One of the problems with the recycled racism campaign launched last week by Don Brash is that the pressure goes on for a Māori response. Actually what Don Brash needs is a Pākehā response – it’s our reputation and honour he is dragging through the mud and he is our responsibility.
After twenty years of teaching Te Tiriti o Waitangi education workshops I think I have heard every racist myth in the palette of ignorance. I have heard every excuse for our painful history and every justification for contemporary Pākehā privilege. These arguments are repetitive and do not stand scrutiny but more importantly, they hurt people.
A relatively small group of people have been publicly repeating the same old myths and slogans “we are all one people” and “one law for all” at events such as the Government’s recent consultation on ‘Next Steps for Freshwater’, preventing discussion on water quality by insisting that water is about to be virtually stolen by tangata whenua. Don Brash and his band of paranoid colonials can be regarded as the embarrassing extreme but in some ways the Hobson’s Pledge circus masks the ongoing discrimination that my culture refuses to address – evidence continues to pile up pointing to institutional racism in the education, welfare, health and justice systems.
The need for public education remains acute and there is still no commitment to ensuring our citizens are better equipped to understand their country’s history and its unfinished business.
The latest education bill before the House includes a recognition that Te Tiriti education should be included in schools but it gives no guidance on how this might be done and whether the critical issues of dual sovereignty should be explored. This Bill also suggested te reo Māori should be available but only if parents want it. The first language of this country and its founding document need much more rigorous support and implementation than these tokenistic references.
We also need to recognise that racism is not just bad taste expressed by aberrant individuals but is deeply embedded in our society. With the very best intentions the Human Rights Commission is running a campaign saying that we are as a country for the most part not racist and that we should call racism out. I think this misses the reality of the Pākehā cultural norms and ignorance well described by New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd who labels himself as a recovering racist.
We cannot face the extent of discrimination against indigenous citizens by simply rejecting the Hobson’s Pledge. We need to look in the mirror and remember that Hobson came with a full suite of racist assumptions as well as the backing of the British imperial agenda. Those assumptions have been internalised in Pākehā culture and continue to do damage. The rangatira who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi did not buy those assumptions and neither should we.
We need to build bridges where cultures can meet, bridges with foundations of peace, justice and respect for the Te Tiriti relationship with tangata whenua. Brash is building a bridge to nowhere.