I really don’t enjoy having to do this, so I wish white theorists would stop using their racialised privilege to undermine racial justice work. But here we are, in a nation that centers Don Brash during Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, centers white psychiatrists on discussions of Matauranga Maori, and centers a white anthropologist in discussions on race critical theory. Even if we can’t live in a world where the opinions like this article, where Dame Anne Salmond historically and cultural decontextualises Te Tiriti o Waitangi to her own ends, makes it to print, it would nonetheless be nice if that was not connected to a system which dehumanises and disadvantages our people at every turn.
But here we are.
And just like the Lizendallobarthoglas article (which I’m quite sure is obliquely referenced in this article by Salmond), it’s important for us to place our truth. Because the plain fact of the matter is that opinion pieces like this are picked up by those with power and influence, and are used to perpetuate harm – harm that the author will never, herself, experience. Harm that instead delivered to me, and mine.
Time to deconstruct more white piffle. Gloves on, sanitise, let’s go:
Why does she call upon this narrative, and this character? What appeal does he have to her argument?
1. He is Indigenous, and so she is extracting from his indigeneity to make her point. This is not new, she has extracted from Indigenous minds and bodies her entire career, it has paid for her house, her car, her overseas trips, her everything. She is white, but never declares her whiteness… quite the opposite she has taken Waititi like a toy doll and is using mimicry to try and fake some kind of cultural authority which she, as a white woman, does not have.
2. He has a strong public platform, and so the reframing of his words to suit her narrative draws from his platform – but this process actually takes place over the length of the essay, this is just where she has placed the marker to start the process of twisting the points he made. Waititi never once suggested we should unteach race. He has suggested you can unteach racism – you do not do that by erasing it. In fact, it is exactly the wish of colonial racism that you DO ignore it, so it can continue to extract from brown and black bodies of flesh and our lands and waters.
3. It provides a neat segue to the next paragraph where she goes even deeper into her appropriation of whakapapa.
So let’s point out the obvious, first – this is a clearcut case of claiming proximity as expertise – it is no different to Judith Collins using her Samoan husband as her authority on Pasifika matters, or pakeha women with Maori children speaking “on their behalf” or the pakeha male who went to school with Maori. It is just being exercised to a different degree, and empowered by white academic power structures.
The use of tipuna Maori to further an agenda is for the whanau of said tipuna, ultimately, to call for account – so I won’t be wading into the specifics of what they said, or didn’t say, or meant, or thought.
What I can say though is that those who have followed Salmond’s work long enough know that she consistently draws from this relationship to weigh in on telling Maori how to be Maori. She has pakeha genealogy, as do the tipuna she cites over, and over and over again, and she consistently uses this connection, including in this instance their shared pakeha genealogy to feign mandate to speak on Te Ao Maori. At the end of the day, Salmond does not have the requisite whakapapa to shape this debate.
This is a very common trait of Salmond’s writings, to draw from Maori rather than her own cultural underpinnings in order to make her point. She uses Maori rhetoric, Maori themes, Maori protocols, and Maori proverbs, injecting her own speculation, and placing her decades old interactions with people who can no longer speak for themselves,
Furthermore, the fact that she has so blatantly twisted Waititi’s words to her own agenda and that her reasoning is called into question by numerous Maori and race scholars compels the reader to question her mandate to use Maori to justify her own racial theories in the first place.
It is a common fallacy of white anthropologists that they assume there is a period of time which they can spend which will provide this mandate. Back in the day armchair theorism was huge (and with the advent of the internet, spouting theories from the comfort of your armchair has made a strong comeback). Salmond was trained in a time when armchair anthropology was still rife, but increasingly criticised. New Zealand anthropologist Raymond Firth published ten books on the people and culture of Tikopia (in the Solomon Islands), was granted professorships at the London School of Anthropology, Cornell, University of Hawai’i and elsewhere for his “in depth” scholarship on Tikopia culture, and his texts are still, today, utilised in university courses on Pacific culture and anthropology – he went there just three times (1928, 1956, 1966).
So just how long should an anthropologist spend with a people before they really “know” them? A year, to see them in all of theseasons? 5 years? What should that interaction look like? Going to someone’s house to interview them? Or living with them? How many people should that include? 2? Or living 24/7 amongst them in the context of their village, their whanau, their hapu and their iwi? What is the responsibility of that person to maintain their immersion in that world in order to have some perspective on its social evolution through time? Why would Salmond continue to draw from these two figures and her interactions with them, decades ago, when she could easily draw from her immersion in Te Ao Maori now, if, indeed, she has that?
The assumption that white anthropologists can spend a particular period of time with some people and use that as the basis for expertise is rooted in racism. It draws directly from the traditions of white academia which posit that European men are the source of all rational thought, and all that’s required for them is sparse observation of a group, and they can apply their innate rationality to understand them better than they understand themselves. It’s tired, we are all bored of it, and it is well past its expiry date.
We have always, ALWAYS had our own Indigenous intellectual discipline and traditions, but have also grown our own scholars within western academia and are more than equipped to speak to our own worlds, interpret our own protocols, and position ourselves accordingly. Take a breath and read:
There is no number of years, no number of interviews, no number of hui, that a white anthropologist can attend that affords them more expertise over Maori, than Maori do over themselves.
The fact that Maori scholars eclipse all other expertise on our worlds naturally threatens white anthropologists who have made their careers out of extracting from, publishing on, re-framing and exploiting Maori worlds and words. Anti-racism calls for the declaration of positionality – it demands that people critically examine the bias and privilege that their skin colour, gender, ability, class and/or cis-hetero status affords them. Note – not once does Salmond do any of that.
There, see that? That is where Salmond pivots from racism to race. Taika Waititi never said that – but again, Salmond is putting words in his mouth for her own ends.
Ok – quick digression on Biological Anthropology – that is the most physically violent branch of the discipline – for the exact purpose of legitimising Imperial expansion. Exercises in measuring and pickling black and Indigenous brains, and theorising on relationships between the melanin in ones skin and their intellectual and physical capabilities, were formed to validate the violent invasion and theft of black and brown lands and the displacement and enslavement of black and brown bodies – and biological anthropology still operates today to maintain those harmful racist theories FOR THE PURPOSE of maintaining the privilege and power sourced from said land theft, displacement and enslavement. Biological/Physical anthropologists have long held the perverse space of ignoring race as emancipatory practice even while failing to confront and dismantle the violent, racist legacy of their own discipline. It’s not surprising, but very telling that this is Salmond’s go-to.
Paragraphs 11-18 are all very basic Tiriti scholarship. It’s 101 stuff. That Maori never ceded sovereignty was formally acknowledged in the Paparahi o Te Raki report in 2010. I won’t post that all here.
This is a basic, dangerous, ahistorical and decontextualised statement to make. The tino rangatiratanga of hapu/Maori existed well before Victoria came along it is not a right created by Te Tiriti but affirmed as REMAINING in spite of Te Tiriti. No such right existed for Non-Maori. That this referred to Maori only is unquestionable and is made further clear in the second article by the fact that pre-emption was an exclusive arrangement between rangatira and the Crown (for the sale of land) and only, ever, from that moment related to whenua Maori. You would be laughed all the way home from the Waitangi Tribunal for suggesting that rangatiratanga was intended for Non-Maori.
Another farcical statement that alludes to erasure of Maori as a racialised grouping who entered into an agreement with the Crown and let’s NOT FORGET that the lawlessness was not an issue of Maori at the time. This is an astounding ahistorical approach which removes Te Tiriti from it’s socio-historical context. Prior to the arrival of Victoria, our ancestors lived in accordance to our own laws, which sustained our whenua, waterways and relationships. There has been no level of disruption that comes anywhere near that which was brought by lawless colonizers. Maori sovereignty and legal validity was further recognised by He Whakaputaanga in 1835. That the lawlessness referred to in the preamble of Te Tiriti was a feature of colonizer “settlers” who absolutely unsettled our social balance is not even debateable – it’s been well and truly debated and settled, and the fact that Salmond want to go back and try to reframe this is, again, a regressive take.
From the perspective of those who understand the construction of race over time, it is exhausting to see such basic attempts at erasure. The mechanics of empire and its construction and maintenance of racial hierarchy is of course not outlined in Te Tiriti – why would it be? This did not however stop colonizing “settlers” and the Crown government they formed from applying that racial hierarchy in a way that created massive inequity, and that story needs to be told in order to understand its injustice. Salmond is fixated on this argument that because the word “race” does not feature in Te Tiriti, that it has no racialised implications – in spite of the fact that Tiriti violations are racist in nature, and enabled by a racist system created by racist Europeans.
Again, no, it is an agreement between the Crown and Maori, who were a racialised grouping, and the fact is that the very arrival of pakeha to Aotearoa was off the back of a racist premise, that Europeans had the right to move around the world, claim land, and set themselves up regardless of the laws of those lands that they were breaking. That Europeans imported racism to Aotearoa is no secret, that race was absent in the context of Te Tiriti, or that it is a non-racial agreement, is flat out wrong.
This continued line of reasoning that the word race has to be explicitly stated in order for race or racism to be present is patently absurd. Europeans were very aware of race – they invented it in the 15th century – the term itself came along a couple of centuries later but none of that is relevant to the fact that the assumptions behind imperial expansion, carried by Cook, carried by Victoria, carried by Hobson, carried by Europeans in general, were not inherently racist. The tools for deconstructing it and articulating its harm and injustice have only really been developed since the advent of race critical theory in the 1970s as a development from the civil rights movement. This does not make it irrelevant or any less of an active force in 1840.
Pay close attention to the language employed here, in saying that Cooke’s judicial interpretation of the Treaty is rewriting the Treaty – she is accusing him of a form of historical revisionism. Yet interpreting the Treaty is precisely what is required of people in such a position. Now, the entire judicial process rests within a racially unjust system but interpreting the Treaty has been done by countless Justices and theorists including Kawharu, Ngata, an abundance of scholar and of course the Waitangi Tribunal itself. It does not “rewrite” the Treaty, but then historical revisionism is a favoured go to by scholars who simply disagree with with what people are saying. That, too, starts with the assumption of a universal truth and rationale, the source of which is white European theorists.
AGAIN – Waititi never issued any such warning about using the word race, and never suggested its erasure.
Race is a construct – that’s not profound or new. It was constructed by European imperialists – that’s also not profound or new. What Salmond misses here is that it was through the spread of European empires that racism became entrenched into the fabric of modern society all around the world. Simply stating the obvious that it is not a biological fact does nothing to deconstruct the injustice of the systems that have been built upon it. That is the “ism” in racism – the systemic embedding of these ideologies. As a system, racism continues to inform the flow of privilege and benefits – of which Salmond is a recipient. I bet she doesn’t want them deconstructed and dismantled, she has a vested interest in their maintenance. Which is precisely why she has not declared her positionality.
Nobody suggested we should unteach race – just you, and a number of white supremacists who would love to ignore race as a powerful social force and important context for understanding colonialism.
This is stomach churning as it is non-sensical – because after using a whole lot of words to undermine rangatiratanga – the basic right of Maori to self-determination, Salmond tries to romantically brandish our own concepts, our own whakapapa, our own concepts to validate her argument. It’s insidious, exploitative, extractive, brownskin-cloaking. Whakapapa is no more explicitly mentioned in Te Tiriti than race is, but that doesn’t stop her from weaponizing it.
Salmond has taken this line often – again the “we are all migrants” line is not new – it is wielded by racists to erase indigeneity. We all have some migrant whakapapa but that does NOT negate the fact that Maori are INDIGENOUS to Aotearoa and to Te Moananui a Kiwa. It does not change the fact that when Europeans brought racism and racial hierarchy to Aotearoa, they applied it, with Imperial force and complete lack of morals, to create racist economic, academic and political systems that persist to this day. As someone who has whakapapa Maori, which Anne does not, I can confidently say that whakapapa has not stopped racism in its tracks. Also – whakapapa is not up for pakeha grabs. It is our concept, it belongs to us to define, and to use. Pakeha anthropologists don’t get to grab it and put it up for everyone to employ in their own little racist redemption song.
And yet never once have they concluded that rangatiratanga applies to all, that racism was not present in the context of Te Tiriti, or that whakapapa negates racism.
For the upteenth time, Waititi never suggests to unteach race. But it’s more important, at this point, to acknowledge the following: What is developed by Tuhoe, and works for Tuhoe, is up to Tuhoe. Same goes for Te Awa Tupua, and the same for Taranaki mounga. I celebrate all of our iwi who have worked out an arrangement that works for them.
What a white anthropologist, thinks of those arrangements does not matter in the slightest and when white people position Maori actions they agree with as arguments against Maori actions they do not agree with – it’s a type of “positive racism” (another example of this is the “good Maori” trope, or complimenting a non-white person for having such good English, or wanting to touch and fondle curly black hair, or calling cultural appropriation “homage”). These agreements are, simply, not hers to judge or use as leverage points against other Maori actions or agreements. Similarly, what she thinks of the march towards tino rangatiratanga, as it manifests in Three Waters, or the Maori Health Authority, or Constitutional Transformation, is NOT hers to judge, nor are they the property and sole product of this government. They are a product of the Maori rights struggle, they have been called for by Maori, and Salmond, a white beneficiary of colonial racism, has absolutely no mandate to critique them.
Look, race is a scientifically invalid method for grouping people into categories based on physical characteristics. Invalid as it was, it was the violent enforcement of racial hierarchy that has caused this division, not the mentioning of the word race. What has allowed that violent coercion to be maintained is the ABSENCE of critical, deconstructive theory that identifies it, exposes its harm, and thereby enables us to develop deliberately ANTIracist solutions.
Removing all reference to race does not remove racism, it empowers it.
We know this because that is how it managed to spread right around the world and embed itself in every social institution while not-being-analytically-discussed for centuries leading up to the civil rights and Indigenous rights movements.
But this is why white women should not bring anthropology to a critical race theory fight.
Again, this is a reason why Anne Salmond needed to declare her positionality a the beginning of this – she is a white anthropologist, a beneficiary of colonial privilege who has not ever experienced colonial racist abuse, speculating on what should be done about that from her own privileged position (and exploiting tikanga Maori to do so). I should also say that on the marae, in pohiri, the declaration of ones position, through whakapapa, tauparapara, and other means, is the basis upon which you will be welcomed, or not. If you are deceptive in your positioning, then that is not at all respectful, and in the old days would have gotten you a straight crack on the head with a mere. James Cook is a great example of what comes to those who pretend to be someone they’re not.
It is not the framing that creates the racist abuse. It is the abuse of white privilege that does so. The abuse of white privilege that allows media editors, like Newsroom, to ascend to their roles without the critical tools necessary to see why an article like this should not be published. The abuse of white privilege that fails to enforce protective controls on social media and media comments sections, making them breeding grounds for anonymous racialised hate. The racist education system that allows people to foster those hateful ideas in the first place.
And for the record, although she does not explicitly say this, there are echoes of “free speech”, “be a nice native” and “reverse racism” arguments in this paragraph which are levelled against those who are righteously angered whenever they are confronted by racist arguments. So let me address this: rage against racism, is righteous rage. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it is not a waste of energy or emotion, it is not misplaced, or wrong, and it most definitely is not up for judgement by white beneficiaries of racism. White people can experience racial prejudice sure but beyond the obvious truth that it’s not a nice feeling – it has no further social consequence for those people. It is not attached to them being racially profiled. It is not attached to denial of access to education, or healthcare. It is not attached to a system of inequity that disadvantages them at every opportunity. It is not connected to a history of mass murder and displacement that still sits in their bones and still shapes their destinies. It is not. up. for white judgement.
Can you see how she has pivoted from “unteaching racism” in the first paragraph to a fully fledged “unteach race” argument, using Waititi as her shield?
Stop taking from our people.
Look, it’s a great pity that we have to do this. It’s a pity that Anne Salmond does not respect her lanes, and in fact, uses her proximity to Te Ao Maori to erase those lanes rather than respect them. It’s a great pity that the editor of Newsroom, and in fact most publications in Aotearoa, do not have the critical nouse to spot the harm a piece like this does. It’s a pity that our own race critical discourse in Aotearoa is so wanting, so embedded in white redemption rather than justice and emancipation for those targeted by racism, that it is left for non-white people to have to deconstruct these arguments for future reference. It would be nice if they could just stick in their lanes, necessitate quality Tiriti and Anti-racist education and policies for those in charge of platforms, and center the voices of those most impacted by racism when it comes to addressing it. Then I could have spent tonight chilling instead of having to place our truth, somewhere, for our mokopuna to find.
2 thoughts on “Its Time (AGAIN) to Teach About Racism”
Tēnā koe e te whanaunga mo te akoranga nei mōku mo ngā uri whakaheke.
Mauri ora, Tina. Ngā mihi nui ki a koe mō tō kupu tika, kupu kaha. Thank you for your wisdom and scholarship, for dismantling this absolute dross of privileged Pākehā pretence of there is no racism in NZ, if we just invisibilise it. I often don’t have the words to express my righteous anger, but you always fill my kete matauranga.