Casual Racism or Misunderstanding Privilege?

The latest bit of political nuttery to come out of New Zealand is the founding of the Pakeha Party (which is not currently a proper political party, but may become one). Its platform shows a side of New Zealand that we should be less than proud of.

Their platform tagline is “Equal rights & benefits for all races”, with the explanatory note of “Any additional benefits the Maori ask for exclusively for Maori – we ask for the same things for Pakeha!”. They seek to strip away any support that Maori have gained – but they don’t seem to want equality in terms of poverty, crime, or educational disadvantage.

This highlights a nasty undercurrent of New Zealand society. The idea that downtrodden groups are not really disadvantaged, and that anything offered to them in order to offset their additional difficulties is just favouritism, seems to be very common. I’ve come across similar when talking about women’s health services, or refugee services – this idea that really, everyone just needs to be treated like a middle-class white man, because the needs of the privileged class of people are the only ones that are valid.

Is this really intentional racism (or whatever-ism), or is it a complete obliviousness to the realities of the society that we live in? I know that when I was younger, I felt aggrieved at what I perceived as extra goodies for Maori and Pacific Islanders, and it wasn’t til I learned more about social justice, history, and privilege, that I realised how very wrong I was.

Perhaps part of the problem (in addition to the bloody racism that also permeates our culture) is that people are lacking in the education needed to understand the reasons for policies that ‘favour’ minorities. We study the Treaty of Waitangi at school, but we never really get a good grounding in the disadvantages facing various groups, and the ways that these disadvantages are being (however effectively or ineffectively) addressed.

I was a bright kid, but I didn’t have the frame of reference to understand the reasons that society was set up the way it is. I think that’s a failing of our educational system – to raise a generation that rejects racism, sexism, and whatever other harmful ‘isms’ there are, we need to teach them to know better. Otherwise, casual bigotry stays as part of our national psyche – and that’s ugly.

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