Dear white New Zealand...
I think it’s time we got a few misconceptions straight. We may live in New Zealand but that does not mean that "We are all New Zealanders".
New Zealand is a multicultural society. While in law everyone is equal, the reality is far from that ideal. Let’s face it, every one of us who's part of the white majority is born with the silver spoon of ethnicity in our mouth.
Before I continue, I’d like to make a few things clear. I am a white, male, middle-class New Zealander. I grew up in a predominantly white suburban neighbourhood, with predominantly white friends. As a child, I was well looked after by my parents, three meals a day, went to school. I never really considered my family to be anything more than comfortable, but I can admit there would be those who would consider us rich. So, in everything I say and write, this is the position I come from.
Silver spoon of ethnicity? Let's look at an example. If I apply for a job, I can be reasonably sure that if I get turned down, it is not because of my ethnicity. We’ve all heard the stories: a hard-working, well-educated immigrant fails to get a job interview until he changes his name to Steven Johnson. What does this tell us? That we’re racist. Try going into a supermarket and asking a middle-aged immigrant about their education. Chances are they’ll have a degree, maybe even a Master's or a doctorate. The reality is that they just can break through the pervasive cultural oppression in New Zealand.
Each white New Zealander is born with this little package of special privileges. Our entire society is geared towards us. We are the colonial imperialists. As much as we like to dissociate ourselves from England and the Commonwealth, we cannot ignore the pervasiveness of Britain in our society. We have a Westminster system of government. We have the common law. The fundamental structures of our society, the very framework of New Zealand, were created with our cultural perspective in mind.
We wonder, then, why other ethnic groups have such a hard time of it. Why do they complain? Why do they ask for special privileges? Aren't we all just New Zealanders? The fact of the matter is our thinking is stuck in the rut of equality. We think that since, under the law, everyone is equal, then everyone is equal. In a capitalist society that values hard work and effort, the fact that people are poor or uneducated must be simply down to a lack of determination. It couldn't possibly be something as backwards as racism holding them back. Or could it?
I’m not talking about an "I hate people of a different colour to me" kind of racism. That’s easy to spot, easy to ignore. What I am talking about is a little more insidious. An institutionalised racism that at every level puts up barriers to entry into our society. These barriers are designed to strip away nationalism.
By the time we allow someone to fully integrate into our society, all that they have left to identify with is a thin veil of cultural practices. And let’s not kid ourselves, we don’t allow non-integration. We don’t really consider them a New Zealander if they live in their own community, with people from their own country, speaking their own language. This is not what we mean when we say that "We are all New Zealanders" because these people don’t try to become a part of New Zealand. But why should they have to?
White New Zealand. It’s time we stopped being so arrogant. It’s time we took a good hard look at ourselves. Our racism is ruining this country and we need to do something about it.
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