Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

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Yellow Peril: the identity game

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  • Tom Beard,

    I'm not sure if people are saying they feel no connection to their European ancestry, just that they feel more "New Zealand" than a vague term like "European".

    I've got a screen capture of the form itself, and "European" per se does not appear on there at all. The actual term is "New Zealand European", which is very different from just "European", and is short for "New Zealander of European descent". Which I guess is another way to say "Pakeha" without scaring the racists.

    Also, as Sonal pointed out, the form explicitly asks you to "Mark the space or spaces that apply to you" (my emphasis) so it's perfectly possible to mark down multiple ethnicities if that's what you feel yourself to be. The form also allows you to write in one or more ethnic groups of your own, and as the results show, the 231 ethnicities that we have in NZ, from Orkney Islander to Guadacanalian to Kurd (try telling a Kurd in Iraq that he or she is "ethincally Iraqi"!) to Seychellois, make up a much more diverse and fine-grained picture than either the headline stats or most of this discussion suggest.

    Russell wrote (way back):

    Few New Zealanders would readily identify themselves as pagans, of course. But the derived adjective of the original Latin "paganus" means "rustic" or "of the country", and many more of us would answer to that. We can far more comfortably define ourselves through the land and the sea than through churches at which we have historically been indifferent attendees. When a group of performers attempted several years ago to devise a new national anthem to replace "God Defend New Zealand" (our anthem is another facet of national pride about which we find ourselves diffident), they canvassed all the options and plumped for a song about the land; the one thing they could see we all had in common.

    That's probably true, and it's why I eventually decided that I'm not really Pakeha. I have no connection - spiritual, emotional, financial or even physical most of the time - to "the land" per se. I'd consider myself the opposite of "paganus". "Urbanus", perhaps?

    I feel an emotional connection to my city, and to the notion of "city" in general, but that connection is more about the people, buildings, shops, bars, galleries, streets, history and future of the city than the land beneath it. It's why I almost considered putting "Wellingtonian" as my ethnicity.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    Ah, that screen capture of the census ethnicity question is here.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    I really have a hard time concluding that I am racist or that it is racist to put "New Zealander" on my census form because I am white. That seems to be the barely veiled accusation. Maybe they should put in brackets after it (only white people may tick this box).

    If a Chilean wants to put "New Zealander" then they can put it, if anybody from anywhere wants to put it then they can put it. Whether they are less likely to or unlikely to doesn't make a flying expletive of difference to me or the argument. I am sure somewhere in a house not far from any of us that there were non New Zealand Europeans ticking the "New Zealander" box.

    I find it an extremely negative view that only white New Zealanders consider themselves to be "New Zealanders", insulting even. Well over 400,000 people ticked that box. I sure as hell did not tick it because I am white, and when my half Korean daughter gets to fill out a census form on her own behalf I hope she will happily tick the same box without worrying about what she looks like. If I take her to Europe she won't be accepted as a European, if I take her to Korea in it's current state she won't be considered Korean either. And I'm dammed if she has to sit down every 5 years to state that she is a Korean, European New Zealander just to make other people happy.

    We might not need a melting pot for the worlds different ethnic groups but we could do with one for peoples identities if they so choose.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Tze Ming Mok,

    Yamis: indeed, anyone can write in 'New Zealander' (I don't believe it actually has its own 'tick box'). But as we can see from most of the comments here, the vast majority of the people who do so are Pakeha/New Zealand Europeans, and I certainly suspect, well over their population representative proportions. Which was the point of my posting that original comparative bar graph (scroll up for another look), with the very neat tetris action I mentioned.

    SarfBank, Lunnin' • Since Nov 2006 • 154 posts Report Reply

  • john shears,

    Although it is not a Continent in the generally accepted meaning we are actually part of Oceania.
    So..... next census I will consider calling myself an Oceanian.

    North Shore City • Since Nov 2006 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Mark the space or spaces that apply to you

    ... and I believe this is the first census where all of your answers would have ended up in the record (so the percentages, as the graph says, do not add to 100).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    I wonder how many other countries in a similar 'situation' to New Zealand have asked the population if they are a "New Zealander", "Brazilian", "American" or whatever. I've been trying to find what the options in the US are and it seems there is no such option. They break "Asian" down into 6 options and do the same for other broad categories. You can also choose "Black" or "White". Where's Michael Jackson at the moment?

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    Although it is not a Continent in the generally accepted meaning we are actually part of Oceania.
    So..... next census I will consider calling myself an Oceanian.

    You must swim like a fish.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    john. that's pretty damn funny.

    and yamis. i agree with tze ming, persons who state they are new zealanders, and especially if they do so vehemently, are making a statement that they are the one 'true' identity group in this country.

    the fact that they are most usually racially european might have been lost along the way in this conversation. people seem to be using 'ethnically' in much the same way.

    check out B Jones on pages two.,122,

    but! i am in no way asserting that your preference for the term is wrong. rather, i wanted to point out that the kinds of people we're targeting for criticism are highly likely to be disparaging of any person they consider outside their racial preference group.

    and as tze ming mentions, there is no box for 'new zealander'. people had to actually write it on the form.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    and as tze ming mentions, there is no box for 'new zealander'. people had to actually write it on the form.

    Are you sure? Maybe I was incredibly drunk when I filled it out but I don't remember writing it. That's a lot of writing for 400,000+ people to do. I thought all the hoohah about people writing New Zealander for years finally wore them down into having it as a distinct box you could tick.

    I stand to be corrected though as I can't find a census form snapshot.

    On the point of who you are trying to cricitise, well I understand that and am only too aware that many of my "New Zealand" colleagues would be the sort of folk I would cross the street to avoid but allow me the opportunity to co-opt their language and turn it into something more warm and fuzzy.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    Playing with numbers...

    In 2001 there were 2,696,727 who ticked New Zealand European.

    In 2006 there were 2,381,076 who ticked New Zealand European.

    The difference is 315,651.

    429,429 chose "New Zealander".

    Obviously there has been some natural increase in the number of New Zealand Europeans which would account for a decent chunk of the difference between the 315,651 figure and the 429,429 figure. We won't be able to work out out though ;)

    The next census will be more revealing if they stick with the same format.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    yup. there's a link to one above, the tom beard comment.

    the tick box says, "new zealand european", which is by any objective measure, a nationality (new zealander) and a racial category (european, although, caucasian might be smarter).

    strangely though, the form also lists a whole bunch more nationalities. but, these nationalities can be easily stereotyped into racial groups. all those koreans, japanese, chinese et al are likely to be labelled 'asians' by the stats people.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    I stand corrected and I most likely was drunk as I suggested. What month was that again? March? yep, probably watching the Sopranos on dvd and halfway through my 4th rum and coke.

    I wonder though that if they chucked "New Zealander" as a category you could actually tick that the numbers of people choosing that option wouldn't shoot through the roof.

    Out of sight out of mind for many.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    I keep going in circles and coming back to my original idea.

    Have two questions. One on 'skin colour', where I will happily tick "Scottish to the bone", and one on what I most feel like. A Big Mac Combo.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    and that's exactly why this is such a great issue. but also such an awful issue.

    would you like to know my suggestion for determining your identity?

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    ok, i'll blimmin tell you anyway.

    if you say you are something, and people agree with you, then you are.

    so, i can say, "i am a maori". but unless a bunch of people agree with me, then i am not. naturally the people agreeing have to also be maori.

    kind of simple really. you are what you say you are, unless you're lying.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Hey, Che

    Do you remember I said that I was writing a long screed on identity that I never actually got around to sending to you.

    Said much the same thing.

    Roughly, there's an internal account of identity, and an external account. If I claim to be x, but I don't feel x, then there's a problem. But if I claim to be y, and there's no external indicators that I am y, then I'm living in some fantasy world.

    So what do I mean by external identity? You should probably have some of a number of indicators of what it is you claim to be e.g. language, cuisine, familial relationships, place of birth, religion, skin, hair and eye colour, whatever. Anyone else care to name some indicators of ethnicity?

    This is why we might feel entitled to criticise someone who claims to be Maori, but has no external indicators of it (language, familial relationships, cuisine, religion, skin colour etc).

    Equally, we could say of someone who had all these markers, but denied the identity, that they were deluded.

    Trouble is... I think I trashed the rather more detailed account of identity I wrote when you shifted employers. Oh well.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Lea,

    here are the census forms

    Just noticed the Maori version has 'Pakeha' as the first choice where 'New Zealand European' on the English version.

    If people don't want to use New Zealand, New Zealand European or Pakeha then perhaps we can make up a new word to describe the ethnicity. We could even sell of the naming rights. Is 'starkish' taken?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    Che does that mean when somebody fills out their census form they have to go for an interview by a panel of experts to verify the accuracy of the aforementioned claim? ;)

    Problem with looking for external indicators is that they are too based on race. If somebody from England has moved here with their kids 20 years ago are people more likely to say that they are a New Zealander than they would for a woman who is of Chinese ancestry but whose parents and grand parents were born in NZ? That seems to be the assumption/accusation from some. And I don't necessarily disagree. I just find it defeatist to assume that that thinking can never change and the way to change it is to challenge it, not excuse it or make claims that that is how it is and not consider that it may change.

    I reckon you are what you feel you are. If people within that community say you aren't well they had better convince you to change your mind then. And if they are that unwelcoming then you'd probably not want to join em.

    As an aside I noticed going through the 2006 stats that about 150? people wrote "I don't know" for the ethnicity question. Poor buggers.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    here is an interesting piece on the meaning of "Pakeha" by Jodie Ranford. Or rather meanings or how they have changed over time.

    And from it...

    Pakeha is in common usage, but many have difficulty in defining its meaning. From early records it is clear that the term was used in New Zealand before 1815 to mean ‘white person’. Initially a Pakeha was that person who came from England, and settled or worked in New Zealand. With time, Pakeha was the fair-skinned person who was born in New Zealand. Later the term was even more general. It was applied to all fair-skinned people in New Zealand, no matter what their ancestry or place of birth" (Department of Labour, 1985). By 1960, Pakeha was defined as "a person in New Zealand of predominantly European Ancestry" (Ausubel, 1960). The English – Maori: Maori – English Dictionary (Briggs, 1990) defines Pakeha as "white (person)". Kiwi Words and Phrases (Campbell, 1999) defines Pakeha as a "non-Maori person". Mary-Ellen O’Connor (1990) defines Pakeha as "the dominant white race in New Zealand. This would cover anybody of Anglo-Celtic origin (England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales) and, as the integrated, Northern Europeans (Scandinavians, Germans, and Dutch), white Americans, Canadians and South Africans".

    By 1985 a significant development occurs with the definition when King (1985, p12) defines Pakeha as "denoting non-Maori New Zealanders". There is nothing in the definition referring to colour. It is merely all those people who are of non-Maori descent. King’s definition of Pakeha is given weight when we define the term Maori as ‘normal’, that is to say that, in relation to Pakeha, I am Maori. It is merely a means by which the peoples of Aotearoa differentiate between the indigenous peoples and the early European Settlers, or the Maori and the other, irrelevant of race, colour, ethnicity, and culture.

    There appears to be two emerging uses of the term. One approach continues the references to those with white skin colour while the more inclusive refers to all those who are non-Maori appears to be gaining currency. My own definition of ‘Pakeha’ is influenced by Ross Himona’s definition. Himona states that linguistically it just means a New Zealander of non-Maori and non-Polynesian heritage without any connotations". He considers that ‘Pakeha’ "is most used to describe white non-Maori, as they were the original colonists, but it can apply equally to Asian, etc. This definition of ‘Pakeha’ is the most expansive that I have found. It gives the term Pakeha a more inclusive and less pejorative tone.

    It seems, if the above is correct and I have no reason to doubt it that the current use of "Pakeha" is for all non Maori people (with the possible exception of Polynesians). So Africans and Asians would also fall under the umbrella term. I've always happily referred to myself as pakeha when it's been the most appropriate word.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    Last paragraph should read "growing use of "Pakeha". Obviously there is a fair amount of debate on it.

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • dc_red,

    Che said:

    i am in no way asserting that your preference for the term is wrong. rather, i wanted to point out that the kinds of people we're targeting for criticism are highly likely to be disparaging of any person they consider outside their racial preference group.

    Like who exactly? Gerry Brownlee? Talk-back callers? :)

    Are you disparaging a whole group (of 429,000 - most but not all of whom are likely to be white/ish) because you feel/suspect that some/most are "highly likely" to be disparaging of others? I dare say there's "plenty" of people who ticked "Maori" or one of the Asian ethnicities/citizenships who are disparaging of those they consider outside their racial preference group too. So I'm not entirely sure what the point is here.

    Yamis was alarmed that 192 poor bastards don't know their ethnicities, but what about the 5070 whose response was unidentifiable? Did they just put a squiggle in there? That's equivalent to more than 10% of those who managed to write in "New Zealander", drunken or otherwise.

    On another note I was suprised to see no "French Canadians" in the list of all responses. I know tons of Canadians in NZ (official count 8835) who actually identify as French Canadian. I know at least one who wrote "French Canadian" in the form. Did the data entry morons classify them as "French" and "Canadian"? I checked and there's no Quebecois either (not that all French Canadians are Quebecois .. and some Quebecois completely disown the Canadian label). But that's a story for another day.

    I still think our census does a crap job of distinguishing categories we might agree are meaningful ethnicities from citizenships (specifically Tongan, Samoan, Tokelauan, etc).

    Lies. Damn Lies. Statistics.

    Oil Patch, Alberta • Since Nov 2006 • 706 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    Re: Che's If you think of yourself as X, and others agree, then you are...

    On the face of it, I like that.... but here's the rub.

    I was born in Australia, and have an Australian passport... but I've been here long enough, and from young enough, that I'm far more Kiwi than Australian... I support NZ sports teams, I consider Aussies rude/arrogant/racist and generally share the New Zealand view of things.... My accent dissapeared decades ago.

    If I say I'm a New Zealander... everyone who hasnt seen my passport beleives me. (and I do beleive I have become one, or at least 95% of the way there :-)

    On the other hand, If I'd arrived in this country equally long ago, formed the same opinions and beleifs, but happened to be of non anglo-saxon blood-lines, I'd probably have a much harder time getting the other New Zealanders to agree/beleive that I was?

    That seems a little unfair/unbalanced that its harder for some people than others to acheive a new identity?

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 893 posts Report Reply

  • Raffe Smith,

    This is a fascinating thread.

    I am one of those 100% Anglo-Celts (with a hint of Prussian) that goes back 5-6 generations in this country. I have never considered myself as indigenous in any sense of the word. I ticked New Zealand European at the last census, but feel it is a cumbersome term.

    What I feel is more appropriate (entirely from my own perspective, I wouldn't want to speak for others with a similar genealogical background), is the term local. Simply, I feel like a local. I know no other place. The culture in which I grew up and live in exists uniquely here; the indigenous Maori, the imported European tradition, the influx from Asia & the Pacific, the landscape, the tyranny of distance, the smallness.

    Furthermore, to swipe a term from language and architecture, I feel there is a strong, vital and emerging vernacular New Zealand culture, from which I come and am proud of.
    Of course, this vernacular (a wonderfully sounding word!) will never become an ethnicity, but I do believe as an umbrella term it includes and is defined by the multiplicity of identities and ethnicities that live on these islands - it is defined by difference.

    Mount Albert. • Since Nov 2006 • 40 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    Manakura, also read "Politics in the Vernacular" by Will Kymlicka.

    Thanks Raffe.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

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