Jamie Whyte has not been thinking

Jamie Whyte is a philosopher and leader of the ACT Party, a right-wing, libertarian, political party which believes in one law for all, as long as that law is the white man’s set of edicts. He recently gave a speech to the party faithful down in the Waikato, and, not to mince words, it was a load of race-baiting tripe of the kind John Ansell routinely engages in.

Aotearoa (New Zealand) has a race-problem or, to put it more accurately, a perception problem when it comes to the treatment of our indigenous people, the Māori. Many political parties have engaged in race-baiting – telling the white majority, the Pākehā, that despite being at the top of the heap they are somehow suffering because of affirmative action towards the marginalised first people of this place – including New Zealand First, the Conservatives and the National Party. ACT, which stands for equality for all regardless of position, has dabbled from time to time with race-baiting, and Jamie Whyte seems to have gone full gusto (in part, I suspect, to gain the racist vote from the debris of the Conservative Party, which has also been campaigning in a race-baiting mode).

Whyte’s speech is an interesting affair: he starts off by stating that he supports historical redress for the land confiscations Māori suffered under the Pākehā, reiterating that ACT is all about property rights, but then he says:

Some state run or state directed organisations openly practice race-based favouritism. I know a woman who has raised children by two fathers, one Pakeha and the other Maori. If her Pakeha son wants to attend law school at Auckland University, he will have to get much higher grades than her Maori son.

The Māori quota for some university courses is a very real thing, but people like Whyte either haven’t looked into how the quota operates, or he has deliberately chosen to ignore said processes in order to make an inflammatory point. The quota provides extra seats aimed at getting more Māori into certain subjects (like Medicine and Law), so Pākehā do not miss out: if, for some reason, there were no Māori applicants for places in Law or Medicine one year, those spaces simply would not be filled. It’s not, then, as if Māori are taking places away from Pākehā. The quota is a top up, rather than a reserve system. As for the lower grades allocated to these quota seats; this is simply a recognition that most Māori come from lower socio-economic areas and we know, from the statistics, that grades on average are lower across the board in lower socio-economic areas. As such, the quota recognises this disparity as being yet another barrier to entry1. That being said, it’s not as if universities let morons into these courses, and people who get in under the quota have to perform to the same standard as other students once they are in.

Now, does Whyte know this? Maybe not, but if it’s going to be a talking point he is going to use whilst campaigning, he probably should school himself on it.

He then goes on to say:

The question is why race-based laws are tolerated, not just by the Maori and Internet-Mana Parties, but by National, Labour and the Greens.

I suspect the reason is confusion about privilege.

Maori are legally privileged in New Zealand today, just as the Aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France.

But, of course, in our ordinary use of the word, it is absurd to say that Maori are privileged. The average life expectancy of Maori is significantly lower than Pakehā and Asian. Average incomes are lower. Average educational achievement is lower.

Legal privilege offends people less when the beneficiaries are not materially privileged, when they are generally poorer than those at a legal disadvantage.

Of course, many Maori are better off, better educated and in better health than many Pakeha. And these are often the Maori who take most advantage of their legal privileges, especially those offered by universities and by political bodies.

Alas, people are inclined to think in generalities, and they fail to notice that it is the materially privileged individuals in the legally privileged group who capture the benefits. They think of Maori as generally materially disadvantaged; and they see their legal privileges as a form of compensation.

Let’s just let that sink in. He first compares the status of Māori in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to the aristocrats of the Ancien Régime, which as analogies go is pretty weird. In the Ancien Régime the nobles were gluttons whilst the people of France starved. Yet, in Aotearoa (New Zealand), it is Māori who play the role of the French populace and Pākehā who are predominately living the high life off of the back of the unfortunate, indigenous people of this place. Whyte’s analogy is made even stranger when you think about who is more likely linked to revolutionary activity in Aotearoa (New Zealand): Māori or Pākehā? I can’t quite remember the last Operation 8-like event which struck at supposed Pākehā revolutionary activity. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention.

Then there’s Whyte’s “Māori aren’t privileged, but… actually they are!” double-handed. Whyte’s argument seems to be “Well, some Māori are well off, therefore Māori aren’t in a bad place after all”, which is analogous with saying “Look, the plague only kills most of its victims, so it’s not really a fatal disease is it?”

Maybe I’m being unfair to Whyte’s argument: he is, after all, making the claim that it is Māori who exercise their legal “privileges” (quote marks because, really, we’re talking about affirmative action designed to counter the statistical data Whyte’s admits shows Māori are not doing well in Aotearoa (New Zealand)) are doing well. However, he doesn’t just say “well”, because if he did he’d be forced to admit that affirmative action works. No, he says “better”.

Better? Does he have evidence which backs up that claim? And better than who? Other low socio-economic Pākehā? Other Pākehā who have also got into Med or Law School? It’s a spectacularly empty claim. It also buys into a common conspiracy theory found among elements of both the liberal left and right: that all the affirmative action afforded to Māori really only goes to a certain part of Māoridom, the mysterious, shadowy Māori elite.

Also, even if affirmative action worked, Whyte would oppose it. He writes:

Race-based favouritism is doing Maori no real good.

But even if it were, ACT would still oppose it. Because society should not be a racket, no matter who the beneficiaries are – be they men (who continue to enjoy legal privilege in many countries), the landed nobility or people of indigenous descent. Law-makers must be impervious to the special pleading of those who wish to set aside the principle of legal equality.

The entire speech is “legal equality this!” and “legal equality that!” Whyte, despite acknowledging the deplorable state most Māori are in compared to Pākehā, wants to ignore any notion of social inequality in Aotearoa (New Zealand) – since it would indicate there are arguments that central government have a role in doing something about it – and focus on repealing any laws which might be seen to give Māori a leg up. Whyte wants to ignore evidence so he can focus on ideology. As long as Māori legally have the opportunity to be equal with their fellow Pākehā it doesn’t really matter that the reality is that they rarely, if ever, are able to achieve it because of their entrenched position at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Whyte is race-baiting. Nowhere is it more obvious than when he writes:

There are many cultures in New Zealand. People identify with all sorts of things. Some New Zealanders identify with their sexuality, some with their profession, some with their religion, some with their political beliefs and some – perhaps most – with nothing in particular.

The government should not select some of these “identities” as special and confer legal advantages on them. Culture should not be nationalised.

Yet this ignores two things, one legal (which you’d think a party all about law and order like ACT would be attentive to) and one cultural.

  1. Māori signed a treaty with the British Crown. That gave them special status in this place.
  2. Māori are indigenous to this place. They are special insofar as they are a culture not found elsewhere and thus you might think that looking after your unique, indigenous culture is something a country is entitled (and ought) to do.

Whyte, however, only seems to be concerned with the spectre that, somehow, Māori legal privilege means they are eating five course dinners off of the back of the starving peasants in France, while we Pākehā have to plot revolution in the cafes of Paris.

Whyte is a philosopher, yet it seems he has traded in thinking critically about subjects like the unique place of Māori in Aotearoa (New Zealand) for the easy – yet fallacious – politicking of the politician. For someone who said ACT would not trade in race-baiting politicking back in January, Whyte has quickly grown accustomed to trotting out the usual canards expected by the party faithful, rather than challenging them to rethink their bigotry.

It’s a shame, then, that we’ll likely see ACT and it’s prejudice towards Māori rewarded by a seat in the upcoming elections, especially since they’ll likely only get in because the National Party is gifting them an electorate seat.

Notes

  1. Whyte characterises it as Pākehā need As when Māori only need Cs. That’s not how it works at all.
Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

14 thoughts on “Jamie Whyte has not been thinking

  1. Whyte writes “society should not be a racket, no matter who the beneficiaries are” – but who are the privileged recipients of the electoral racket being run in Epsom? ACT has been able to exercise undue power – power for which they have no mandate – thanks to National subsiding them into office: witness Charter Schools which were never mentioned by anyone in the last election campaign. This is surely has far more impact on our society than any of the so-called privileges he is trying to argue accrue to Maori.

  2. Hmmm still doesn’t seem right. Having lower entry requirements into courses. Race /Skin colour shouldn’t be a part of this. That is appalling.

    “most Māori come from lower socio-economic areas and we know, from the statistics, that grades on average are lower across the board in lower socio-economic areas”.

    That stats may be true…. but what about about all the other’s that have different ethnicity’s from those backgrounds? Don’t they matter? Can they get in on less results? unfair for them. Different rules for races.. it’s 2014 and that is sickening.

    Do you not agree?

  3. It’s particularly ironic given that only earlier this year Whyte was claiming that the people of Epsom are a beleaguered minority – rich people who apparently pay too much tax – which need advocacy in and help from Parliament.

  4. No, I don’t agree. Whilst it would be great to have more affirmative action to level the playing field across the board even more, we Pākehā in Aotearoa (New Zealand) have a special obligation to our Treaty partners, the Māori. After all, it’s their land and their resources that we confiscated (and that leaves out the attempted wholesale destruction of Māori culture the Colonial government engaged in) to make the nationstate known as “New Zealand”. We have to come to a proper and equitable bicultural accord before we can move on to the attendant problems of multiculturalism.

  5. Do you consider all the ACT ‘party faithful’ to be bigots? If so, why?

    Do you believe that being against affirmative action for Maori makes one a racist?

  6. I don’t think all the ACT Party faithful are bigots, but I think some are (I think the same of the National and Labour party faithful too: bigotry can be found everywhere). Indeed, I know ACT Party voters who are dismayed by Whyte’s recent speech, especially since he said he wasn’t going to engage in this kind of rhetoric earlier in the year.

    Do I think being against affirmative action for Māori makes someone a racist? In the Aotearoa (New Zealand) context it either shows that the person who is against affirmative action for Māori is either incredibly illiterate about this country’s history or they are trying to downplay that history. In the later case, said attitude is likely a product of said person being racist. However that might be an expression of an internalised institutional racism rather than the kind of explicit racism that goes “I hate Māori!”

  7. Bastiat: Matthew answered your question well, but I think ultimately I think it’s the wrong question. The problem (and this blog) not really about individuals being bigots or racists; it’s more about systems favouring certain ethnic groups (particularly Pākehā and English-speaking immigrants) and disadvantaging other ethnic groups (including but not limited to Māori, even though they’re tangata whenua and the rest of us are only legitimately allowed here because of the treaty with them).

    I don’t think there’d be more than a few hundred individuals in NZ in 2014 subscribing to “the kind of explicit racism that goes “I hate Māori!”” (to quote Matthew), but there are many ignorant individuals who lack the ability to think on anything other than individual levels, thus are unable to comprehend the social and systemic inequalities, and think the solution is to treat every individual the same within the status quo (Pākehā-dominated) system. The popularity of Don Brash’s 2005 Orewa speech hints at just how many such ignorant individuals there are in NZ.

    Jamie Whyte seems to be one of them. I’m not sure if I’d call him a bigot or a racist as an individual, but I definitely think his views and policies reinforce ethnic oppression, which can also be called structural racism.

  8. Matthew, thanks for the quick response.

    “Do I think being against affirmative action for Māori makes someone a racist? In the Aotearoa (New Zealand) context it either shows that the person who is against affirmative action for Māori is either incredibly illiterate about this country’s history or they are trying to downplay that history.”

    Just to be absolutely clear, do you consider everyone who is against affirmative action to be racist *even if* they are well read in NZ history and Maori grievances and fully acknowledging of the significance of that history (ie. NOT downplaying it)?

    Or do you think there are exceptions to this ‘rule’? ie. Some people who accept the above are in no way racist, they simply do not believe affirmative action is fair, effective, morally permissible or all of the above.

    As you can probably tell, I remain unconvinced that supporting affirmative action is a prerequisite to not being a racist.

    Have a good weekend

  9. Not sure if you didn’t see my comment or just preferred Matthew’s quicker one. I’ll be quick myself this time: It’s so not about individuals being racists or not. The policy is racist even when (like the road to hell) it’s paved with good intentions. Good/non-racist intent does not have magic powers to make systems or policies or effects non-racist/non-oppressive.

  10. Caleb’s response is spot on: being against affirmative action for Māori in the Aotearoa (New Zealand) context supports the structural or institutional racism that exists in our society. Given that people with the best of intentions can suffer from such institutional racism, being against affirmative action for Māori is evidence of racism (of the institutional variety). That doesn’t mean the person in question is a mustachioed melodramatic villain.

    Also, it’s not that “supporting affirmative action is a prerequisite to not being a racist”: you could easily support affirmative action for Māori whilst also being a racist (for example, someone might say “I think quotas for Māori getting into Med School is a good idea, because those inbred idiots with their savage culture need all the help they can get”: that would show support affirmative action for Māori whilst also being evidence of racism). Rather, supporting affirmative action for Māori is simply recognising that the breaches of Te Tiriti have created an on-going situation which still needs addressing.

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