The theme of the day was “Exploring dominant culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand: blindness and illusion”.
The first section was “Dominant culture and the construction of päkehä ID' or is it 'kiwi ID' ??”
Avril Bell’s key note set the scene for the first block. Titled “Becoming Päkehä: dominance and its costs”, it discussed dynamics ‘emptiness’ and historical amnesia. The invisibility of Päkehä dominance lead to dynamics where the ‘other’ was a cultural source to be learn about and examined. Avril suggested an alternative to this needing to know everything, to learn humbleness, and to be ok with not knowing everything. The discussion that followed brought challenge about another side of that dynamic. This was that there has already been much harm caused by Päkehä not wanting and needing to know, and whether that could be used as a cop out. That discussion and the keynote brought attention to the fine balance between wanting to know everything about the ‘other’ (and that being an expression of conquest or control), and an “I cant be arsed, it’s not my problem” approach.
Nigel Murphy’s presentation called “Race and the construction of New Zealand national
identity 1890-1907”, brought to the fore that racism, rather than being an anomaly of New
Zealand identity, was core to its construction and therefore still feeds nation building today.
Jacob Otter’s piece named “(Re)Doing whiteness in the pursuit of justice in Aotearoa”
explored the “Lefts” construction of whiteness. He pointed out that while whites have privilege,
there are ways in which that white privilege is subverted.
Will Christie spoke on "Native Päkehä: desire and power at work in dominant constructions of
ethnicity”. She talked about päkehä claims to indigneity as an attempt to ignore colonial
history, aided by the colonial governments reinventing? its identity.
There was a comment about the difficulty for many mainstream päkehä to see and comprehend
that they have privilege .
There was a question from a tangata whenua tane to the päkehä panel asking whether the
panelists feel they have a right to be here. One response was that there is a feeling of
belonging, but not an inherent right. Another response was that the language of ‘rights’ or ‘no
rights’ can lead to ‘guilt’ and a defensiveness, rather than a linking to responsibility related to
the circumstance we find ourselves in. Another flagged the need to be mindful of the ‘notion
of rights’ as its based in a white colonial state language. Also, tauiwi ‘rights’ derive from a
colonial state whose legitimacy is in question.
There was also a reminder that colonisation changed everything for everyone, colonised and
coloniser, forever, and there was a need to examine the connection between obligations and
rights. If there are rights, then what are the obligations?
After lunch the next block was “white privilege and dominance”. It opened with a few poems
from Alison Wong, that helped to ground the conference in the realities and experiences of
Wong Liu Shueng, the keynote speaker for that block spoke on “racism, angst, culture,
experience”. She shared experiences of racism and explained how her experiences spurred her
on to activism.
Discussion following highlighted there was an attitude learnt very young, about having to
know everything, and that there is a right answer.
There was a challenge about the term “banana”, and whether being white on the inside is
something that you want to be reclaim. It’s a problematic term is rejected by others.
A question about the “Mäori renaissance” and its impact on Liu Shueng’s work and Chinese
identity was responded to by challenging the very concept of “Mäori renaissance”. This was
on the premise that that work has always been going on, but non Mäori often couldn’t see it
happening. However, non Mäori suddenly seeing that work, sparked an examination in other
communities as to their own culture, eg why Chinese weren’t teaching their children. She noted
that we speak the unspoken, we figure out our own identity and who we are, and that is our
There was a question about the structural relationship of Chinese with ToW. The response was
that it was sometimes on the Chinese community’s agenda as an issue, and that it was
Meng Zhu shared with us “Activism and being Chinese on colonised land”. She spoke of the
tokenism and other oppressions in a predominantly white ‘Left”. Of the many other
manifestations of oppression that must be eliminated, and seen within wider systems of control,
inequality and hierarchy. That to live in this colonised land means that we live with a colonial
capitalist state characterised by inequality imposed the world over.
Emet Degirmenci pointed to the economic motivations of “multiculturalism” in a consuming and controlling exploitation of ‘ethnic’ peoples cultures in her paper called “multiculturalism- what for?”.
* the links between migrancy and currency, of migrants seen only for their economic contribution. Also whether päkehä culture is willing, ready and able to take on issues
* the binary nature of thinking, “which culture do you belong to?” Being stuck between both, straddling both. That we don’t have to choose one or the other. That there are many identities, and they are fluid. The ramifications of white privilege, and any privilege is, that you don’t have to negotiate these nuances or the tensions of multiple identity, you just don’t have to think about it.
* the point that “indigenous päkehä” asserts a British right, at the same time as Mäori are asserting theirs. So it asserts a right not in an independent sense, but in relationship to, and to match, Mäori. There does exist a mainstream belief that there is a right of belonging because of the generations born here.
* problems and difierences faced by visible ethnic minorities and non-visible ethnic minorities. There was pain and pressure for Greek tauiwi or German tauiwi or Dutch tauiwi to assimilate as Päkehä, and that there were losses involved.
* the shifting codes of whiteness and what it means to be a ‘real NZer’. That the line keeps shifting, from skin colour, to accent, to birthplace, to values etc.
* Indigenous as a term is a somewhat political term in which it states a position to colonisation as historical and land based, as well as the continued state of colonisation. Päkehä cannot and should not call themselves indigenous.
Suzanne summed up with some important and interesting points.
* The pain and loss of becoming white, and the loss of culture being non-Anglo and subsumed into Anglo-dominated whiteness.
* The trickiness of language that native of NZ is not the same is NZ native. Remember ‘right’ and circumstance of living here comes with obligations.
* And that the label “Päkehä” can be an acknowlegdement and acceptance of those obligatons of justice and honouring Te Tiriti and supporting the journey Mäori have taken towards tino rangatiratanga.
* Päkehä culture has a history of dispossession. The Irish and Scots were kicked out, the Brits didn’t want to leave. That grief in white nation building underpins the Päkehä quest for belonging - the pain still held and well as the insecurity.
* That there is Päkehä culture of forgetting. This marks colonial culture, and includes forgetting stories, who we are, and includes destroying census data so we can’t look back, trace back. But we are still who we were.
* The need for humility to keep learning, and to explore the depth of respect.
* For Päkehä to take tokenism on board, and examine motivations and desire, for when Päkehä exoticise, colonial power is not examined.
* “Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always favour the hunters”. African proverb.
Discussion comments included:
* a question regarding the difference between identity and identification with
* Thinking in an either / or way is a trap. That identities exclude and are exclusive, rather than just a self determining term. That rights and identity get seen like something finite, and if someone has some, others will have less, and some will have to go without. There is a focus on scarcity rather than abundance.
* the pressure of “having to earn your rights and your right to belong”. This is the Päkehä way.
* We shouldn’t let our discussions over labels get in the way of discussing the issues
* “Ethnic” has linguistic roots in “heathen, pagan, gentile, as well as tribe and nation”. It is an Anglo protestant naming term for ‘everyone else’. Proposed shift from ‘ethnic’ to ‘minority ethnic’ to define that each group identifies through ancestry and genealogy. That we are recognised as distinct groups, but can share common culture, religion, language and territory.
* Critique of Office of Ethnic Affairs as it enshrines the use of the term “ethnic”. It is a homogenising term, and negates the complexity and fluidity.
* Critique of use of ethnic, as it also a euphemism for race, as race has become unacceptable to use.
* Problems of terminology is that it can mean different things to different people. We use common words to understand each other. Those words have a history, and that history is complicated.
* That if there is a word to describe dominating cultures it is scarcity. That there is the greed, based on the assumption that there is not enough resource to go around. And what underpins greed is fear. The reason privilege can’t be easily given up is the fear and belief that there is not enough.
* Note that the white dominant culture is marked by not sharing, that it tries to win and control everything. So we are asking it to do something it cannot do.
* Note that there seems to be a lot of answers regarding identity and culture, but what is the question?
* Note to go easy on ourselves, that we put a lot of pressure on language and the words we need to use. We don’t need to work it all out right now.
Then we had wine in teacups, lentil shepherds pie, boozy conversation and the usual
networking. And it was the end of day 1.