Well, at the risk of putting te ngeru among nga kereru, there’s something I’ve been wondering about ever since the kerfuffle earlier this year over naming and identity.

The way I remember it, Hannah Ho started up a fairly substantial debate around the application of the label “white” to majority New Zealanders. This debate was mostly held over at a conference website, here.

I’m not much interested in getting back into that debate. Pretty much everything that could be said was, and it all started to get kind of circular.

I’ve been thinking about the motivations for the argumentation that occurred though, and something very interesting popped up. In a nutshell, the issue was the application of the title “white”. While it’s obvious that the majority of New Zealanders are racially Caucasian, what’s not always accepted is that with that race comes “white culture”. It’s only natural. And why? Because most New Zealanders don’t seem to see themselves as a distinct racial group. The identity splinters into country, nationality and culture of origin. Consequently, the label “white” ends up as a kind of catch-all for everyone who doesn’t belong to a racial, religious or ethnic minority. In other words, a simplification, or stereotype.

And that lead me to another thought. Why do majority New Zealanders so dislike being tarred with the “white” brush?

For one, they don’t like the suggestion that they’re “oppressors”, or “the man”. This is actually perfectly natural, and the sort of response you’d get from any majority who was labeled with a slightly derogatory term.

More interesting though is the issue of naming, and who gets to name groups. One of the things that define majorities is that they get to say what things are. They name places, events, festivals and the like. They define the national languages, and the national symbols. Again, this is normal, and global.

I’m coming to the opinion that this could be the underlying reason so many people react against the type of thing Hannah has tried to do. Although it was not her intention, Hannah has stepped into the majority, but as a self-identifying minority member, and named the group. Result? People freaked.

And why? First we need to disregard that “white” in the way Hannah was using it is commonly perceived as a derogatory label, as in “whitey”.

What is more important probably runs closer to the title of Tze Ming’s blog. Their is a long-standing concern about the yellow peril, one manifested in the success of xenophobic politicians at becoming re-elected term after term.

The fact of the matter is that naming places and people is also what colonisers do, and the collective memory of colonialism is still very close to the surface in New Zealand. I would hazard a guess that New Zealanders would be unhappy with any label they did not chose themselves, and to reflect their own view of themselves.

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