Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

I thought we ethnic minorities were the ones who were meant to have the identity problems

Haaaang on a minute. I don't know about this 'Chinese' tick-box on the Census. After all, 'Chinese' is an English word. Why should I, like those white New Zealanders resistant to 'Pakeha', use a word imposed upon me from another culture to describe who I am?

Clearly, instead of 'Chinese' the option should be Hanzu. Or Huaren. Or Huayi. Or Hanren. And/or whatever the equivalents are in Cantonese. But definitely not Zhongguoren, as obviously that is a statement of citizenship, not ethnicity, even though it translates in English to just 'Chinese'. To make everything really clear, the phrase relating to Chinese ethnicity on the Census form should be written in Chinese. In both Jianti and Fanti. And Hanyu Pinyin. And Wade-Giles. And that kind of random made-up style they use in Hong Kong. Then there would be no confusion, and everyone (except those Chinese who can't read or speak Chinese) would know we're Chinese.

I mean, 华人. Or 华裔. Or, uh, 汉族.

Yes, don't worry, this is sarcasm - horrible, horrible sarcasm.

Funny how Chinese people in New Zealand don't have these kinds of debates. I don't think this is because of a lack of awareness of the differences between 中国人,汉族 and 华裔 - broadly, 'of mainland Chinese citizenship', 'of Han Chinese ethnicity' and 'inheritor of the culture formed within the boundaries of the historical territory known as China, which could therefore include non-Han ethnic groups, but probably not the ones who really hate us'. No, I think we don't have these debates because it's trivial and pedantic, we know who we are, and 'Chinese' will do just fine, because it's a word that points at us and no-one else.

Responses to my two posts on the matter have been very interesting and all, and even polite and engaging. However, when I say repeatedly on this blog sort it out amongst yourselves, my meaning is not 'email me, a Chinese person, with your opinions on why you're not Pakeha or New Zealand European but 'just a New Zealander'. My meaning is email a white person, for example, Russell Brown, with your opinions on why you're not Pakeha or New Zealand European but 'just a New Zealander'. Because other than pointing out taxonomical problems, and at the end of a long week, I'm just not very interested. Even though it's all very interesting.

To sum up:

Of the unequivocal 'I'm just a New Zealander' opinions I received over the past week, approx 92% were - for want of a less confusing term - basically white. (There was one pro-'Caucasian' email, and one anti-'Caucasian' email, so no agreement on that as an alternative.)

The remaining 8% (two people) were (again, for want of a better word) halfies, who were also an and/or combination of:
a) genuinely unsure as to what ethnicity they were
b) unaware of or subconsciously resistant to the fact that you can put down as many ethnicities as you want on your census form, and that none takes precedence over the other
c) topped with a generous lashing of that everpresent halfie condition - being so sick of always being asked 'what are you?' that even though they were willing to email paragraphs and paragraphs about their interesting whakapapa and multiple identities to a blogger (sheesh!), they felt imposed upon, miffed, weary, even oppressed, when called on to write down between two and four words extra on a Census form.

The basically white 'Just a New Zealander' people who wrote in to claim their 'just New Zealandness' settled into a few groups.
a) The Pakeha who didn't like being called Pakeha, because it's a Maori word, but had an obviously Pakeha identity in the Michael King sense - in that they were of European extraction, and their primary personal and historical affiliation is to New Zealand. For my opinion on that, see introductory sarcasm above.
b) The Pakeha who didn't really mind describing themselves as Pakeha, but didn't seem to be very clear on the difference between an ethnic identity and a national identity or national 'culture', and so didn't see what was inaccurate or misleading about writing in 'New Zealander'.
c) The people who don't like to be called 'New Zealand European' because the British Isles are not in Europe. There weren't too many of these, but I mean, really. Come on. That's about as good as the 'Chinese is an English word' argument.

Group a), aside from etymological sarcasm, were also treated to my (admittedly irrelevant) opinions on what 'Pakeha' means. To me, 'Pakeha' meant exactly how they were describing themselves. Again, I'm just going by the Pakeha expert on Pakeha-ness, right? The Head Pakeha, Mr King.

What they described to me as forming their 'New Zealand ethnicity' was in part relevant to what I see as my New Zealand identity. But I had to point out to them that although they saw it as an ethnic identity that was for all 'New Zealanders', a large part of it was not relevant to my New Zealand identity, nor that of my parents, nor that of the vast majority of recent non-European or even European/British migrants. There are experiences of history and culture in New Zealand that are specific to people whose ancestors came from Europe, who have knocked around here for a while, and who have formed the culturally dominant 'mainstream' group.

I've pointed out to people that yes, their Pakeha culture is specific to New Zealand, you don't find Pakeha anywhere else. I've noted that going by the 'ethnicity elements', New Zealand is the territory that the Pakeha ethnic group has their affinity with. I've said - hey, Pakeha were made in New Zealand. They seem to like this, even if they weren't very warm to the word 'Pakeha' to start with.

I've also had to point out, however, that Pakeha were made out of Europeans.

I mean, hello, this is English we're using here. Was the English language invented in New Zealand? Was rugby? Were lamb roasts, cattle and sheep farming, eating copious amounts of dairy products, and gathering with your family at Christmas around a pinus radiata? Where do meringues come from, and why did anyone care about Anna Pavlova to start with? Who forged this postcolonial nation by fighting fascists in Europe? Um... not my family. If this is 'New Zealand' ethnicity, it is a placeholder for 'New Zealand European/Pakeha ethnicity' - and I'll never be one of them (especially the dairy products and meringue bit).

And that is really the problem. We NZ-born ethnic minorities generally don't have problems differentiating between our ethnic group and national identity, because we've been explaining it to people since primary school when our patriotism would be questioned if we didn't like butter or that horrible, horrible Watties sauce. Which brings us to group b) and the conflicts of taxonomy. To put it as simply as possible:

If you are a white New Zealander who considers 'New Zealander' to be your ethnic group, we have a few more problems. Because I am also a New Zealander. It is my national identity, but not my ethnicity.

First problem: How are you going to differentiate between 'New Zealanders' by so-called ethnicity, and 'New Zealanders' by citizenship and national identity, when you're using the same two words? It's not very practical, using the same term for two very different things. Not very practical at all. I thought you descendents of the British Isles were meant to be good at English? Maybe this is the final snipping away of British colonial ties - rejecting the usefulness of the English language itself.

Second problem: If you are both a New Zealander as a citizen, and 'New Zealander by ethnicity', this implies you are somehow more of a New Zealander I am (given that I am only a New Zealander by citizenship/national identity), and that a pure level of 'New Zealandness' exists that not all of us will be able to attain, probably involving that horrible, horrible Watties sauce.

Okay, this is getting sarcastic again. But here's what I really think. Much of this taxonomical blurring of national identity and ethnicity arises from the pressures people feel from various quarters to either prioritise their national identity, or their ethnic identity. A lot of Pakeha are uncertain about the nature of their ethnic identity (in the way the privileged subject captures all within its gaze but never sees its own face, pomo postcolonial studies, yaddah yaddah yaddah), and so choose to replace it with their national identity. But they do this without realising that their version of national identity is actually a Pakeha version of national identity, imbued with the impact of their European ancestry.

Well guess what - it's not compulsory to choose ethnicity over national identity, nor vice versa. It all changes in context, and some things fit differently in different places. Who you say you are when you're drunk on your OE in Prague is different to who you say you are when you're back home and drunk at the Dog's Bollix on St Patrick's Day. You do not turn up at Customs on your way back from your OE, get to the front of the 'New Zealand passport-holder' queue, and present your Celtic Society Irish dancing competition qualifier's certificate. And you still might, but I will not be turning up at my Census ethnicity question and filling in what it says on my passport.

For plenty of people (yes, even ethnic minorities), ethnicity doesn't matter as much as their national identity as a New Zealander. It doesn't mean they don't have an ethnicity as well. For others, their identity as, for example, a Deaf person is more important than either their New Zealand identity or their ethnicity. But it doesn't meant they're going to turn up at Customs and present their Deaf Association membership card to get back into the country.

And really, that is my last word on the matter. If you are 'just a New Zealander' of European extraction and have problems with how the state and society or even some inconsequential non-white blogger describes you - as I keep saying, sort it out amongst yourselves. I mean it. Scroll up and look to the left - a veritable slew of white people on Public Address for you to email in your quest for identity!

As for me, I should re-Yellow this Peril by shaking off the white-people's angst (they get the whole mainstream media, isn't that enough?), and getting back to the hanzu vs huayi debate. Or at least, quote the opinion of an actual Chinese reader:

Putting "New Zealander" as your ethnicity is nonsense, but I think putting something like "human" is justifiable. Then you're denying the whole concept of ethnicity, and that's backed up by a lot of biological evidence. Of course, doing this would require you to willfully ignore the overwhelming social reality, and we know in whose interest it is to do that.