WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Census and sensibility


As you may or may not be aware, tonight is Census night. It's time to make your contribution towards our self-knowledge as a nation (and my ability to make silly maps) by filling in your forms.

That's if you've received any, of course. As Stats NZ announced recently, they've had difficulty getting the forms to apartment dwellers. For security and completeness reasons, they can't just pop them in the letterbox (though even that's hard enough in some buildings): they have to deliver them to you in person, which means you have to be home when you call. So, even before anyone's sent in their form, they've already discovered one (unsurprising) demographic fact: inner-city people go out a lot.

Census ethnicity questionThe other census-related story at the moment is the vexed question of ethnicity, and the email campaign to get people to put themselves down as "New Zealander". I was going to have a rant about how idiotic (and probably racist) it is for white people to deny that they have an ethnicity, which is what they're doing when they erase it in favour of nationality. But Russell Brown and Tze Ming Mok have already done it with far more eloquent venom than I could have summoned.

I'm usually quite happy to call myself "Pakeha". On the other hand, I'm still a bit confused about ethnicity myself. I've been among people who believe that it is purely culturally defined, without any necessary basis in "race" or ancestry at all, but Tze Ming's post has made me think twice. She quotes a definition of "ethnic group" by author Michael E. Brown, one that includes these prerequisites:
  1. the group must have a name for itself;
  2. the people in the group must believe in a common ancestry;
  3. the members of the group must share historical memories;
  4. the group must have a shared culture, generally based on a combination of language, religion, laws, customs, [etc];
  5. the group must feel attachment to a specific piece of territory, which it may or may not actually inhabit; and
  6. the people in the group have to think of themselves as a group ... the group must be self-aware.
The second point is vital, but easy to misread. It's the belief of the group that counts, not one's own genetic ancestry or one's own belief in that ancestry, and its that point that enables ethnicity to be self-identified. It's quite possible to think of oneself as Māori, for example, without having or believing oneself to have any Māori ancestry. It's not as rare as you might think: people can marry or be adopted into a whānau, learn te reo and tikanga, and fully identify as Māori. While common ancestry is a vital defining part of the Māori people, people without that ancestry can become accepted as Māori, though it's certainly not just a matter of ticking a box.

Based upon this, I'm not sure that "Pakeha" counts as an ethnic group after all. Points 3, 4 and 5 seem okay, but 2 seems debatable given the fairly diverse ancestries within the group. Given the (mostly misinformed) controversy regarding the use of the word "Pakeha", 1 and 6 seem to disqualify it. On the other hand, the definition might include smaller groups that are generally thought not to count as discrete "ethnicities": individual iwi, hapū and perhaps even whānau would meet the criteria, as would similar structures within other cultures (such as Scottish clans).

I had being toying with the idea of putting myself down as "Pakeha/European". I've been here 30 years, so I must have absorbed at least some Pakeha culture. But I wasn't born here, and I don't hold many of the supposed core "Kiwi" values: I don't want to live on a quarter-acre section, I don't drink anything from half-gallon flagons (well, maybe scotch occasionally) and I don't particularly care for pavlova. On the other hand, I don't feel much connection with "Englishness" (certainly not the Daily Mail-reading "Little Englander" variety), so perhaps "European" is more appropriate. Blame it on being what Che Tibby would call a "metic".

Bugger it. Maybe I'll just put "Wellingtonian" on my form! I'm only half-joking: apart from the ancestry question (which would be a bit tricky for me anyway), it meets most of the criteria. I certainly feel more like a "Wellingtonian" than a "New Zealander", and I'd probably feel more at home in parts of London, Melbourne or New York than I would in Taihape, Gore or Whitby. If anywhere is "home", a "specific piece of territory" to which I feel attachment, then it's Wellington. Bring back City States!

14 Comments:

At 9:59 am, March 07, 2006, Anonymous Andy said...

There are a few problems with the common criticisms of the movement to allow "New Zealander" as an ethnicity.

Firstly, the ad-hominem charge that those who advocate NZer as an ethnicity are racist is in fact contrary to the findings of Webster in 2001 when he compared the views towards Maori of people who identified as "Pakeha" and "New Zealander". The former had more negative views than the latter.(source:
http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/events/strategic-social-policy/conference-03/3.18-paper.doc )

This is consistent with other information I've come across which indicates that self identified "New Zealanders" are more likely to support the teaching of Maori in schools than "Pakeha".

Secondly, as also pointed out in that paper, nationality is often allowed as an ethnicity in our census. Dutch, for example. It would be interesting to know, actually, whether the dutch themselves, on their census forms, have separate entries for Dutch European, Dutch Surinamese, and so on... In any case, the point is, we allow others to use nationality as an ethnicity, but not ourselves.

When we look at the definition of ethnicity, "New Zealanders" do have a common name for themselves. Many have common ancestry, though I dont think that should be important. Historical memories are founded upon New Zealand history. There is much that is shared culturally and that is unique to New Zealand, even as a young nation, and both languages are recognised. Attachment to a specific territory is fairly obvious. Identifying as a New Zealander is to identify as a member of that group.

Personally, I'd rather identify as a human being. Unfortunately, most of the human race doesnt seem to be ready for this. In the meantime then, and as much as I dislike nationalism, I favour elevating national identity and minimising divisive categorisations of national populations. Whenever we divide ourselves, or perpetuate a divide, or suppress attempts to reduce or eliminate divides, we support the mechanism through which an us/them mentality is generated and in turn creates competition and conflict.

Attempting to reduce divides is not to advocate assimilation in the sense that one culture in it's pure form eliminates another in it's entirety. It is a form of mutual integration. I think we should all have an appreciation for all of the cultures that have come to shape modern New Zealand, and to practise whichever elements we choose to as individuals, to take the best from all of them and with that, forge a greater New Zealand culture. In the same way that New Zealanders become closer and closer genetically so that over time, most of us will have Maori ancestry and European ancestry with Pacific Island, Asian, and others featuring prominently, so too should our culture evolve from it's separate foundations towards a common future. This is already happening and it should continue.

New Zealanders I believe, for the most part, stand for this. Those that oppose this over-arching and unifying self identification support division and the inevitable ingroup/outgroup biases and hostility it generates, whether they realise it or not.

 
At 11:22 am, March 07, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Hmm, Webster's findings are certainly a surprise to me. I know that anecdotal evidence is a contradiction in terms, but still it seems to me that the people I know who object to being called "pakeha" or say "we're all one nation" are the ones most likely to grumble about Treaty settlements, object to newsreaders saying "kia ora" and rant about "bloody Maoris". I'll see if I can track down the full source.

The Dutch example is an interesting one. I'm pretty happy with seeing "Dutch" as an ethnicity as well as a nationality: I'm sure that Dutch people see themselves as ethnically different from other Europeans (say, Serbs, Italians or Poles). On the other hand, the Dutch people themselves are certainly not of homogenous ancestry: to take myself as an example, I'm half Dutch by birth, but because of my colouring I'm often mistaken for Mediterranean, and this may have something to do with the Low Countries once being part of the Spanish Empire. Do I feel "Dutch"? No. But I've know Dutch New Zealanders, born here, who still feel ethnically and culturally distinct from (for want of a better word I'll call) "pakeha".

The reason that I think the current "NZer as ethnicity" campaign is racist is well summed up by the Quotes from Spoonley in that paper:

He sees an appeal to the idea “we are all New Zealanders” as a way of denying ethnicity, adding that “this particular form of nationalism is often contradicted by the racism of its adherents”.

If you put "NZer" as your ethnicity, are you expecting this to include Maori, Indians and Chinese, or to refer to white NZers alone? If the former, then you are denying those other groups their own cultural identity, and that is a form of racism. If the latter (and, as Tze Ming points out, the circulation of the email seems to hint at this), then it implies that the other groups aren't "real" NZers: ok, they may have an NZ passport, but they're not "real" Kiwis like us.

I'm sure I identify as a human being too, but I'm also undeniably of European descent and culture, and that does matter. You say that you "favour elevating national identity and minimising divisive categorisations of national populations", but I don't think that recognising our cultural differences is divisive. If anything, the opposite is the case: despite your belief in "mutual integration", and the fact that there is some mutual cross-pollination of cultures, in practice it is always the "non-white" cultures that have to do the integrating, and it's the ensuing resentment and loss of identity that causes the real divisions.

"Historical memories are founded upon New Zealand history" - up to a point, but there's more than one "NZ history". The Treaty of Waitangi and its subsequent breaches are certainly part of "NZ history", but the way that it helps define your identity will be vastly different depending upon whether you're Maori or Pakeha. Similarly, the Poll Tax and more recent "Asian Invasion" scares are part of NZ history, but they mean very different things to Chinese NZers than they do to others.

Yes, we're all NZers: because we live here. Bt some of us are Maori NZers, some are Chinese NZers, some are Greek NZers, and many NZers are descendents of Anglo-Celtic settlers or have ancestors who more recently immigrated from similar countries and identify with the culture that has evolved here from those settlers. Culture matters, and history matters, so ethnicity matters: and "New Zealanders" do not all share the same culture and history, so I don;t think it counts as an ethnicity.

 
At 12:56 pm, March 07, 2006, Anonymous andy said...

I think one of the problems with the "New Zealander" campaign is that in recent years it may have been co-opted by rednecks. There are those who believe that it's right and who have genuine motivations and justified opinions, and those for whom it serves as a tool through which they can "legitimize" their racism.

I know the kind of people you're talking about. I've had awkward experiences with distant relatives and having to listen to them bleat on about the "bloody Maoris" even while his Maori son-in law was present. When Brash articulated the one-law-for-all argument with the Orewa speech, a lot of people will have latched on to this and taken advantage of it. Which might actually explain the discrepency between not just yours, but a lot of people's experiences of finding a lot of the one-nation, "New Zealander" types being racist and contradicting findings such as those of Webster - those findings are probably pre-Orewa.

Nevertheless, people can be right for the wrong reasons. And not all of them do support this for the wrong reasons.

I would expect "New Zealander" to be all-inclusive. It is not a perfect fit in terms of the definition of ethnicity provided, but it fits at least as well as "
New Zealand European" does - perhaps I'm being overly optimistic but I dont think most white NZers see themselves as a group (I for one at least, dont consider myself to have any specific, race based kinship with any other white NZer), whereas all NZers on some level at least should. I dont see this as racist because it does not discriminate on the basis of race, prejudge on the basis of race, nor does itadvocate the supremecy of any race, but this could lead into semantic debates about what racism is - needless to say I prefer the dictionary definition to the version commonly redefined within sociology.

I think "New Zealander" is a valid, all-inclusive ethnicity because regardless of racial, religious, or family background, most New Zealanders have much more in common than otherwise, and even when we define groups to divide ourselves with, there is vastly more difference between the members of the groups, in terms of their personalities and outlooks and political views and indeed way of life, than there is average difference between groups. This may sound similar to the common argument against the biological concept of race, and it is.

By recognising and promoting New Zealander as an ethnicity, we're focusing first and foremost upon what we have in common, not just as the name of the country on our passports, but as the greatest defining characteristic of our identity.

I dont think it has to be so that the "non-white" cultures have to do all of the integrating. It is true that the mutual integration is disproportionate, but I dont think this inevitable, and if more New Zealand citizens are able to embrace a common identity, and a sense of common ownership of all cultural influences, and all histories of New Zealand, I think that will facilitate a more equitable mutual integration.

When Jimmy the white kid is told in school that his history is different from Maori history, that his practises and beliefs are different from those of Maori, when he discovers that by no decision of his, society determines that he and his buddy Tama are different and that it is normal for them to be different, Jimmy is less likely to embrace Maori history or practises as his own. By defining groups as different, we determine what their members are supposed to be and how they are supposed to behave. If Tama doesnt learn Te Reo or engage in certain activities or do so in the "appropriate manner", he risks being branded as a "bounty-bar" or "whitewashed" or "not maori-enough" (and I've witnessed this sort of thing). If Jimmy behaves the wrong way he too might be branded some ridiculous epithet. The point is, if instead of dividing us and defining us, we choose to teach New Zealand history - all of it - and the cultural practises of all of those who make up modern NZ as something that belongs to all of us as New Zealanders, allowing each of us to determine our own lifestyles and appreciate whichever elements we choose without judgements or expectations or social norms and pressures to limit us, we're more likely to see a more reciprocal "cross-pollination" between cultures.

You can have a particular interest in certain parts of the world and certain histories and practises and customs and quisine, whether you can trace your own ancestry in that direction or not, without having to set yourself apart as different and separate from others, least of all to consider that difference and separation the defining characteristic of your identity.

 
At 1:51 pm, March 07, 2006, Anonymous DEATH said...

question 25.

 
At 1:53 pm, March 07, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

"I would expect 'New Zealander' to be all-inclusive": so you're saying that everyone of NZ nationality also has 'NZer' as an ethnicity? So Maori would be able to put both 'Maori' and 'NZer' as ethnicities, and Chinese NZers would be able to put 'Chinese' and 'NZer" as dual ethnicities? What would "Jimmy the white kid" put? 'NZer' and 'NZer' as dual ethnicities? No, that would be ridiculous. So I suppose he should just put 'NZer' as a single ethnicity.

Do you see the problem? This implies that Jimmy is "just" a NZer, whereas the Maori and Chinese have to put 'NZer' and something else. Jimmy is a normal, standard NZer; the Maori and Chinese are "other", "ethnic", not just a plain old Kiwi. Can you see how this seems to privilege Jimmy as the "real" NZer, and can thus be seen as racist?

"By recognising and promoting New Zealander as an ethnicity, we're focusing first and foremost upon what we have in common": there's nothing wrong with recognising similarities, but there are problems with ignoring differences, even if it's in the spirit of reducing conflict and division. I used to think there wasn't much significant difference between Maori and Pakeha, but the more time I spend with Maori, the more I realise that their values and customs run deep and are in many ways fundamentally different from mine. It doesn't mean we can't get on or learn from each other's cultures, but those differences are vitally important to their sense of cultural identity, and they will fiercely resist any attempt to say "we're all the same, really".

"By defining groups as different, we determine what their members are supposed to be and how they are supposed to behave": is it us who define the groups, or the groups that define us?

"When Jimmy the white kid is told in school that his history is different from Maori history, that his practises and beliefs are different from those of Maori ... Jimmy is less likely to embrace Maori history or practises as his own": I don't believe this. For a start, how can you teach that their histories aren't different? Jimmy's Parihaka is not Tama's; Jimmy's Hau Hau is not Tama's; Jimmy's Orewa is not Tama's. Secondly, it's not primarily schools that teach history and practices: it's also parents (or whanau and marae). Jimmy just needs to spend a night on Tama's marae to see those histories and practices in action.

"if instead of dividing us and defining us, we choose to teach New Zealand history - all of it...": but our history does divide and define us! We certainly should teach all of NZ history, and every group can learn from the other's history. But the point is: I can learn about Te Rauparaha or Te Kooti or Apirana Ngata, and be better informed for it, but that history will never mean the same to me as it would if one of them had been my tupuna.

I could say that ethnicity doesn't matter to me (other than as a 'NZer'), and to some extent it would be true because my history, ancestry and values are (to some extent) those of 'mainstream' NZ. But to those who have different history, ancestry and values, the denial of ethnic differences amounts to a denyial of their identity.

 
At 3:58 pm, March 08, 2006, Blogger David said...

I find the whole argument against NZer to be bizarre. Can you imagine a UK census where "English" wasn't an ethnicity, and you had to identify yourself as a Norman, a Saxon, or a Viking?

I have more in common with other NZers, regardless of their skin colour or where their parents were born, than I do with Lithuanians, Greeks, or Sicilians. Or with Cumbrians, even tho my dad has a northern English accent. It's the shared values thing.

But I'd also be happy to see the whole question dropped. It is clearly a judgement call, and the census should be gathering facts rather than opinions. Especially when those opinions are effected by fashion.

 
At 4:44 pm, March 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My problem with it is an answer is that it's useless. It doesn't tell us anything, and it's not what the question is trying to measure. We already know how many citizens, permanent residents, and visiting aliens there are in the country.

Measuring ethnicity is a bit of a hazy concept, but it does serve a purpose for the sort of thing the census is supposed to achieve. Perhaps more people should specify more than one answer - I can see an argument for including "New Zealander" AS WELL as (an)other(s), or as a separate question, but it has no real value on its own. It's more of an obstructive non-answer like "Jedi".

 
At 4:58 pm, March 08, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

David: 'Can you imagine a UK census where "English" wasn't an ethnicity, and you had to identify yourself as a Norman, a Saxon, or a Viking?'

For a UK census, a better analogy than having "English" as an ethnicity would be "British". The English would be quite happy to say "well, we're all British, aren't we?", but a Welshman would be inclined to say something like "Yeah right, boyo!".

"I have more in common with other NZers, regardless of their skin colour or where their parents were born, than I do with Lithuanians, Greeks, or Sicilians."

I can't speak for you, but in my own case I'd be much happier living in a dense town, walking from home to a local eatery and having some red wine and olives (as a Greek or Sicilian might) than driving to a detached house on quarter-acre section and having a DB before fiddling around in the shed with some number 8 wire (or whatever it is that "real kiwis" are supposed to do with their time). That's why I ended up putting "Pakeha" and "European" on my form, and besides, I have an EU passport.

In any case, the first option is not "European" but "NZ European", which is shorthand for "New Zealander of European descent". That's what "Pakeha" means to me, and I find it a much less cumbersome and ambiguous term. It's not supposed to imply you have anything in common with Lithuanians; just that you have more in common with other NZers of European descent than you would with NZers of Maori, Chinese or Somali descent.

That's not to imply that these different ethnicities have irreconcilable differences; it just acknowledges that the differences do exist and do matter. Claiming that we're all part of a supposed "NZ ethnicity" denies that, which not only leads to practical difficulties (for example in delivering social services appropriate to communities with different needs) but runs the danger of implying that the cultural and historical distinctiveness of non-Pakeha NZers counts for nothing.

 
At 3:19 am, March 09, 2006, Blogger David said...

So, Tom, why does the form you posted give four tick boxes for various Polynesian islands. Which share ethnicity. But lump all these "NZ Europeans" in to one category? I'm guessing that Niueans number in the single thousands and share much in common with Cook Islanders and other Polynesians. Whereas "NZ European" probably comprises 80% of the population and a variety of ethnicities with vastly different values and genetics. There seems to be no consistency here.

And I too have a European passport. Doesn't mean I've ever felt even slightly European tho.

 
At 9:25 am, March 09, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Polynesian Islanders don't share an ethnicity: Niueans and Cook Islanders have different languages, different histories, different ancestries, different customs, different myths of narional origin. They may all look "brown" to us, but while their distant ancestors may all have migrated from Asia at some stage, they've had hundreds or thousands of years of separate cultural evolution to develop their own distinct ethnicities.

During the Balkan wars, I used to get confused by references to "ethnic Serbs" and "ethnic Croats": hold on, they all look white to me! It took me a while to realise that ethnicity is about more than race: the concept of shared ancestry is what distinguishes ethnic groupings from other cultural groupings, but that shared ancestry doesn't necessarily manifest itself in ways that are physically visible to outsiders.

'Whereas "NZ European" probably comprises 80% of the population and a variety of ethnicities with vastly different values and genetics.'

Close: 72% in 2001. But those "NZ Europeans" generally share an ancestry that mostly originates from settlers from the UK and Ireland. "NZ Europeans" all speak English, generally with an accent and vocabulary that distinguishes them from Aussies or Poms. They share historical touchstones, some of which may mean the same to other NZers (Gallipoli), others of which have very different meanings for other peoples (the Treaty, Parihaka). Not everyone shares exactly the same values, but then no ethnic group is ever 100% homogenous. But it seems clear to me that "NZ Europeans" (I much prefer the term "Pakeha") have much more in common with each other than members of different Polynesian ethnicities.

 
At 11:39 am, March 09, 2006, Blogger David said...

Europeans don't share an ethnicity: Norwegians and Albanians have different languages, different histories, different ancestries, different customs, different myths of narional origin. They may all look "white" to us, but while their distant ancestors may all have migrated from Africa(?) at some stage, they've had hundreds or thousands of years of separate cultural evolution to develop their own distinct ethnicities.

Significantly, NZers have also had almost a couple of hundred years of separate cultural evolution to develop their own distinct ethnicity... (slightly) different language, different history, different ancestry, different customs, different myths of national origin

I really can't see why the census granularity for Polynesians is so much different to that for Europeans. Your argument that most Europeans come from the UK doesn't, I believe, hold up in actual fact. And would be difficult to prove without reliable census data that broke "NZ European" down in to particular European ethnicities.

And, if you were to group the various Polynesian ethnicities in to a single Polynesian census tick box, then why not include Maori and make it "NZ Polynesian"?

 
At 11:43 am, March 09, 2006, Blogger David said...

>Your argument that most Europeans come from the UK doesn't, I believe, hold up in actual fact.

Sorry to follow up my own comment. Imprecise wording used... "most" will be descended from British... but without census data we don't know if this is an overwhelming 98 percent and therefore not worth measuring the non-British, or 51 percent.

 
At 7:04 pm, March 15, 2006, Anonymous JJ said...

I chose to be a "New Zealander" but I do not (as you seem to presume) expect the definition to apply to white NZers only, nor do I expect it to include ALL Maori, Indian and Chinese.

If somebody identifies with being a Maori, that is fine by me. Likewise if a Maori identifies him/herself as a New Zealander that too is no problem. Pakeha, New Zealand Maori, Irish-Scandinavian-Viking-Samoan I'm not worried.

As proud of my Scottish heritage as I am, I'm not Scottish. Never been there, have no tie to the land at all. As such, there's nothing "European" about this New Zealander.

To imply that I'm somehow part of a racist movement by thinking of myself as simply a "New Zealander" is ridiculous at best.

 
At 4:33 pm, March 25, 2006, Blogger Taniwha the Wally said...

i only objected to the census making me pick one and only one - as if we're only supposed to have one race in out family tree.

 

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