Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The Case for Sickies
Very strange hearing the level of debate around Hone Harawira and his comments around what initially was being caught pulling a sickie to visit Paris while on work business to Europe, but then following a heated e-mail, morphed into a discussion around racism in New Zealand.
Some mainstream background and opinions can be found here, and here, and here.
Mr Harawira’s Mum and Derek Fox on National Radio (or Radio New Zealand National) seemed to say that what he said is similar to what lots of other people say about Maori, reflects historic wrongs against Maori, and the sentiment of Mr Harawira’s constituents. Which is all true.
But does that make it any less racist? Couldn’t Don Brash’s Orewa speech of a few years ago be “justified” by exactly the same kind of logic?
The Human Rights Commission says the comments are not nice, but then New Zealand’s freedom of speech allows them to be said with no censure.
And he probably should be allowed to say what he said, much as Don Brash was. Why not? It can only help when this kind of feeling is expressed, to get these issues out in the open and hold a proper discussion on them.
Of course, it doesn’t. New Zealand does not yet seem to be able to take that step. Mr Harawira’s Mum claimed Mr Harawira can use the English language as he liked (no comment on whether it would be impolite in Maori), while the apology for the language has overshadowed the dishonour of the initial act by both the media and the “justifiers”.
As far as (in my opinion) New Zealanders like to think it has come along the path of race relations, and how mature we might like to think we are in discussing it, these kinds of things just highlight the sentiment that bubbles underneath our “one nation” calm surface: some Maori (obviously) still see themselves as the oppressed-yet-proud eco-friendly warriors living in, and sometimes exploiting, an alien system in an occupied territory; whereas (from Mt Brash’s speech) some non-Maori see Maori underachievement in mainstream New Zealand as a sign of laziness, with the glory of Maori culture an historical treasure now incorporated into New Zealand’s social fabric.
I am not going to say that I have the answer to New Zealand’s nation-building issues, and I doubt anyone (who is not a xenophobic extremist) does. It takes time, and generations, and understanding. And we obviously have a fair distance yet to go.
Verdict: It’s a hard thing to balance the influence of the past and the actions of the present, but a much easier task to flame “racial” discontent for political gain. If some good or clarity actually came out of the latter, then perhaps it would be worthwhile. 25% visibility out of 100% (obviously).