loser on the day has been representative democracy for Aotearoa-New Zealand. Pākehā had nothing to lose by voting for the creation of māori wards and increasing representation at a local government level, yet we either offered nothing to the conversation or we actively campaigned against it.
Racism is catatonic. Just try gently suggesting to an educated middle class Pākehā that the opinion they just shared is maybe racist. Watch rigidity and stupidity set in because you see, perfectly nice well mannered, educated pākehā cannot possibly be called racist, not even when in hushed tones “I do not want to appear racist, but . . . .” is uttered.
The ‘but’ here is that we tend to lack the energy, compassion, empathy and compulsion to reflect upon our own contributions to the perpetuation of colonial systems, structures, laws, attitudes and rhetoric in Aotearoa-New Zealand. The fear of appearing racist undermines our ability to participate in the conversations that could change these structures and lead us to actively engage in acknowledging our colonial past. Or in simple terms, if we dropped the fear we could work through how we reduce and overcome the negative impacts of colonialism and whiteness on our treaty nation.
And don’t be throwing about the #notallpākehā crap at me. The claim “I don’t see colour” is a racist diversion. The thing we don’t see is our own whiteness and the ability of whiteness to destroy the vibrancy that could be Aotearoa. Many of us are not even conscious of this whiteness, it is invisible to us. Bell Hooks (1994) described this as the reason that we perpetuate a lack of understanding or knowledge of difference which is the root cause of oppression. Whiteness is a combination of political and economic levers which māori have been excluded from.
For those of us who profess to be allies, the racist mantle will stay for as long as our families, colleagues and our friends claim that our māori whānau have equal access to opportunity in our democracy. You see it’s like claiming in a group made up of three girls and seven boys that democracy is equal. It gives the appearance of fairness until the boys decide that they will move to exclude girls from the meeting table by a simple majority vote. Yes, that is a system of democracy, it is not and can never be a representative democracy. It is also like how we talk about the over representation of māori in statistics and continue to talk about māori issues rather than refer directly to our failures as treaty partners.
Those of us who campaigned against māori wards created and played a fear that pākeha would lose out, that we should take a stand against a group of people who are trying to create a separatist nation, they called the vote a system that would discriminate against pākehā and likened it to apartheid. We worked hard to divide people and block kotahitanga, unity and togetherness and pākehā completely fell for it. Perversely our failure to support the call for kotahitanga means we actively upheld a system of representation that discriminates against our treaty partner which in itself could easily be likened to an oppression such as apartheid.
Finally, I proudly identify as pākehā. We have a strong history and a space in the evolving cultural landscape that is Aotearoa, we are also treaty partners in a treaty nation. Today I have represented pākehā voices as a single homogenous group or collective identifier purely because we expect every person who identifies as māori to be representative of a māori worldview. I thought I would give it a go because I am pākehā and I am pretty sure that I can choose to do that and call it free speech.