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Māori Privilege

Māori Privilege

Contrary to what some may believe, Māori aren't privileged citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand. Dr (yes this guy is learned) Jamie Whyte and Winston Peters would obviously beg to differ, as their recent remarks clearly propagate a narrative that belongs in the 19th century. Analysing the situation, it's evident that two major discourses influenced the social actions taken by Peters and Whyte - election year politicking and the ugly social norm of the 'One Law for all' minority (a large minority).

In regards to the first discourse, Whyte and Peters see a political opportunity provided to them on a plate. Let's face it, John Key was never going to give Colin Craig the nod. The Conservative leader is just too much maintenance to handle, quite simply the cons outweigh the pros. Monday's no deal announcement pretty much closed the door for Craig but opened up another door for more 'reliable' (an oxymoron in this case) coalition partners. Queue Whyte, looking to bank on the right-wing voters that were giving the Conservatives a healthy average of 2.5%. After Key gave the thumbs up to David Seymour in Epsom, it would be humiliating if ACT (currently on 0%) failed to get the additional votes needed to get Whyte into parliament, thus the motivation to go fishing on Craig's constituency.

Winston is a political survivor, and is probably looking to maximize on the Conservatives' voters too. In his political career Winston has done what's best for Winston. Ironically the Minister for Māori Affairs in 1990, Peters has since found his 'niche market' in the anti-immigrant and anti-Māori constituency. Wavering just below the MMP threshold, Winston is playing his cards for survival and banking on the old "Māori separatism" narrative to solidify his political future. Winston has distanced himself from Key's National government over the past year, but who could forget his pivotal 7 week charade post-elections in 1996. As Craig becomes more and more irrelevant by the day, Winston is again looking like the 'kingmaker' - he knows if he can secure the conservative-right-wing-One-Law-for-All votes, then NZ First will bump over the 5% threshold.

In regards to the second discourse, Whyte and Winston utilize an ugly 'social fact' - that Māori are privileged - an ideal believed by some even in light of socio-economic disparities. In his speech to a Waikato conference, Jamie Whyte described Māori as "legally privileged in New Zealand today, just as the Aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France."[1] I'm wondering, by privileged does he mean being at the bottom of all social indicators? By Aristocracy does Whyte mean 39% of children living in high deprivation standards; 13.3% unemployment rate; 50% of the prison populace; and "living 7.9 (female) and 8.6 (male) years less than other New Zealanders?"[2] For some reason, I don't think the above paints a picture of a privileged people. Yet some believe otherwise, and this constituency is the group that Whyte and Peters can depend on.

So what does Māori privilege look like? Well on TV One's Breakfast show this morning, Whyte described the Māori electorates and Iwi 'Advisory' Boards (key word advisory) as an upper hand. This type of rhetoric harkens back to the days of Don Brash, who said that "we are one country with many peoples, not simply a society of Pakeha and Maori where the minority has a birth right to the upper hand."[3] It's ironic that a lot of people that propagate or listen to this narrative are well educated. It appears that knowledge doesn't always equate with wisdom (let alone insight), as both Brash and Whyte (who both have a PhD) have trumpeted an illogical logic of neo-colonial racism. Even Winston Peters is calling for the abolition of the Māori seats because they're "extraordinarily damaging for this country."[4] This is pretty hypocritical of Peters, as his party NZ First won all the Māori seats in 1996. The simple fact is that the three aspects - Māori electorates, advisory boards and university scholarships - that are circulated as the characteristics of Māori privilege are far from anything aristocratic.

Indigenous rights are different from aristocratic privilege, and should be honoured. Yes Māori have rights as do all New Zealanders; the only point of difference is 'Indigeneity'. Article 15 of the 2007 UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights, states that indigenous peoples: have a right to the "dignity and diversity of their culture". As an indigenous peoples groups, Māori have a unique relationship with Aotearoa. This may seem undemocratic but sometimes democracy isn't just in and of itself - minority groups always come off second best in a 'majority rules' political environment. You know what's undemocratic? Colonization, but I guess I'm just being ungrateful for my so called 'privilege'. Jamie Whyte and Winston Peters want to get rid of the Māori electorates and other forms of affirmative action. But would New Zealand politics ever come to the point where the Māori electorates are scrapped? Well ironically, in 2008 Key said that National wanted to do away with the Māori seats in Parliament once all historical Treaty settlements are finalized.[5] As National's constituency continues to boom, relying on coalition partners who are similar in race-relation ideology seems more than likely.

This is my Māori privilege: The only 'privilege' I've ever received was being pinned up between a police car and a fence just because I met the suspect's description (I was walking home after Uni). The only 'goods' I've received is the 'Police 10/7' look I get when I go into a restaurant or shop. I didn't get into Uni because I'm Māori and I've got a student loan the size of a mortgage. The only 'aristocracy' I know is being part of a peoples group that's told to get over colonisation. This is my sociological bias, my narrative that is far from the 'privileged' ideal held onto by some in New Zealand society.

There is no Māori privilege, just a socially constructed norm used to get right-wing politicians into parliament and further entrench a negative perception about the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand.


[1] Jamie Whyte Speech: Race has no place in the law http://www.act.org.nz/?q=posts/speech-race-has-no-place-in-the-law

[2] T.K Lewis. Māori = Privileged citizens? http://community.scoop.co.nz/2013/04/maori-privileged-citizens/

[3] T.K Lewis. Māori = Privileged citizens? http://community.scoop.co.nz/2013/04/maori-privileged-citizens/

[4] Winston Peters. No Deal http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/10324092/Peters-No-deal-with-Maori-Mana

[5] John Key http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10534713


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