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On When Racism Comes Disguised As Anti-racism

Remember the good old days, back when New Zealand had a PM who could think and speak calmly and intelligently in whole sentences without blustering? Even while Iran’s drones and missiles were still being launched, Helen Clark was live on TVNZ expertly summing up the latest crisis in the Middle East. A crisis that had been triggered by Israel’s bombing of Iran’s embassy in Damascus, which killed some of Iran’s top generals. As Clark told Jack Tame on Q&A :

“No, [Israel] can’t be justified in bombing diplomatic premises. That’s an absolute no no. So they would have to have expected retaliation from that. It looks like the retaliation is something they can manage, with their defences.

Not a peep of concern BTW, from Foreign Minister Winston Peters about the morality of targeting and bombing diplomatic premises. Once again, Israel has gotten away with breaching a basic norm of international law. In this case, Israel’s cynicism has been breath-taking. After being chided by the US over its genocidal actions in Gaza, Israel attacked Iran, knowing full well that (a) Iran would need to respond, and (b) that this response would bring the US and other Western nations obediently to heel.

Iran, as it turned out, did the bare minimum. It sent a flurry of low level drones and a few missiles that it knew would be intercepted, and then immediately announced that its response to the Damascus outrage was over. Meaning: Iran was refusing to be drawn into the war that Israel was trying to provoke.

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Israel is now a rogue state, and is the single biggest threat to peace in the Middle East. Yet the West continues to be tied to it, and still dances to its tune. More than ever, as Clark indicated on the weekend, there is a need for New Zealand to practice an independent foreign

policy and pick its way through the US/UK attempts to enlist us as a dutiful member of its new coalition of the willing against China, via our membership of the AUKUS pact of military aggression. More immediately, New Zealand needs to avoid lining up behind Israel, despite whatever crimes it chooses to commit.

Footnote: There’s a new word – “mini-lateralism - for the recent American attempts to woo a number of small states into becoming partners in its military and diplomatic rivalries with China. In recent weeks, Japan, Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand have been among the regional nations granted an audience with either Joe Biden or with State Department heavyweights like Anthony Blinken and Kurt Campbell. If only we weren’t being led by narcissists like Winston Peters and Christopher Luxon, who will doubtless be feeling flattered by all the attention.

The racism of anti-racism

The meaning of the word “racism” is being deliberately blurred, for political reasons. Lets re-state the obvious: when people are chronically experiencing worse social outcomes and lower life expectancy due to the colour of their skin, that’s racism. But the targeting of measures to redress those wrongs is not racism – it is justice, long overdue. Only affirmative action by the state can bridge the gaps.

The idea of “affirmative action” was a term coined in 1961 by President John F Kennedy, as part of an attempt to address the racial inequality in modern society, and to achieve something closer to equality of opportunity and representation. What we’re seeing instead from our coalition government is a demonising as “ racism” of any attempt to change a status quo that continues to reserve its main rewards for well-connected pakeha, while having serious negative repercussions for Māori and Pasifika people.

Populist politicians are encouraging white New Zealanders (a) to view themselves as victims, and (b) to resent Maori ‘privilege.’ In effect, the likes of ACT leader David Seymour and New Zealand First leader

Winston Peters are peddling racism under the banner of anti-racism. A series of policies are being struck down that had been aimed at making central and local government more effective in reaching and serving the needs of Māori and Pasifika. According to Seymour and Peters though, any such affirmative actions targeted to Māori and Pasifika in order to address enduring wrongs are “divisive” and “ racist.” As a result :

The Māori Health Authority has been abolished

References to the Treaty of Waitangi have been expunged from legislation

A review of the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi has been flagged

The use of the Māori language has been limited, or removed from within the public sector

The legal requirement for Oranga Tamariki – when removing a Māori child from risk situations – to treat whanau as the most desirable placement option has been scrapped.

The Three Waters legislation on the reform of water infrastructure has been scrapped, amid fear-mongering about the extension of Māori rights to water.

At local government level, the creation of “Māori wards” has been taken out of the hands of locally elected councils, and their existence has been made conditional on what will be – for many hard-pressed councils - a costly referendum process.

The public is being encouraged to treat the sight of brown people congregating in public as inherently intimidating. Laws are in train to prevent Māori gang members being able to wear what they like, to assemble peacefully in public ( at say, funerals) or to ride their motorcycles down the country’s roads and highways.

Some of these changes are petty expressions of pique and resentment. Some are serious. Overall, the Luxon administration is fostering a reactionary discourse on race relations that’s remniscent of the 1950s. Crucially, this regression is being dressed in the populist language of equality and “one rule for all.” This is despite

overwhelming evidence that there has never been equality of opportunity, or the same rules being applied equally to all races in this country.

Instead, the status quo has long been systematically skewed to the benefit of pakeha New Zealanders. Unless that is recognized, and until targeted means of structural change are embraced, we will continue to see the usual, dismal outcomes in health, life expectancy, access to healthy housing, child poverty, income levels, educational achievement, rates of prosecution and imprisonment, and unemployment – in all of which Māori and Pasifika fare significantly worse than pakeha.

Changing these imbalances can’t be left to chance, or to the market, or to the occasional exceptional individual pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, regardless. No doubt, the allocation of taxpayer resources to redress these historical imbalance will be resented by some people as unfair. Recently, the New Yorker magazine pointed this out with respect to the US debate on affirmative action:

Yet, almost from the outset, critics of the policy could be seen impatiently tapping their watches, questioning how long (white) society was meant to endure the patent unfairness of these racial considerations...

But how long, as the New Yorker added, was always the wrong question.

It presupposed that there was a standard speed at which groups whose dis-advantages were the product of centuries of social engineering were meant to recover and achieve. The salient metric was progress, not time. It matters that, half a century after the end of the civil-rights movement, the median net worth of white households was still ten times the median net worth of Black households—a disparity driven by decades of restricted access to education, employment, and housing. These disadvantages were

not simply the product of economic class—middle-class black students in the United States are still more likely to attend schools with fewer resources than their middle-class white peers.

Much the same imbalances – and much the same levels of impatience – also exist here. Seymour knows that his relatively wealthy, historically privileged white supporters are resentful of any special treatment being afforded to Māori. That’s why he’s more inclined to cut school lunches to kids that need them (if they are to have any chance of academic success) than to urge patience, or to promote policies of inclusion. No votes to be won by him doing that.

Footnote One: It should be obvious that (a) race-based oppression and (b) targeted efforts to overcome it are not the same thing. Yet plainly, somebody needs to tell Seymour and Peters that they’re peddling a twisted narrative. Using the power of the state to bridge the gaps, and to create positive outcomes for racial groups that are habitually disadvantaged is the opposite of racism. Just as policies of affirmative action on gender are the opposite of sexism.

Footnote Two: A few people on the centre-right realise this. Former Cabinet Minister Chris Finlayson for instance, made an effort last year to convince the National Party and the wider population that race relations is not a zero sum game i.e. the gains made by one race will not necessarily be at the expense of other races. In reality, we are all likely to end up better off. As Finlayson pointed out, we have nothing to fear and much to gain from the embrace of co-governance.

Too bad the coalition government feels it has more to gain electorally, from the politics of fear and racial division.

The soulful loner

Willie Wright died at the age of 80 in 2020. This was nine years after the re-issue of his obscure 1977 minimalist soul/folk album

Telling The Truth had begun to find him an audience. Think Bill Withers doing Astral Weeks, if Astral Weeks had been written by Curtis Mayfield. All his life though, Wright had seemed oblivious to the prevailing commercial styles and trends.

For example: the title of his hypnotic “Dance Floor” track is misleading. This is as lonely an expression of dance floor isolation (and consolation) as Robyn’s equally great “Dancing On My Own...”


Here’s an earlier example of Wright using his music to warn other folk against making the same mistakes he had. Listen to what your mother is saying, and get an education :


Finally, I like this note Wright once wrote for his daughter, Lisa:

Lisa, here’s a list of things to remember, you most probably know all of these things already, this list is to remind you not to forget. From your father, William C. Garthwright

Take time to work, it is the price of success

Take time to play, it is the secret of perpetual youth

Take time to think, it is the source of power, also take time to talk

Take time to read a book, it is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge

Take time to pray, it is the greatest power on earrh

Take time to laugh, it is also the greatest power on earth

Take time to listen, it is the pathway to understanding

Take time to dream, it is like hitching your wagon to the stars

Take time to love and be loved, it is the gift of God

Read this list from time to time.

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