The white man. The only person who can be racist.

Over the weekend, we had the comments from Margaret Mutu, Head of Maori Studies at Auckland University, saying that we should reduce the number of white people migrating to New Zealand. Now, she’s said those comment’s can’t be racist, because it’s not possible for Maori to be racist.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to be more disturbed by these comments. Not only does it sort of fuel the stereotype that Maori aren’t too smart, it also makes me wonder if there is any hope for this country.

Now, let’s be clear, Mutu said that comments can only be racist if the person who makes the comments has power, and the Maori, according to Mutu, have no power in this country, so she can’t be racist.

First, let’s look at the definition of racism. According to the Collins Concise English Dictionary:

1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some raceswith an intrinsic superiority over others,
2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief,, adj◇ racist ‘racialist, n

How about the Oxford Dictionary?

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race , especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races:theories of racism

prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:a programme to combat racism

So, both definitions don’t mention power. They simply say if you think someone is better or worse because of their race or should receive more or less because of their race, you’re a racist.

But, let’s actually work with her unjustified definition here for a second. If you say something that is against another race when you’re in power, it’s racist. She says that’s not possible because Maori have no power in New Zealand. So let’s define power. We’ll just go with the Collins Dictionary this time, because the formatting of the Oxford Dictionary gets weird when I copy it to here, making it take forever to correct the formatting. So, power is:

1. ability or capacity to do something,
2. (often plural) a specific ability, capacity, or faculty,
3. political, financial, social, etc, force or influence,
4. control or dominion or a position of control, dominion, or authority,
5. a state or other political entity with political, industrial, or military strength,
6. a person who exercises control, influence, or authority, he’s a power in the state,
7. a prerogative, privilege, or liberty,
8. legal authority to act, esp in a specified capacity, for another, the document conferring such authority,
9. a military force, military potential,
10. the value of a number or quantity raised to some exponent, ;exponent,
(another name for)
11. the probability of rejecting the null hypothesis in a test when it is false. The power of a test of a given null depends on theparticular alternative hypothesis against which it is tested,
12. a measure of the rate of doing work expressed as the work done per unit time. It is measured in watts, horsepower, etc, P,
13. the rate at which electrical energy is fed into or taken from a device or system. It is expressed, in a direct-current circuit, as theproduct of current and voltage and, in an alternating-current circuit,as the product of the effective values of the current and voltage and the cosine of the phase angle between them. It is measured in watts, (as modifier) a power amplifier,
14. the ability to perform work,
15. mechanical energy as opposed to manual labour, (as modifier)a power mower,
16. a particular form of energy, nuclear power,
17. a measure of the ability of a lens or optical system to magnify an object, equal to the reciprocal of the focal length. It is measured in dioptres, ; magnification, (another word for)
18. (informal) a large amount or quantity, a power of good,
19. (plural) the sixth of the nine orders into which the angels are traditionally divided in medieval angelology,
20. in one’s power, (often foll by an infinitive) able or allowed (to)
21. in someone’s power, under the control or sway of someone,
22. the powers that be, the established authority or administration,vb(tr)

So, I made the four important ones here bold. They are “the ability or capacity to do something”, “political, financial, social, etc, force or influence”, “control or dominion or a position of control, dominion or authority” and “a person who exercises control, influence, or authority, he’s a power in the state”.

Let’s start with “the ability or capacity to do something”. Maori have every opportunity to be successful in this country. Some don’t for reasons outside of their control, others don’t for reasons well within their control. However, I think we have to remember that Maori actually have more of an “ability or capacity to do something” when it comes to politics, whether local or central governance. Look at Auckland Council with it’s Maori Statutory Board. Or the Maori electoral seats in terms of central governance. Both of these also link to the second definition. 1-0 to Maori having power.

Authorities like the Waitangi Tribunal, the Maori Land Court, and other Maori only areas of authority really prove that Maori do have political influence. The Treaty of Waitangi may not be in legislation at all, but the “principals” of the Treaty, a series of ideals formed by the Waitangi Tribunal that bear no resemblance at all to the actual Treaty do. That’s further political influence. 2-0 to Maori having power.

I think we can bring the last two together and use all that has been used to prove the first two in order to say, yup, the Maori have the four definitions of power in their favour. So even under Mutu’s definition, her comments are racist.

It does scare me a bit that this country is going down the road of saying “only the white man can be racist”. That’s the sort of behaviour that puts us in the position the UK is in right now. English people feel like foreigners in their own country. They aren’t allowed to put up the English flag on Saint George’s Day, their national day. However, the Irish flag will be all over the place on Saint Patrick’s Day. That’s just one example where the English are being told that it’s racist for them to be English. It’s wrong there, and it will be wrong here if we do go further down this path.


About Daniel Farrell

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Posted on September 8, 2011, in New Zealand Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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