Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

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Yellow Peril: the identity game

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  • Stephen Day,

    Thank you. After National Radio’s thirty-ish stories yesterday and today on the Asian ethnicity overtaking Maori at some unspecified time in the future I was desperate for someone to point out that, well, Asia is not an ethnicity as such but a rather large continent. As for the New Zealanders – what I’m most amused about the graph in you story is that the ‘New Zealanders’ have been placed right at the far end of the graph in amongst all the minorities. Was this actually their political goal? Anyway, they have now turned this particular set of statistics into a farce. Shame they won’t see it that way.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2006 • 9 posts Report

  • Andrew Feltoe,

    As a 'European' foreigner, I can't help but smile at these ethnic games NZ plays. I was in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was elected. The buzzword of the day was 'reconciliation', which was probably best played out in the six o' clock news.

    Two anchors, one white, one black; one male, one female. They'd take turns reporting stories, but tell each story in one of the different eleven official languages in the country. Even better, the white person would generally speak only Xhosa or Zulu, leaving the European languages (English and Afrikaans) to the black guy. The result was both hilarious and disturbing, as you found that you couldn't understand about a three-quarters of what was going on in the place. But it made me smile, because the message was loud and clear: There's more diversity than you'd thought. Better get used to it.

    So back to Godzone. Bring on the Aye-shans; bring on the Mooz-lems; bring on the Sa-mo-ans. I love it. I reckon it's high time to recognise that NZ is one of the few places around that manages to live together in such diversity without bullets flying, thank God.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 15 posts Report

  • simon g,

    A chocolate fish to the first person who hears somebody come up with these two statements, within, say, ten seconds of one another:

    1) "I wrote in New Zealander - I don't believe we should be labelled in the census"

    2) "and there are too many ethnix - it says so in the census".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1333 posts Report

  • Gary Hutchings,

    Speaking of Ethnicity, There is this gem from Chris Carter a couple of days ago,

    " The contribution ethnic New Zealanders are making to our country is immense"

    Now I know what he was trying to say, but really.....

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 108 posts Report

  • Ben Austin,

    I decided to look at Stats's methadology, and found a report on how they classify ethnic groupings. The citation at the bottom of the page. It seems that there is a multi-level hierarchy of ethnic classifications - starting off with very broad classifications - of which "asian" is one, but then so is "Middle eastern/Latin American/African". The next level allows for more detail, one could then claim to be Chinese or Indian. The level below this then allows for one to claim to be from a paticular state. So it seems that there is a lot of scope for customisation of one's ethnicity, according to Statistic NZ's classfication material. Of course level one does have incredibly broad classifications, of which Asian is one, but there are others which are equally or even more misleading.

    So my thoughts are that Statistics is quite aware of the different ethnicities, and makes allowances for such diversity within the broad classifications. However for some reason the most easily found reports from Statistics refer only to these first level groups. Then what is originally just a term of convenience can then be taken out of context and used as an exercise in demagoguery.


    "An ethnic group is made up of people who have some or all of the following characteristics:

    1) a common proper name
    2) one or more elements of common culture which need not be specified but may include religion, customs or language
    3) unique community of interests, feelings and actions
    4) a shared sense of common origins or ancestry, and
    5) a common geographic origin."

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1027 posts Report

  • R Smith,

    Well, according to the mighty Paul Henry on Breakfast this morning, all those Asians aren't just the same ethnic group, they're the same nationality. Which, unless my knowledge of international geography is incredibly lacking, is just a little bit wrong. (That wasn't even the biggest mistake he made when going over the figures on the show today, but it was certainly the most cringe-worthy.)

    Watching Breakfast before heading off to work in the morning isn't big or clever, but yelling at the TV screen is a great way to let off some steam before the day even gets started....

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 5 posts Report

  • Ben Austin,

    It is a great marketing scheme - Good Morning has news, interviews, lifestyle, weather and an infuriating talk back host - it is all things to all men, a true example of synergistic 21st century programming.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1027 posts Report

  • jon_knox,

    What a fun can of worms! Next census I'm gonna put my ethnicity as "South Islander living abroad", rather being potentially tarred with the Wellingtonian brush.

    Belgium • Since Nov 2006 • 464 posts Report

  • Mark,

    "350,000 'Asians' aren't actually one ethnic group". Well, neither are "Europeans" or "white people". I don't get Mok's umbrage.

    Since Dec 2006 • 28 posts Report

  • FletcherB,

    I also have always had a problem with the Etnicity question.... Not because I dont want to answer, but I always hhad trouble figuring out where I fit..... and not because I'm multi-ethnic....

    What with being a white immigrant from Australia, I've never found Pakeha or European to have any resonance with me, despite I guess, that is where I was "supposed" to tick the box?

    Are they trying to group you to people with similar genetics, or similar social history, or something else?

    If they are simply trying to identify genetics, surely its "Caucasian" that groups together all the white decendents of Europe, be they European, New Zelander, Australian, South African or where-ever else our ancestors spread themselves?

    Alternatively, if "European" is supposed to cover us honkys, where do you put people from Europe who are not white? Or is it intended to be a broad enough term to cover a collection of different peoples in the same way Asian is used?

    I think the question would get better responses if what was trying to be discovered was more clearly spelt out in the form.

    I realize that "ethnicity" probably has a reasonably narrow definition to the people asking the question.... but it seems easily mis-understood by the wider populace (including me).... so maybe they should ask more clearly if they dont want bogus responses?

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 893 posts Report

  • andrew llewellyn,


    If you guys want a giggle, check this thread out.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report

  • larryq,

    It would be easy to classify the 'New Zealanders' as a bunch of old fashioned white racists. I live and mix almost exclusively in the so called beltway with Wellington white liberals (so not exactly a proper sample) and a surprising number of these people classified as NZers, not because they were Brash Orewa suporters, but mainly because they were just tired of the amount of public energy expended in arguing over indigenous ethnic issues. Typically they would be pro the Treaty stuff, OK with their kids learning some Maori, keen supporters of ethnic culture, especially if food was involved.....but just a bit ground down with the emphasis that applies in this country to such issues. Don't be too hard on the NZers, becasue we really don't know what motivated them to self classify as such.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 24 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    The "Middle East" is a region which spans Asia and Africa. Syrians, Israelis, Turks (apart from Thracians), Lebanese and Saudis are all Asian. Egyptians are African. I can't believe that the ignorant idea that Asia stops at Calcutta (or Lahore) has been given official sanction.

    Can Stats NZ correlate censuses? E.g go back to previous years and see what people put? Or determine what their parents identified as?
    Would be interesting to see the comparison?

    (The other options would be to ask people where their mum and dad were born. And for the third generation and earlier, ask where their ancestors migrated from - most people know).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • andrew llewellyn,

    "It would be easy to classify the 'New Zealanders' as a bunch of old fashioned white racists."

    Actually, I object to it on the grounds that the statistics then collected are meaningless. I'd prefer that people treated it like the serious information gathering exercise that it is.

    Jedis notwithstanding.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report

  • TracyMac,

    I have hunted in vain to see where "pakeha" is categorised. Is it under "European", or is it under "Other/New Zealander"? If things like "kiwi" are included in the latter category, it seems likely that "pakeha" is there as well.

    In the 2001 census, pakeha was included under European, but it's quite unclear whether it does now. It also irks me that European is just a diverse a group as "Asian", and also encompasses NZ-born "Europeans". We might as well include Cook Islanders in the Maori statistics. Or shall we just go for categories of "white/black/brown/yellow/coffee-coloured/offwhite"? That'd be just as meaningful.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report

  • djb,

    A bit worried about the "oh it's all too hard for the NZers" line. I think we can lay off those who identify as ethnic "New Zealanders" when the white-dominated media lays off the "Asians".

    Really, there's a union jack in that flag for a reason.

    Whenever dominant cultures start disclaiming ethnicity in favour of nationalism, I get reminded of the LA Times editorial during world war two :

    “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched — so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents — grows up to be Japanese, not an American.”

    The language is cleaned up, but some of those sentiments are still common enough among a certain group of NZers.

    Since Dec 2006 • 9 posts Report

  • Chris Beer,

    Contra Anthony D. Smith, ethnic groups do not fundamentally pre-exist nationality - it can work the other way too, the imagination and practice of nationality can construct ethnicity.

    Underlying most resistance to 'NZer' as a category in my mind (a la Tze Ming Mok) are ongoing projects to deny the indigeneity of many non-Maori within Aoteraoa who would otherwise have a strong claim to being of the space of the country, even if they are not a member of a
    'first nation'.

    Since Nov 2006 • 11 posts Report

  • larryq,

    A bit worried about the "oh it's all too hard for the NZers" line. I think we can lay off those who identify as ethnic "New Zealanders" when the white-dominated media lays off the "Asians".

    The real problem is that when the census says 'ethnic' people read 'race' and that is very slippery concept. It's time the census came clean and either asks what it really wants to know - i.e. are you & your children one of the underachieveing groups in society, or stay away from race altogether and ask about cultural identity - something that people can answer without getting tangled up.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 24 posts Report

  • Heather Gaye,


    That's exactly what I thought when I found out what MELAA means. We've got white kiwi, brown kiwi, white not-kiwi, brown not-kiwi & yellow (plus optional probably-white-kiwi-kiwi). I can understand that it's convenient to group ethnicities into meaningful sizes for easy comparison on a graph; my main peeve is that the graph reflects & propogates this idea that the colour of one's skin is the single most significant factor in determining what kind of "different" someone is, highlighted by the distinction between "other" and "MELAA".

    From the demographer link, but not really related: the idea that maori have "more leverage" because they're the largest minority is kinda laughable given that they're still outnumbered by kiwi pakeha by a factor of 5. Also, notwithstanding treaty obligations (which I'd like to think still offer not-insignificant leverage to Maori as the original habitants), it seems perfectly sensible that other growing ethnic groups in NZ should get growing leverage. Perhaps the article didn't mean to imply that they shouldn't, but all in all it just sounded a little like shit-stirring to me, suggesting that Maori should feel threatened by the asian invasion.

    Morningside • Since Nov 2006 • 533 posts Report

  • rodgerd,

    <QUOTE>A bit worried about the "oh it's all too hard for the NZers" line. I think we can lay off those who identify as ethnic "New Zealanders" when the white-dominated media lays off the "Asians".</QUOTE>

    Yes, well, that's why it's hilarious that a blogger who gets so upset about the over-genrealisation of "Asians" and the oibnoxious inability of people to pay attention to what a fairly disparate group of people want to be called gets her panties into such a wad about the idea that people might not want to be called "Europeans" when they are nothing of the sort.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report

  • Manakura,

    Chris, there is no "project" to deny indigeneity to non-Maori, thats crazy talk. Trust me when i say we are far more concerned with things that matter, like the fact Maori die 8 years before Pakeha, and are much more likely to suffer ill-health than any other ethnic group in their considerably shorter lives. Why would there be are co-ordinated effort to deny something to a group of people that don't have it in the first place?

    See, 'indigenous' denotes a certain kind of relationship to place, land or whenua. It is a Germanic word literally meaning "born of the land", indicating a familial or whakapapa relationship to a specific landscape. Now, it doesn't matter when your ancestors got here, unless they/you have whakapapa that leads directly back to the various mountains, rivers, lakes etc of Aotearoa (i.e. unless you can claim, and prove your descent from the land here) then you are not, and never will be indigenous to Aotearoa.

    This is not to deny tauiwi (non-Maori) there NZ citizenship, or general right to be here,get sunburnt at Piha, or whatever. Its just that tauiwi have an entirely different relationship to the land, being that they identify to a very different cultural milieu. The relationship Pakeha have to Aotearoa may be heavily influenced by Maori, but nonetheless it is different, not based on kinship, and therefore not indigenous. Of course, this may change over a very long time, and I hope it does, as nothing could be better for the land than all peoples of Aotearoa treating it as a cherised ancestor rather than a resource to be exploited.

    Indigenous peoples get a pretty fucking rough deal at the moment, so it is confusing why any non-indigenous person would want to claim this? And unless you are prepared to take on the responsibilities- being Maori is much more about responsibilities than rights, despite what the MSM would have us believe - that come with being indigenous (for example ensuring our values and knowledge is passed across generations which is no easy task when you languish at the shite end of every social indicator imaginable) then I would suggest that claiming the identity is a bit empty.

    Whaingāroa • Since Nov 2006 • 134 posts Report

  • Tze Ming Mok,

    "350,000 'Asians' aren't actually one ethnic group". Well, neither are "Europeans" or "white people". I don't get Mok's umbrage.

    Probably because I was playing tetris Sir Mark, rather than giving or taking umbrage... plink!

    I don't have any objection to the aggregation of the 'Asian' statistic in the overall Census summary - it's neither stated nor gathered as an ethnic group, and there's good data on the ethnic breakdown within the 'Asian' category which is valuable, interesting, and of course usually ignored. But StatsNZ itself does pretty well by our peeps. "Europeans" are also obviously not an actual ethnic group, and neither are "Pacific Peoples". However, people who wrote in "New Zealander" were specifically claiming "New Zealander" as their unitary ethnic group - no argument there, correct? Hence the point in this blog that the Maori demographer should be less worried about the 'overtaking' of Maori by a conglomerated population that isn't actually an ethnic group, than by a group that says that it is specifically an ethnic group, and maybe even an 'indigenous' one at that.

    gets her panties into such a wad

    Ew. Messr rodgerd, as a moderator on this site, could I ask you to refrain from bringing my blameless perineum into this?

    Manakura: yes.

    SarfBank, Lunnin' • Since Nov 2006 • 154 posts Report

  • Chris Beer,

    Manakura: I wholeheatedly agree with most of your assessement of "indigenous" people were you to substitute that term with "Maori" or "First Nation" as appropriate. Yes - I wouldn't want to be Maori given that group's relative health experiences etc. However, that has no bearing on my claims for many Pakeha, Chinese New Zealanders, Samoan New Zealanders, etc. to indigineity.

    In using your particuarly Aotearoan combination of Maori whakapapa and contemporary transnational indigeneity discourse you are implicitly denying all non-Maori indigeneity - in contradiction to your opening statement.

    I agree that Pakeha and their relevant non-Maori fellow travllers cannot claim pre-historical origins linking us as a social group to the place of Aotearoa - whakapapa. However, we can claim indigneity in the sense that we are of the space of Aotearoa - this place has formed us in a way that others from outside of this place are not formed. In contemporary human geography lingo, we should "take space seriously". If you choose to not do this, then you are indeed denying non-Maori indigeneity.

    As you noted, indigeneity is not a Maori concept - thus Maori cannot be its sole gatekeepers.

    Non-Maori indigeneity need not undermine claims of Maori sovereignty or deny their unhappy group experience as a first nation.

    Since Nov 2006 • 11 posts Report

  • Manakura,

    It is such a shame that so many Maori buy into the whole Asian invasion bollocks peddled to us by the MSM - now if you want an example of a 'project' involving ethnic relations the long running attempt to drive a wedge between Chinese and Maori utilising mass media would be a good place to start. The government issued Maori language newspapers of the 19th and early 20th century are full of xenophobia regarding Chinese.

    A more recent contribution to this project would be Deborah Coddington's fractured retort to criticism over her North and South article:

    Statistics NZ projections put the Asian population at 860,000 in 20 years, just 10,000 fewer than Maori. Is this what the tangata whenua envisage?

    This basically mirrors what Tahu, the Maori demographer, had to say about the census figures, and both comments demonstrate exactly why lumping people into broad categories like Asian, European, or Maori is a problem: in devious and/or ignorant hands those particular distortions of reality can be used as a weapon.

    Even labelling Tahu as a 'Maori demographer' creates an issue - such as it implies that she speaks for a considerable section, if not all of some imaginary Maori community, myself included, and clearly she does not.

    Like i posted earlier, rather than reactionary scare mongering, most are concerned with important issues - such as how to unite the octopoid centralised hive mind DDR asian invasion controllor machine thingy with ummm... Tame Iti to create a octo-taniwha-dragon weildy a mighty PC patu. With Wayne Mapp no longer the nations official PC Eradicator, who will save you now?

    Run while you still can.

    Whaingāroa • Since Nov 2006 • 134 posts Report

  • Manakura,

    No Chris in Aotearoa, non-Maori can't claim indigeneity, simply by being here is not what its all about. It is not being present that counts in deciding indigeneity, it is your relationship to land.

    Leaving aside the the patronising aspects of pre-history as a term, I repeat it is not about who was here first, where ever here is. Indigeneity is about being able to look up at a mountain and say that mountain is my ancestor, my great-great-great ... great grandfather or mother. Indigeneity is literally being born OF the land, not born ON the land.

    There is no contradiction in my opening statement - I was saying there is no project to deny indigenous satus to non-Maori simply because non-Maori are not indigenous, by the definition twice outlined above. And if there is a project of this kind then it is a spectacularly redundant one, for the same reason.

    Therefore I implore all Maori radicals, hater, wreckers, insane bloggers and octopi that may be trying to undermine the non-indigeneity of non-indigenes to please stop. Please donate your time and efforts to something that makes sense.

    Whaingāroa • Since Nov 2006 • 134 posts Report

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