Waitangi Day blues

Waitangi Day is difficult for Māori and Pākehā alike, although often for very different reasons.  It’s not even the day itself, rather, the Waitangi Day period involving the lead up, the day, and the aftermath.  It’s that time when we disclose what most of us probably repress for most the year without nearly the level of reflection required when we are feeling hypersensitive, which perhaps leads to less tolerance of those with opposing attitudes.  For me personally, it’s a time where I experience multiple feelings, often sadness and anger, and very rarely hope. Although, I’m not one to consider it a day to celebrate, well, not yet anyhow.

So while our newspapers and media channels are more often than not littered with stories depicting Māori as greedy or savages against their more civilised and generous counterparts, its hugely refreshing to read a post written by Andrew Robertson on his Grumpollie blog on Pākehā attitudes to bi-cultural policy.

Robertson writes that a couple of studies (by Chris Silby) that he contributed to found that:

Pakeha tend to embrace the symbolic aspects of bicultural policy (ie, it’s good to incorporate Māori culture and values into mainstream NZ culture), but oppose its resource specific aspects (for example, Māori claims to the seabed and foreshore, and affirmative action policies). The few Pakeha who do embrace the resource specific aspects of bicultural policy are those who experience a sense of responsibility (termed collective guilt) for historical injustices.

I have engaged with many Pākehā who are wholly supportive of Tino Rangitiratanga, often expressing their regret over the actions of their colonial predecessors and committed to the full healing process, that goes beyond the monetary settlements that the Government consider sufficient.

But more often than not (including some in my own close group of friends) I’ve encountered Pākehā who insist that Māori ought to just get over the past, because they (Pākehā) are not responsible for the wrongs committed by their colonial ancestors.

It is this attitude that I believe is the most damaging to the Waitangi Day period, because it denies Māori the freedom to express their grievances both historical and contemporary without being re-victimised.

Confession: my main weakness is in failing to find the courage to confront the attitudes of those closest to me because I worry about offending them with my apparent ‘radicalism’, despite the intentional insults directed at my culture.

This is why I find Robertson’s post very relevant and refreshing. It provides an interesting angle on which to confront those attitudes.

Robertson writes that:

the second study illustrates two theorised psychological processes that operate to produce prejudice

and that the study found

Pakeha attitudes towards the resource specific aspects of bicultural policy were based more in the psychological ‘competition/group superiority process’ than the ‘danger/cohesion process’…

Which supports the theory that:

…refuting collective guilt (ie, it happened so long ago, it’s not our fault anymore!) helps Pakeha to justify (feel better about) the expression of negative views on the resource specific aspects of bicultural policy

I think this study illustrates that it is not Māori holding up the process to a unified NZ, it is Pākehā who refuse to acknowledge and abdicate their prejudices. This is further evidenced by the highly contentious symbol displayed on the front page of the New Zealand Herald today, a symbol generally associated with ‘white power movements’ (white, clenched, raised fist h/t @AniOBrien). Additionally, the message implied that Waitangi Day is ‘typically’ marred by Māori protest, yet as I see it, the NZH highlighted the deeply ingrained prejudices that actually exist to mar the day.

I expect over the coming days an eruption of stories in the media and on blogs claiming oversensitive Maori playing the race card  (in relation to the NZH front page), Ngapuhi acting like a bunch of savages (because there is division over who has the mandate to negotiate any settlement with the Crown), Proof Maori are greedy (in relation to John Key’s monetary incentive to get Ngapuhi to unify & settle, and the $500-600 million figure stated by Sonny Tau), all grounded in the psychological processes illustrated in the findings of the studies by Silby and Robertson et al.