A Short Essay on Race and Nationality

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

What does being Maori mean? What does being Pakeha mean? What does being a New Zealander mean? The twin issues of race and nationality are constantly being debated here in New Zealand and around the world. They are controversial issues and, sadly, the root cause of intolerance throughout the world. Our World divides and segregates human beings in distinct racial and national groupings, and then uses those distinctions to justify differing, and often discriminatory, treatment of various races and nationality. On 28 August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior gave perhaps the most important, and inspiring, speech in human history. “I have a dream” called for racial equality and an end to the discrimination faced by Africa-Americans in the United States. Dr. King’s memorable phrase is never far from my mind in everything I do.

The struggle for equality is one shared by minority communities throughout the world. Wherever you turn, you see bias, intolerance and racism directed towards minorities simply because they are different. It is not restricted by colour or creed, intolerance and racism exist within minority societies as well. This is not an article attacking the racism of pakeha society, rather it is an article attacking those who believe they are superior to another simply because of their race or nationality. It is an attack on those people who question the rights of another to live freely in the country of their choice, and it is an attack on the current system which discriminates against people because of their race or nationality.

What is it that fosters intolerance towards people of foreign lands, or foreign races? At the biological level, Homo sapiens are no different from one another. Yes, we have our variations, but we remain the same species. Each and every one of us is united in our common heritage, and our shared ‘form’. The notion that we are different is a social construct. Nationality is a social construct. Race, in many respects, is also a social construct. I am Maori, yes, but I am homo sapiens first. I may be a New Zealander, but I am homo sapiens first. National boundaries, and the division of homo sapiens into racial groupings, are nothing more than an attempt by a group of people to exert hegemonic power other others. It is, and it always has been, about power and land.

Power and Land

Race was used in New Zealand in the 19th Century to dispossess Maori of vast tracts of our ancestral homelands. Europeans, guided by the positivist school of legal thinking, believed that non-civilised societies could not lay claim to lands within their territory that were surplus to requirements. European societies used their own artificially constructed division of the world to undertake the biggest theft of property every to occur in the entire history of human civilisation. Homo sapiens around the world had their land stolen by the ‘great’ European powers of the 19th Century and while those European societies grew enormously wealthy on the back of such a theft, the indigenous populations suffered greatly.

This ‘waste lands’ theory was used by Europeans to claim land throughout the world, ironically enough the rationale for taking the land for their own purposes was that the world belonged to everyone – to homo sapiens – and the inhabitants of an over-crowded Europe had the right to inhabit lands far away from their home. With the land came power. In New Zealand, as in many other Commonwealth countries, the British imposed their control over the land and the descendants of those early settlers have sought to maintain their position of power ever since.

It is this fear of losing power which drives our intolerance. There are examples around the world of Nations seeking to exclude and discriminate against other homo sapiens simply because they are different, and this difference threatens their way of life. Yet in almost every case the discrimination is almost laughably hypocritical. In New Zealand, people are protesting the sale of farm land to foreigners in general, and Chinese in particular, stating that we are in danger of becoming tenants in our own land – incidentally the very position we as Maori find ourselves in after the invasion of the British in the 19th century.

Further abroad, Arizona has recently sought to crack-down on illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, despite the State once being part of Mexico (after the Spanish invasion and settlement of the 17th Century). And in the United Kingdom, controversy continues to exist over increased settlement by those, firstly, of Pakistani and Indian descent; and secondly, of poorer Eastern Europe states. Such debate conveniently ignores the fact of British colonisation of Pakistan and India, and the immigration to the British Isles by the Anglo’s and the Saxons from continental Europe.

The Way Forward

Sadly, we are a long way from realising Dr. King’s dream. I too dream of an enlightened future. A future where nationality is only relevant on the sports field, and where our artificially created national boundaries, and our socially constructed notions of nationality, no longer exist and no longer perpetuate the bias, intolerance, and racism that exists in today’s societies. Globalisation is bringing the world closer, and I believe that this is a positive thing for human society. The more we interact with those who are ‘different’ from us, the more we will see our similarities. It is no surprise that my experience in South Africa was that those people who lived with and around the black communities did not exhibit the prejudice demonstrated by those who were living in isolation.

At our very core, homo sapiens are no different from one another. It is what is in our hearts and souls which separates us – the contents of our character.

(This is an edited version of an article on race and nationality I published on my One World/One People site in October 2010)

8 Responses to A Short Essay on Race and Nationality

  1. Alex says:

    Tena koe Joshua,

    It’s an honour to elctronically meet you and to tautoko every one of your beautifully-expressed thoughts and aspirations. As a fellow homo (sapiens!) living not far away from yourself, may I offer every encouragement, and as an observor of many decades offer a tiny word of warning. We live at present in a slim window of political opportunity: as November approaches, recall how Closing the Gaps was snatched away in an Orewa One second. Make haste my friend, and avoid and innoculate internal division like the plague.

  2. Thank you for your support Alex! It is great that this site is so well received. You are right, Maori have a great opportunity at this years election to really stand up and be counted. Yet, I do not see division as necessary a bad thing – there are many voices within Te Ao Maori, and all should be represented within Parliament.

  3. jh says:

    “Europeans, guided by the positivist school of legal thinking, believed that non-civilised societies could not lay claim to lands within their territory that were surplus to requirements. European societies used their own artificially constructed division of the world to undertake the biggest theft of property every to occur in the entire history of human civilisation.”

    So what was the population of NZ in pre European times? I believe only about 5% of that was in the South Island. What’s more what was it’s carrying capacity before Europeans bought plants and animals for agriculture?

    Do only the indigenous tribes of the British Isles own the foreshore and seabed and benefit from North Sea oil?

    “It is this fear of losing power which drives our intolerance. There are examples around the world of Nations seeking to exclude and discriminate against other homo sapiens simply because they are different, and this difference threatens their way of life. Yet in almost every case the discrimination is almost laughably hypocritical. In New Zealand, people are protesting the sale of farm land to foreigners in general, and Chinese in particular, stating that we are in danger of becoming tenants in our own land – incidentally the very position we as Maori find ourselves in after the invasion of the British in the 19th century.”

    People exclude others because they compete for resources (hence unaffordable houses). Oil production has peaked, we are reaching “peak everything” and China needs farmland to feed its people.

  4. jh says:

    “With the land came power. In New Zealand, as in many other Commonwealth countries, the British imposed their control over the land and the descendants of those early settlers have sought to maintain their position of power ever since.
    It is this fear of losing power which drives our intolerance.”
    …..
    With the feet on the ground came power. In New Zealand, as in many other Commonwealth countries, the British imposed their control over the land and the descendants of those early settlers have sought to maintain their majority position of power ever since.

    “It is this fear of losing power which drives our intolerance.”

    Not sure who “our” is but if it is Pakeha, we are being told we must abide by a treaty which divides the country into tribal cantons and must pay Maori for foreshore, seabed and wastelands or put up with continual unrest/ civil war.

  5. Do you believe in property rights jh? If not, then I’ll come and live in your home and dictate to you and your family what you can and cannot do. If, however, you do believe in property rights and, therefore, believe in the constitutional principle that there shall be no confiscation of property rights without compensation, then I will stay where I am, and Maori will continue to be compensated for the land and resources that were stolen.

  6. jh says:

    The problem with the property rights argument is that , while it comes with a learned response in regard to proceedings within our civil society (house , chair, farm), here it is used to cover tribal territory (aboriginal title). As Chris trotter says:

    “For who can dispute that, at one time, the entire geographical entity we call New Zealand was the property of Maori collectivities? And, if they have a customary right to New Zealand’s beaches, then why not its rivers, estuaries, swamps, lakes, forests and everything else? “

    • Leama says:

      I don’t see the problem! Is it just a floodgates argument? Why not indeed. Aboriginal title is part of the common law – on the transfer of sovereignty, property rights are unaffected until clear Legislative extinguishment (at least in times of peace). Personally, I do not think that the common law provides a particularly just outcome. However, it is preferable to the view that any non-traditional (i.e. eurocentric) conceptions are rejected simply because they do not fit into the colonial mould. That is just imperialist and thus untenable IMHO.

  7. [...] than divides us.  It is an issue I have previously addressed in my short essay on the concept of race and nationality.   In light of that article and the recent historical analysis of Te Tiriti o Waitangi undertaken [...]

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