I’ve pondered the issues and events around Hone Harawira’s run-in with most of white New Zealand and, it seems, many Maori as well (specially his own Maori Party) and I’ve found it very hard to put together a coherent single position. I guess that could be put down to profound ambivalence on many aspects.
What has concerned me most though, from a pakeha perspective, is the way in which events – particularly Hone’s angry email message and his reaction to the resultant publicity – have thrown up all sorts of side issues and exposed underlying attitudes, like lifting a large garden rock to observe the creatures beneath.
In the workplace I was inhabiting at the time of the radio announcement, the reaction was pure venom, as if Hone had just walked in the office and thrown fresh excrement at all the white occupants. Much comment then and since has centred on the two popular themes, summarised as: “he should be sacked” (no-one suggested by whom and from what), and “if a white person said those things they would be crucified”. Well, sorry, but I hear the sort of language that Hone used every second day around here.
I am challenged by Hone’s comments and attitudes, but I’m afraid I can’t seem to be able to work up any real anger about it. And when I try to explore if he makes me feel offended, I find myself becoming more offended by people’s reactions to him than by Hone himself.
As I said, I have no single coherent position to put here. I’ve read several good commentators and columnists who have placed the whole (on-going) episode into some sensible political and social perspective, but for my part I’ve only come up with some observations about various facets. Here goes.
My first arose from the coincidence that both Harawira and Rodney Hide got into trouble with their mouths around the same time. Hide admitted it in his seemingly honest apology to the nation: How easy it is to let your position and status, as a politician with your hands on power, go to your head. I wouldn’t want to get too judgmental here, because I can easily imagine getting a bit of strut into my stride if I had my every word listened to and analysed, and perhaps feared, on a regular basis!
Both men need to learn the responsibilities that go with power, that a dash of humility can go a long way, and that posturing rarely produces lasting and worthwhile results.
Then there was the language Harawira used. As I said above, I hear that stuff every second day, and you’ll hear worse every Friday night on the brilliant television comedy show, 7 Days. Sure, we’d like to think that politicians were somehow one level up in their use of language, but they are human and have been subject over the years to a variety of sources of crude talk. I only have to listen to my neighbours shouting at their kids in expletives to wonder how those kids could possibly end up not using the same language as standard adult talk.
And we do need to remember that Hone’s expletive-laden outburst was part of a private email.
There has also been comment about Hone’s liberal use of vernacular slang and phrases, and in particular that Labour leader Phil Goff should be lined up to be shot for his support of the Foreshore and Seabed legislation. Again, I’ve heard this used plenty of times by all manner of people who, like Hone, don’t mean it in any literal sense. You know: “Look at the way Joe treats his dog, he should be shot for it”, or “Those boy racers kept me awake all last night – I’d like to line them all up against a wall and shoot the lot”. It’s the sort of phrase you use in anger. It’s a metaphor. Get over it! (Fortunately Phil Goff recognised it as such and didn’t hire himself bodyguards as a result.)
Then there’s the small matter of Hone being basically correct on historical matters. Set aside the language and the association of the race relations issue with the Paris trip, and what he’s saying is an accurate representation of historic events.
One facet of the issue that has amused (as well as dismayed) me is the reaction of the so called anti-PC brigade, those who say people should be able to say what they think, call a spade a spade, regardless of who may be offended. When they themselves are offended by a spade being called thus, one of the first things they call for is the Race Relations Conciliator to take action against Harawira!! (Wow, that’s classy!)
Freedom of speech is an important feature of a healthy democracy, especially if it’s in private correspondence. How many pakeha who are currently venting against Harawira and Maori in general have never made offensive comments about them in private? Sure, Hone gave permission to publicise his email, but my reading of his reasons for doing so were not that he wanted it to be public and to offend, but rather that he didn’t want to follow the normal practice of expressing anger and disgust privately but sweet-talking about the same issue in public – which most politicians normally do. At least you cannot accuse Harawira of being two-faced, you know where he stands.
My reaction to the common attitudes expressed in many of the country’s Letters to the Editor pages over the past week goes as follows:
Whether it’s blatant racism, cultural arrogance or just plain ignorance, I’m not sure. But the common theme – that Maori should get over the wrongs done to them in ancient and recent history and be thankful for all the good things that the big white man has brought to them – stinks of paternalism, condescension and …. well, it simply stinks.
White settlers did not bring with them television, cars, iPods and shopping malls. These so-called advances grew up in an already mixed society, often imported from countries with populations of many races and colours.
As I see it, the sub-text of the Treaty of Waitangi is that both founding cultures accept, respect and value each other’s views and offerings, with no sense that one is intrinsically better than the other, and that both equally have contributions to make to New Zealand’s future.
It’s fine to express opinions about Hone’s place and worth in politics, but don’t use his actions as a stick to strike out at all things Maori.
SO how do I see Hone Harawira now? I feel some sadness that such a strong and driven man can allow his sense of victimhood, justifiable or not, to control so much of his life. Clearly he believes in his message and mission strongly, but he’s missing half of the message.
He could take Ranginui Walker and Pita Sharples as his role models – it’s OK to be angry and driven and express strong opinions, but posturing and being abusive doesn’t get you very far and tend to make things worse in the long run.
If he’s representing his electorate and many of them think this way, then Hone has a duty to work with them and lead them to a better relationship with pakeha, even when pakeha act badly to him.
He should follow the example set for my wife and me (and a few other tourists) by the Maori tour guide who showed us around Waitangi last year. We could tell he had strong views, he knew his history and he knew the people involved. But he didn’t use the hour-long tour to harangue us or to preach. He applied his quiet charm, his mana, and gently led and educated us to see his perspective and the history and current relationship as local Maori see it. And it worked!
And if my thoughts sound like yet another example of patronising racism, then I’m sorry ..