What is fuelling the racist backlash?

The introduction of co-governance as part of the Three Waters reform and the establishment of a new national Māori Health Authority seems to have created a noticeable racial backlash, whether it’s due to opposition to co-governance or, at its worst, expressed as racism.

I’ve been pondering what might be fuelling the backlash.

I have heard people say that they are being made to feel that they should be guilty for being Pākehā, that they shouldn’t be proud to be Pākehā because of the way Māori were treated, particularly from the mid to late 1800s.

As a Pākehā I am proud of my European heritage. I am a fifth generation New Zealander, my ancestors having arrived from Scotland on the Poictiers waka in 1850 on my father’s side.

I personally do not feel guilty for what previous generations did. I don’t see how I can be held responsible for the actions of previous generations.

However, I am deeply saddened and angry at what did happen to Māori as a result of Crown action or inaction. I feel I do have a responsibility to support efforts to enhance Māori well being, outcomes and self determination or mana motuhake, not out of a sense of guilt but out of a sense of natural justice.

I wonder if it’s not so much people or institutions saying Pākehā should feel guilty or not be proud of who they are, rather it’s an increase in profile and focus on te Ao Māori – for example, increased use of te reo Māori on radio and television, and the current focus on Matariki.

Similarly, the profile of migrants from non-European countries is also rising. We enjoy the Indian celebration of Diwali, Chinese New Year etc.

So maybe it’s the absence of profile and focus on things Pākehā. I suspect that sometimes it may feel that Europeans ‘don’t have a culture’ because it seems invisible, it’s just ‘the way we do things around here’.

Pretty much everything we do is based on Western models and systems. For example, our political, education, health and justice systems and Christian religion also came with us, along with our luggage, when we migrated to New Zealand.

Our customs – holidays, weddings and funerals – are based on what happened in the Mother country. When I visited England in the 1990s the only difference I could tell between weddings in England and New Zealand was the preponderance to wear hats at English weddings.

I suspect there is the desire by some Pākehā to return to the way it was – the good old days, when life was simple. English was pretty much the only lingo spoken, food was pretty bland, gender roles were very clearly defined, and Governmental power was pretty much held by white, middle-class males with the odd exception to the rule, such as Māori seats.

I think there is not only room for all of us and our traditions, customs and ways of doing things, but it makes New Zealand more exciting and interesting. I love learning different perspectives on the world, which in turn makes me better understand my own culture.

I welcome and enjoy hearing te reo Māori and other languages being spoken around me, I definitely enjoy the variety of cuisine. Until I moved to Melbourne, I thought Italian cuisine comprised pizza, spaghetti bolognese, lasagna and macaroni cheese. Imagine my amazement to discover the huge variety of Italian pasta and sauces – Ottimo!

I am very proud of the fact that Parliament is now far more representative of people in our communities. This may require a lot more negotiation, but also better reflects the values of all of us.

It’s not either Pākehā/European or Māori or other cultures, it’s and, and, and other ways of being and doing, that makes Aotearoa infinitely more interesting.

Liz Davies, General Manager SociaLink