Tuesday 12 August 2014

Race-based Politics

Race-based politics has reared its ugly head again for the election. I really hoped that we were better than this, but when minor parties struggle to remain relevant, when Jamie Whyte is looking for a "stunt... because you know, polls", they resort to race. If the strategy didn't work then politicians wouldn't still be using it. How does New Zealand still have enough xenophobic people to allow politicians to use race-based politics? NZ First, the Conservatives, and ACT have all decided to go for "one law for all" policies that ignore the realities of our society and promote some superficial notion of egalitarianism in place of actual equality. I can't speak for the centuries of marginalisation of Maori in this country, and there are far more eloquent writers than I on that topic (if I can recommend one, please read Morgan Godfery). What I can write about is my anger when Winston Peters makes a calculated decision to throw in a "joke" at his campaign launch. Both the NZ First party and the Labour party have been railing against foreign ownership of our land in recent times, hedging on some sentiment that has come through in their focus groups. At a debate at the University of Auckland today, David Parker was at the most multicultural university in the most multicultural city in New Zealand and stated that the solution to the housing crisis was to "ban foreign buyers and build some homes."

This tweet from my friend pretty much sums it up:
There is often a conflation of investor and immigrant, and the Labour Party in particular is often keen to point out the difference, but they're happy to leave the difference out when it suits them. Deep down, many New Zealanders are still afraid of an Asian Invasion, are still afraid that New Zealand might one day be owned by the Chinese, are still afraid that they might lose their "birthright" as New Zealanders to own land. Ignoring the many, many issues with this notion of birthright when the land ownership was transferred by colonialism in the first place, it's often easy for people and politicians (I guess they count as people) to rationalise it as "well it's them that we're keeping out right? They are not us."

Except people like me are both them and us at the same time. My parents immigrated from Taiwan in 1989, and I was born in New Zealand in 1992. The fact that I am inherently Asian will never escape me, no matter how much I've assimilated into Kiwi culture. I don't think any party really wants to kick me out of the country; they'd much rather I stayed here to contribute to society after putting me through school and university. But sometimes I don't feel like they really want me to stay. They don't mean people like me when they campaign against foreign ownership of land, but it hurts just the same. I may technically have been born here, but I am basically a foreigner. This brand of politics that many parties are using is nothing new, but it marginalises these members of our society, many of whom are trying their absolute hardest to live successfully in New Zealand. There are many 1.5 and 2nd generation-ers like me who know rationally that the cry against foreign ownership isn't directed at us, but at the same time we feel that we're somehow responsible and some of us feel a guilt just for living here. Such policies make us feel unwanted in the country that we've called our home for our entire lives. There's little to no distinction made between Asians and Asian New Zealanders, and ignoring that distinction comes with consequences.

The politicians have to consider the wider social effects of their campaign strategies. If Winston Peters stands up and says that "New Zealand is awash with immigrant crime" that statement influences people. Some people will think that Peters might have a point, and it changes their behaviour. ACT Party Deputy Leader Kenneth Wang says "Every time Mr Peters stirs up anti-Chinese feeling he gives racists in the community encouragement to attack Chinese. I have reports of Chinese women being abused in the street, young louts going into Chinese shops to abuse shop keepers." These are real people who are being hurt and abused. The politicians may not directly mean to hurt the immigrants, but what do they expect - how does someone distinguish between a foreign investor and a foreign immigrant? They look the same. While I'm lucky enough to spend most of my time either at home or in a university department where Pakeha New Zealanders are actually a minority, there are many others who face this latent discrimination every day.

Polls like this remind me of the status quo:
NZHerald Online Poll with roughly 5200 votes (at 12am 12/8/14)
"What do you make of Winston Peters' Wong remark?"
Offensive 35%
Not funny 18%
Absolutely fine 22%
Funny 25%

47% is barely a minority. Dame Susan Devoy said today "We have come a long way as a nation in terms of people treating each other with respect but sadly we have some people who just don't get it and who don't want to get it." And I guess that's the golden snitch - some people just don't want to get it. And as long as that's the case, someone will try to go for their vote.

For two more superb pieces to read on this topic:
Trying to Reason - http://tryingtoreason.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/on-winston-wongs-name-puns-and-a-sense-of-humour/
Maui Street - http://mauistreet.blogspot.co.nz/2014/08/the-country-that-white-supremacy-made.html

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