Updated: Oct 30
By Kate Hatley
Course: SOCIOL 101/G Understanding Aotearoa (S2'22)
I have endured far too many family gatherings listening to distant relatives harping on about the state of racism in New Zealand.
“It’s not as bad as it used to be... why do we even need a tribunal?”
I only see these people once or twice a year. Who let Uncle Roger speak with such brazen disregard for the reality of others? I internally prepare myself to rebut as calmly and eloquently as possible. Once again, I am talking to a wall.
“Maybe white people have always been the problem,” I consider.
White people have definitely always been the problem. Our settler colonial ancestry has imbued us with enduring social privilege rooted in an inherently violent and white supremacist history of oppression. My positionality is a result of my racialisation as white. These charged dinner diatribes are laden with a sense of privilege and ignorance unique to an identity rooted in the oppression and dispossession of others.
I have never doubted my ‘Kiwi’ identity. Perhaps it does require a reevaluation to allow for greater nuance. I am not indigenous to this land, yet settler colonialism has naturalised my positionality to make the contrary seem true. The unique objective of permanent land occupation and eradication of indigenous culture is the modus operandi of settler colonialism (Bonds, 2016). Understanding the direct connection between settler colonialism and white supremacy is important. White supremacy is a “materially ground set of practices” (Bonds, 2016). Merely describing the implications of settler colonialism as ‘white privilege’ does not focus enough on the foundational nature of white supremacy in settler states.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear; colonisation is an ongoing engine of violence. It did not cease with the Waitangi Tribunal, treaty settlements, policy instruments, or dining table discussions. It has only evolved. History does not occur in a vacuum. Prominent Māori scholars like Moana Jackson and Margaret Mutu have written extensively on how to honour the treaty through settling colonisation (2019). Invalidation comes predominantly from Pākehā.
Chinook Fund’s ‘Four Is of Oppression’ is a helpful framework for understanding the interconnectedness of the engines of oppression operating at all levels of society (2015). Each layer – ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalised – has a compounding and interrelated effect on the others. Ideological oppression was the legitimising force behind colonisation, rooted in white supremacy. Ideology then informs the far-reaching institutional oppression in education, law, health and other societal structures. Interpersonal oppression comes from the implications of the hegemonic biases on our interactions with one another. Sometimes this oppression is overt, but often it lurks covertly. Finally, internalised oppression is the internal manifestation of dominant societal narratives. Understanding the interconnectedness of oppression can provide a framework to begin ‘undoing’.
Māori had sophisticated epistemology and ontology pre-dating colonisation. The 4 I’s of oppression highlight the violent suppression of indigeneity. Colonisers have used race and identity as tools to fuel oppressive dialogues to legitimise and uphold white privilege.
I never ‘found out’ I was white. Even something seemingly innocuous as labelling the light peachy crayon “skin colour” in primary school reflects a hegemonic narrative dominated by whiteness. I only began gaining awareness of my privilege in high school through my own effort. I was told I was lucky to grow up middle class and should be aware of those less fortunate. I was not, however, given any deeper analysis as to why things might be this way.
Avril Bell describes national identity as a “fictive ethnicity” created by the state. The individual identity is ‘scaled up’ to the collective, creating a powerful form of unity (2017, p45). However, it is essential to consider who has historically been excluded from this national identity. “New Zealander” would have referred to Tangata Whenua alone before settler colonialism. This literature reminds us that the New Zealand national identity is rooted in a colonial project. It created a sense of belonging and identity for Pākehā to legitimise their occupation of a land not their own. My positionality is rooted in the hegemonic version of New Zealand’s history.
Considering the elements of oppression are interconnected, our conception of liberation must reflect interconnectedness too. Whanaungatanga is a relational way of envisaging liberation, rooted in decoloniality and transformational change. It translates to relationship or kinship and is an integral principle of tikanga (Rata & Al-Asaad, 2019). Approaching decoloniality and positionality through the lens of whanaungatanga identifies the rights and responsibilities of individuals to one another. Furthermore, a more culturally conscious positioning of collaboration invites white New Zealanders to examine their history in relation to others (Bishop, 2014).
The concept of whanaungatanga stands in stark contrast to the Western favouring of neo-liberal individualism. Relationality and consideration of others can only be positive in our effort to ‘undo’ the implications of settler colonialism. Tangata Whenua must lead these discussions to avoid a modern iteration of assimilation via mistranslation. Rata and Al-Asaad discuss the tokenistic and capitalistic overtones of Western ‘diversity discourse’. Indigenous people do not write these conceptions of diversity. Diversity discourse has eroded indigenous sovereignty but asserts a new monoculturalism and assimilation (2019). Whanaungatanga – practised and led by Tangata Whenua – allows indigenous New Zealanders and tauiwi to define themselves in relation to one another.
I am grateful for my growing awareness of my privileges as a white New Zealander. I do not have to face nor fear prejudice from anyone regarding my history. I have never been asked “where are you from” with that inquisitive overtone of otherness. I continue to undo my internal process and face the confronting realities of history.
Racism and institutional privilege are problems for tauiwi to understand, as they are the principal beneficiaries. However, deciding solutions is not for us to decide. Communities must be given genuine agency and self-determination if we truly desire equity. Reflecting on our positionality is no small task, but it can and must be undertaken, one family dinner at a time.
Bell, A., Elizabeth, V., McIntosh, T., & Wynyard, M. (Eds.). (2017). A land of milk and honey? : Making sense of aotearoa new zealand. Auckland University Press.
Bonds, A., & Inwood, J. (2016). Beyond white privilege: Geographies of white supremacy and settler colonialism. Progress in Human Geography, 40(6), 715–733. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132515613166
Chinook Fund. (2015). General Terms and Forms of Oppression. https://chinookfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Supplemental-Information-for-Funding-Guidelines.pdf
Bishop, R., Ladwig, J., & Berryman, M. (2014). The Centrality of Relationships for Pedagogy: The Whanaungatanga Thesis. American Educational Research Journal, 51(1), 184–214. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831213510019
Rata, A., Al-Asaad, F. (2019). Whakawhanaungatanga as a Māori Approach to Indigenous-Settler of Colour Relationship Building. New Zealand Population Review, 45, 211-233
Mutu, M. (Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa and Ngāti Whātua nations) (2019). ‘To honour the treaty, we must first settle colonisation’ (Moana Jackson 2015): the long road from colonial devastation to balance, peace and harmony, Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 49(1), 4-18, DOI: 10.1080/03036758.2019.1669670