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Heads I win, tails you lose – Rigged narratives regarding race in NZ media – Part 2 

In brief

  • NZ Media narratives often simplify Māori experiences into a singular story of victimhood, overlooking individual choices and diverse identities.
  • Many Māori may only remotely identify as such, but it affects statistics in health, education, and justice systems.
  • Arguments suggest that disadvantages attributed to systemic racism might instead stem from socioeconomic status, challenging the focus on racial discrimination.

In Part 1, we discuss how the media often spins one-sided, politicised narratives regarding race, framing opposition to the race based agenda as either ignorant or racist, ultimately hindering productive discussions.

Beyond victimhood towards embracing Māori agency and diversity

The media often promotes negative portrayals of Māori as a monolithic group of victims suffering from “systemic racism”. They often fail to recognise Māori individual agency and diversity. 

This leads to the emergence of what some have termed the “victimhood industry,” where different players capitalise on narratives of victimisation to advance their agendas.

National MP James Meager, himself of Ngāi Tahu descent, made headlines with his maiden speech, calling out this victimisation narrative, declaring that the Left do not own the poor, the workers or Māori. 

The complexities of Māori identity

Māori identity is far more nuanced than the mainstream media suggests. Consider, for example, Australia’s ‘501 problem,’ where many individuals with minimal cultural ties to New Zealand are deported based on a tenuous legal definition of NZ ancestry. 

This is analogous for many, for whom ticking the Māori box on a birth certificate is more about acknowledging ancestral lineage than engaging with a political or cultural identity. 

NZ media narratives
501 deportees from Australia are often considered Kiwis because it suits their government’s purpose.

Yet, this broadened definition of Māori identity has repercussions in sectors like health, education, and justice.  

Statistics based on self-declared racial identity can skew the reality faced by these communities because the government may allocate resources based on misleading figures. For example, it is often quoted that more than half of NZ’s prison population is Māori, but is it possible that people who have only the slightest connection to their Māori identity are included in those statistics? 

The result is that Māori, as a group, are told they are “victims” of a system that is racist against them, while meanwhile are tarred and feathered with the failings of people who may be mostly Pākehā. But painting this and similar distorted pictures throughout society, for whatever reason, prevails.

Rethinking “Systemic racism” 

The term “systemic racism” may feed into the victimhood mentality and industry because of the somewhat misleading use of the word “racism” in the phrase itself. Perhaps systemic barriers is a better term as systemic racism doesn’t impact individuals based on race as much as it does with other social, economic and cultural factors. 

Poor people with poor education records are more likely to have poor outcomes generally because of the barriers they face for being poor. But the victimhood industry prefers to portray everything as related to race, and by definition Māori, which engages the Treaty in their arguments. 

Ian Wishart says a prominent Māori activist in the 1970s and 80s, Dun Mihaka (famous for baring his buttocks at royalty), said in an interview that the issue wasn’t really race, but socioeconomic. 

Also, the late journalist Garth George offered that the disadvantage suffered by so many Māori was not a result of them being Māori, but of being poor.

Wealthy non-white people might have resources to navigate or buffer against certain systemic barriers more effectively than those without such resources (but of course they can still face racism). 

Conversely, poor white people face barriers primarily associated with socioeconomic and cultural status. While they might not experience racial discrimination in the same way, they do encounter systemic barriers related to poverty, access to quality education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. 

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