Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

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Yellow Peril: the identity game

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  • Stephen Judd,

    From Don Brash's valedictory speech today:

    A country where I can watch my 13 year old Eurasian son playing happily with a dozen of his friends, and count two Chinese, one Korean, one Sri Lankan, one Eurasian, six Pakeha, and the grandson of a Maori activist - all of them New Zealanders.

    Let the deconstruction begin!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    all of them New Zealanders.

    But we don't want any of them tick to that box in the census form though do we? :)

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Let the deconstruction begin!

    Well, for a start, the speech was yesterday.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    - unless you're talking of eggs then a "dozen" usually means a large but not too large number, not exactly 12. Must be all those years at the bank.

    - six pakeha - plural sans "s", as in Maori

    - he missed out the turtle doves

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    fletcher, i agree completely. there's documentary evidence from france that a person can have great education, speak perfect french with no foriegn accent, be wealthy, blah blah blah, and still not be regarded as 'french'. why? black. a lot of countries are like that.

    dc_red. dunno. it's like i'm stereotyping stereotypers. which is fun in itself. that said, a lot of those 'new zealanders' were probably just passionate about their identity, and not necessary reactionary bigots. not that you named any.

    and finally debs. you've clearly demonstrated the problem with introducing rationality to identity politics. the externalities you indicate need to exist separate from the two participants, but also be shared by them. two people don't make an identity group, but a large number of persons sharing a 'imagined community' do. enter mr. benedict anderson.

    the kicker is that you have to identify with that imagined community, and have your identification verified by other members, plural. or else your identity will be 'fraught'. it just defies rationality because the process is so highly reflexive, subjective, and downright 'ornery.

    witness the loonies claiming to be waitaha maori.

    PS. yamis, ran out of time.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Che said:

    and finally debs. you've clearly demonstrated the problem with introducing rationality to identity politics. the externalities you indicate need to exist separate from the two participants, but also be shared by them. two people don't make an identity group, but a large number of persons sharing a 'imagined community' do.

    Yes. That's exactly why we feel as though there is a 'fact of the matter' - there does seem to be some intersubjective understanding of who is, and who isn't a member of the community. And it seems to have some basis in fact... and that's exactly why we think someone can be mistaken about what they call themselves.

    There's a great piece in Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ivison, Patton and Sanders (eds), Cambridge University Press, by Audra Simpson. She's a member of a First Nation, and the piece is all about the day-to-day understandings, and rules, of the Nation about who is in and who is out.

    Fascinating stuff - maybe I should toss in my job and go back to the less lucrative, but much more interesting work of doing political theory....

    BTW, am I the only 'Pakeha' who is offended about being lumped in with all the 'New Zealanders'?

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    What? Did pakeha get aggregated into New Zealander rather than New Zealand/European? There are a lot of people I know who deliberately wrote pakeha to swizzle both the "let's all be indigenous" line and the suggestion they're from anywhere else.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Did pakeha get aggregated into New Zealander rather than New Zealand/European?

    I don't know what happened to it.

    I do know that even if I am mistaken about what I am claiming about myself, what I was trying to claim was that my ethnicity was formed here, and that it is distinct from people who claim Maori ethnicity. I most certainly don't want to make some sort of statement about us all being exactly the same, or all being indigenous now.

    So I am disappointed that there hasn't been any discussion or reporting of people who are making the 'Pakeha' claim.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Just took a look at the data on the Stats website - can't find Pakeha anywhere in the ethnic group counts.

    Here's what Stats says ethnicity consists in:

    An ethnic group is made up of people who have some or all of the following characteristics:
    a common proper name
    one or more elements of common culture that need not be specified, but may include religion, customs, or language
    unique community of interests, feelings and actions
    a shared sense of common origins or ancestry, and
    a common geographic origin

    Seems to me that 'Pakeha' is consistent with that, so why hasn't it been reported? Stats have reported the 6 Corsicans, and the 12 Orkney Islanders.

    They seem to be exercising some sort of moral judgement about what is an acceptable answer. I have lucked out on two counts; I'm not allowed to be an aetheist (that's - "there are not gods", not just, "I can't be bothered to have a religion"), or a Pakeha (c/f NZ European, or New Zealander).

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    On that note and since the rum and coke is starting to wear off, meaning I am finding TV boring and need something else to do, ie. rejoin this argument....

    Using the two criteria for 'having' an ethnic group that have been mentioned (stats NZ first and M Brown second) lets see if "New Zealander" fits (in my opinion of course as some will beg to differ).

    According to stats NZ...

    1) a common proper name
    Check. New Zealander (429,429 people agree)

    2) one or more elements of common culture which need not be specified but may include religion, customs or language
    Check. english and a sprinking of Maori here and there, sport, beer, horse racing, fishing, summer holidays at the beach, marmite, gumboots, bush walks, hunting, flying nun bands ;) .....

    3) unique community of interests, feelings and actions
    Check. see above for community of interests. For feelings and actions take a look at our political beliefs regarding no nukes, no going to war in Iraq. Quite distinct from those "Europeans" we are said to have come from, or our Aussie neighbours, or the red, white and blue flag flyers.

    4) a shared sense of common origins or ancestry, and
    5) a common geographic origin."

    Check. Origins being in NZ, typically (though not exclusively) from parents born in NZ, and grand parents born in NZ. Geographic origin = anywhere in NZ/Aotearoa (what a beautiful name Aotearoa is. Had to sing the national anthem in assembly today and it rolls of the tongue so nicely at the end of the Maori version).

    According to M Brown...

    1. the group must have a name for itself;
    Check. "New Zealander".

    2. the people in the group must believe in a common ancestry;
    Check. See above.

    3. the members of the group must share historical memories;
    Check. Saying otherwise would be akin to saying that not a single thing has happened in NZ ever that had anything to do with us.

    4. the group must have a shared culture, generally based on a combination of language, religion, laws, customs, [etc];
    Check. see above.

    5. the group must feel attachment to a specific piece of territory, which it may or may not actually inhabit; and
    Check. It's called New Zealand or Aotearoa.

    6. the people in the group have to think of themselves as a group ... the group must be self-aware.
    Check. "New Zealanders".

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    They used to aggregate New Zealanders into Other, and before that, into NZ Euro/Pakeha - see the note at the bottom of the graph at the start of the post. The last census, they decided to count them as a distinct group. Who knows what they're doing with pakeha these days. I would assume it would be aggregated into NZ European.

    This is an illustration of "others agreeing you are a member of x" principle, I think. There's a certain amount of classification I think the statistical people do so that some sort of order can be applied to people's diverse experiences. It's not like Itunes where you get an entry for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and another entry for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Well, yes, but that doesn't explain why Stats can distinguish the 54 Gaelic from the 12,651 Irish, but not the however many Pakeha as a subset of the 2,381,076 NZ Europeans.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    They absolutely must distinguish Pakeha from NZ European because as I've harped on earlier, Pakeha has come to mean non-Maori and therefore there may be many who wrote it who are not 'European'..

    I would also think that those writing Pakeha may prefer they be lumped into "New Zealander" ahead of "New Zealand European" if they do have to be put into another category.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I would also think that those writing Pakeha may prefer they be lumped into "New Zealander" ahead of "New Zealand European" if they do have to be put into another category.

    Not me. I would go for 'NZ European' way, way, way ahead of 'New Zealander'.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    I'm just saying that based on Pakeha becoming a 'non racial' term (well to the extent that it doesn't distinguish what specific ethnic group you are from) whereas New Zealand European is making assumptions about where you or your ancestors are from. "New Zealander" on the other hand is also non specific on skin colour, ancestry...

    Hard to argue on this topic where sweeping generalisations are virtually impossible to avoid.

    On something else I was checking.

    There are about 205,000 actual 'European's' living in New Zealand according to the 2006 census. That's not counting Australians, Americans and Canadians or white South Africans. A pretty healthy number. More than half the number of "Asians". If you throw the 4 nations I mentioned in then it climbs to around 250,000.

    I wonder in 20 years time how many of them and their kids will be ticking "New Zealand European" category and how many New Zealand Europeans will be ticking "New Zealander".

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Sonal Patel,

    Um Yamis?

    So who decides what makes an ethnic New Zealander (as opposed to only having your nationality as New Zealander)?

    I'm from an ethnicity that's thousands of years old so it's a bit easier for me but wouldn't there have to be an academic agreement on how the criteria would fit (what constitutes common culture/values etc)?

    Please don't say I'm going to hear the words "bedrock New Zealand values" and "mainstream" any time soon ...

    Brisvegas • Since Nov 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Manakura,

    Yamis, I hate to be pedantic, but its te reo you're misquoting so I feel obliged...

    The word tauiwi is generally used to mean non-Maori, not Pakeha. Pakeha is more specific, especially in contemporary usage. Its broadest definition is 'white person' (in the online Ngata Dictionary). But I commonly hear it used to denote 'NZ Europeans' or just 'Europeans', depending on context. Most Maori I know seem to recognise a fine distinction between those two categories.

    Anyway, not being a te reo Maori expert, I realise I can't think of what words we use to denote Thais, Chinese (notwithstanding Tze Ming's finer distinctions), Canadians, Korean/Pakeha children, etc etc.

    My two cents on the 'ethnic NZer' debate is that there definitely seems to be a distinctive identity emerging, predominantly amongst NZ Europeans. This I think Maori would usually refer to as Pakeha culture. However, the fundamental paradigms that this emerging identity functions on are definitely from 'somewhere else' as Prof. Smith calls it.

    That's an obvious and kinda boring point. What is interesting for me is

    a. Why don't the erstwhile 'New Zealanders' want to own the term Pakeha? Why not make a positive reclaimation of the term from its more recent perjorative shades of meaning? (I have my thoughts on this, but I am interested to see if others share them...)

    b. Where do/don't non-European NZers fit into Pakeha identity (from a Maori perspective i mean), such as your proverbial 7th generation descendent of a Chinese goldminer as opposed to the Burmese Christian refugee family my flatmate 'looks after' (via an RMS programme).

    I know a lot of Maori identify more strongly with white NZers than Asian, Arabian... no wait MELAA's (lol!), and are often more hostile to these peoples than Pakeha, which is utterly mad. Correct me if I'm wrong Tze Ming, but I doubt the octo-tiger-dragon-peril had much to do with recent travesties of justice, such as the Foreshore and Seabed Act, or much at all with the negative aspects of colonisation? Who knows, maybe Helen Clark is the revived post-op mummy of Chairman Mao that some of the peeps over at kiwiblog think she is. (My pick, as ever, is Evil Robot Overlord, definitley no Made in Taiwan/China tag on the collar!)

    What on Earth am I talking about? Thesis draining my sanity...

    Whaingāroa • Since Nov 2006 • 134 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    Manakura: In my experience things are much more mixed up than you describe in your reply to Yamis.

    Consider what Michael King says in the introduction to his Being Paheha Now. He first tells us that "Pakeka" is 'derived from the Maori word "pakepakeha" meaning fair-skinned folk.' then he immediately turns to "pakeha"'s contemporary meaning or meaning-in-use. He says:

    It [i.e. 'Pakeha'] simply denotes people and influences that derive originally from Europe but which are no longer 'European'.

    Now in his very next sentence King adds that:

    'Pakeha' is an indigenous expression to describe New Zealand people and expressions of culture that are not Maori.

    And the whole argument of King's book flip-flops back and forth continually between the two readings (the flip-flop's even there in the blurb on the back cover!). That's fairly typical in my experience. Ms Mok is definitely a possible "pakeha" if actual use counts for anything.

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Manakura,

    Stephen, not sure tha you read/understood my post correctly (probably the latter, I cease making sense after midnight). I would suggest that for a start that my sense of Pakeha is probably much more complex than King's - his is NZ-based culture that is not Maori is Pakeha (according to your post - I haven't read the book, because Being Pakeha Now is kinda like part of my lived experience, why read the manual?). I'm more interested in all those little grey areas in that big non-Maori area. Hence my references to migrants, refugees, and their descendents.

    But um, Michael King is Pakeha historian, my angle is how Maori use 'Pakeha', 'tauiwi' etc, which may or may not be different to Pakeha usage. (The pakepakeha theory is but one etymology for 'Pakeha' btw - I've heard some very interesing very interesting tracings of that word from native reo Maori speakers, but I'll save that for tmoz maybe.) My question is how do us Maori make those sorts of fine distinctions amongst all the different non-Maori peoples that have settled the whenua?

    What I disagree with in King's analysis is Pakeha being "no longer European." As far as I can tell Pakeha culure is still fundamentally based on Western paradigms: logocentricism, nationalism, faith in reason and posivitism, liberal democracy, culture/nature dualities and so on.

    If we drag up good old Kant, then I am saying Pakeha culture is substantially European/Western but has many attributes that are local (I like that term as an alternative to Pakeha falsely using 'indigenous', nice one whoever here suggested it). But to say Pakeha are no longer European is stretching the imagination, let alone the intellect. Pakeha simply have not made any fndamental/structural changes to the culture necessary to longer be European. It's sort of like saying Maori are no longer Polynesian, which is rubbish.

    As for the second quote, well, if by indigenous he means Maori, then I am not sure he is right. I'm not sure what your experience of Maori using 'Pakeha' is, but I've never heard it applied to non-European people before. However, there are grey areas, as potentially not all Pakeha are European. But I'd wait for Tze Ming to reply before tarring her with the 'possible Pakeha' brush.

    Ms... eh?

    Originally an 18th-century abbreviation of Mistress (compare Mrs); adopted by feminists from the 1970s onwards as a non-sexist title that does not reveal or assume the marital status of the woman to which it is applied, by analogy with Mr, which functions in this way

    (from wiktionary)

    How revealing, but of whom...

    Whaingāroa • Since Nov 2006 • 134 posts Report Reply

  • dc_red,

    Yamis - thank you for the analysis of definitions of ethnicity. Clearly, "New Zealander" does meet both the Stats NZ and the M Brown tests. Easily.

    Sonal - I think I know what you're getting at with the distinction between ethnic and national identity, but again, look at the Census form. Most of the "example" ethnicities given in the tick-boxes are also national identities and citizenships: Samoan, Tongan, Dutch, etc. In fact some (Che?) might say they are purely national identities/citizenships.

    In light of these examples, the NZ European category makes even less sense. If one is descended only from white Dutch immigrants to NZ, is one always "Dutch" or at some point does one become a "NZ European", and when can one tell? Is it possible to be "New Zealand-Dutch"? And how would such an answer be recorded by data entry drones (my hunch: as "New Zealander" and "Dutch")? Honestly, it does my head in.

    Oil Patch, Alberta • Since Nov 2006 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    The issue I have is this:

    If I were writing in "New Zealander" I would be assuming that the culture and heritage that I share with a lot of other people can sensibly be referred to by a name that makes it sound like it's the culture and heritage of the whole country. It either ignores any other cultures in/of the country - and they are there - or downgrades them.

    No matter what the motives, it looks like cultural chavanism.

    One assumes a lot of people writing that in are white - especially judging by who would respond to that email campaign. But the above graph doesn't actually show that - "New Zealander"s were added to European in 01, seperated in 06. Problem solved. If you had the raw numbers, they might tell you something.

    I've never actually read "New Zealand European" as implying a personal connection with Europe. But my culture and my heritage originated with white Europeans (yes, Britishers) and was transplanted here long enough to now be well distinct. Hence, they put the "New Zealand" bit first.

    Personally, I would prefer Pakeha, even in the face of all the debate above. But there are plenty of people I would call that that wouldn't want to be called it.

    Of course, "New Zealander" also messes up the statistics - if everyone who felt that the mere desrciptor "New Zealander" applied to them actually wrote that in, we wouldn't have any more ethnicity information than we did before asking the question.

    I don't pretend the forms are perfect now - and this question is apparent exactly the kind of thing they have huge debates about in statistics conferences.

    I would submit that the bulk of the countries mentioned on the form might actually have a more homogenous or uniquely local culture than us.

    I am a New Zealander. But what I share with all the other ones, other than country of origin, I can probably find out more about looking at this thread than into my heart.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Most people would categorise themselves according to the situation the are in. Take Maori, depending on the circumstance one could opt for Maori, tribe or hapu depending. Many non-Maori might call themselves a New Zealander at times and Pakeha at others (for sport it might be NZer for politics it might be Pakeha for example).

    It's the surrounding narrative circumstance that will influence how one identifies and the choice of words used to describe that identification. One thing people find it very hard to do is not identify with a group - something I find more of a worry (look at the problem with soccer supporters in Glsagow).

    A problem with something like the census is that it strips out the story.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • dc_red,

    If I were writing in "New Zealander" I would be assuming that the culture and heritage that I share with a lot of other people can sensibly be referred to by a name that makes it sound like it's the culture and heritage of the whole country. It either ignores any other cultures in/of the country - and they are there - or downgrades them.

    I don't know - to me "New Zealander" suggests a culture and heritage that is (relatively) unique to this country, but does not imply superiority over, or exclusion of, other cultures, including hybrids. In any case, the introduction of something called "culture" further muddies the waters: culture/ethnicity/national-identity/citizenship.

    Of course, "New Zealander" also messes up the statistics - if everyone who felt that the mere desrciptor "New Zealander" applied to them actually wrote that in, we wouldn't have any more ethnicity information than we did before asking the question.

    Methinks the statistics are already a mess, but if people write in New Zealander then we do learn something - lots of people feel that they are New Zealanders, and not some other ethnicity/nationality/citizenship/culture or whatever.

    Oil Patch, Alberta • Since Nov 2006 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Glaister,

    Manakura: I agree that the usage you suggested for "Pakeha" acording to which it doesn't mean non-Maori is fairly orthodox. My only point was just that there are many non-orthodox uses of the term, both in ordinary life and by perfectly well-respected authorities.

    But of course the mess doesn't stop there. Sometimes "Pakeha" is used to pick out people specifically of NZ by exact analogy with "Maori" - there are lots of polynesians elsewhere but Maori just come from here, and similarly for Pakeha on this view, i.e., there may be lots of white folk in North America but Pakeha only come from here. But - seriously - a major use of "Pakeha" contradicts this suggested use. Particularly in treaty activist communities in my experience "Pakeha" is widely used to mean white so that you often hear people describing/decrying Australia or wherever as "just more pakeha culture".

    So... at least if actual use is any guide, "Pakeha" splits at least four ways: ring the changes on white/non-Maori and of/not necessarily of NZ. For these sorts of reasons (as well as many others), one who cares to speak and think precisely must either invent a precise technical usage and try to badger people to go along with it or simply avoid the term. I tend to do the latter. I regard your efforts as a version of the former, albeit you're not especially clear that that is what you are doing. But doubtless that's me being logocentric, or something. I'm certainly always two with nature.

    Since Nov 2006 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    FYI when I think about defining ethnicity I think of "shared culture and heritage". But - and this is one place where you have to stop and think when using the other definitions - that's far wider and deeper than having some things in common. If you want real rigour, 'ethnicity' doesn't define too well; if you don't, being able to find flaws isn't all that impressive. I know it when I see it.

    I'll try this way: If you name the ethnicity that you identify as your own as "New Zealander", people who are ethnically different to you are not New Zealanders. No matter, for example, where they come from or who (which) was here first.

    lots of people feel that they are New Zealanders, and not some other ethnicity/nationality/citizenship/culture or whatever

    I was thinking of for the purposes of demographics.

    And no amount of internet comversation will shake from me the belief that those people do have an ethnicity that could happily fall into one of the other categories.

    I'm reminded of people of perhaps the previous generation who felt we had no national culture. Now, there's been a lot of mixing, change and narrating since then, but I would submit that there was something there - it's just hard to see it when you're standing in the middle of it.

    I'm still working of precisely how that's relevant, though. And I think I'm basically talking about pakeha there.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

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