Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Identity politics

An open letter from someone named Phillip Temple has arrived in my inbox, urging me to show how proud I am to be a New Zealander by refusing to be categorised by ethnicity at the next census:

"Most people are proud of their ethnicity, heritage and family origins and so will tick whichever box they feel applies to them...Many of us however consider that we, and our families, have been in New Zealand for long enough now that we should be able to claim that as who we are... regardless of where our ancestors may have come from many centuries ago or what the colour of our skin or shape of our face might indicate. If you support us in our desire to be recognised as New Zealanders inour own country then there is only one way that this can be achieved...

On the 2006 NZ Census form, when you are asked for your ethnicity, choose the option "Other" and state your ethnicity as "New Zealander". If we can get enough people to do this then maybe, just maybe, we can get the powers that be to sit up and recognise that we are proud of who we are and that we want to be recognised as such, not divided into sub-categories and all treated as foreigners in our own will have the knowledge
that you have done your bit to help us, as New Zealanders, fight for ourright to be recognised as who we are in this proud and strong country of ours."

Why is it always white males who are most insistent about the supposed fact that 'we're all New Zealanders', and ethnic and other differences don't count? These pious folk have never had the experience of being the only person in the bar with brown skin, grimacing at a Maori joke and looking for the nearest safe exit, or of hearing their classmates laugh when their funny Asian name is read out on the roll on the first day of school.

Ethnic identities are real and important: because of the shape that our history has taken, they help set the scope and limits of the lives of many of their bearers. Phillip Temple's lack of awareness of this fact is shown by his idiotic talk of 'our proud and strong country'. I am not proud of owning a passport issued by a nation built on genocide, sustained by the gross exploitation of the Pacific and other parts of the Third World, and currently serving as a guard dog for the United States in Afghanistan. My favourite New Zealanders are people who have interrogated the identity that their place of birth gave them, rather than wallowing in jingoistic celebration of it.

Pakeha identity has to be constructed out of a coming to terms with the facts of New Zealand history and New Zealand's place in the world. Supporting the All Blacks or wearing a bone carving isn't enough. I'm for the nationalism of ARD Fairburn, who could write this paean to New Zealand:

Men and women, hands and faces; a nation established
by statute-makers, geographers, census-takers;
living like fleas in surface dust...

Our credit holds, the chain is long;
but the faithful hound has a name upon its collar;our gold was shipped away to prop
the pound against the dollar.
We are the Empire’s Junior Partner
and we have no gold: what shall we do in the day when we shall be asked for?
Nothing. We shall not be asked. We shall be told.


Anonymous Liv said...

Yep. Elin Diamond has a nice term: 'The violence of "we"'

10:10 pm  

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