Unsettled in Australia: Reflections on my first Australia/Straya/Invasion day

koala bear

My first stuffed toy as a child in Nairobi was a koala bear and I’ve been besotted with them ever since. So you can imagine that I was captivated by this meme where the koala realises that she’s not a bear but a marsupial. To draw a very long bow, I think her puzzlement captures the experience of so many visibly different migrants in settler societies who believe they are part of a nation and then find that they aren’t, whether it’s because their qualifications aren’t recognised which leads them to be unemployed or under-employed or they begin to realise that their skin colour doesn’t lend them to being neatly absorbed into the imagined community on national days of celebration. So here I am in Australia, not as a nine year old (when my family were looking to migrate from Nairobi) but as an adult in mid-career, here to live and work. Joining a multitude of other New Zealanders (the most common country of birth of Australian residents outside of Australia is the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, you’ll find other interesting nuggets on cultural diversity on Esther Hougenhout‘s blogpiece) who’ve also crossed the ditch. I’ve visited Australia for conferences and to visit my partner’s family, but it’s been over twenty years since I lived somewhere other than Aotearoa. In my work and community life I’ve carefully considered how migrants engage with settler institutions and their relationships with indigenous communities, but I am having a powerful opportunity to examine my own complicity in forms of oppression (in the context of another settler society) as Harsha Walia so powerfully puts it in a video on anti-oppression, decolonization, and being a responsible ally.

992894-australia-word-cloud
From news.com.au
australia-map-aboriginal-nations
Courtesy of Brisbane Murri Action Group

We’ve arrived in time for Australia day which commemorates the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788, when British sovereignty was also proclaimed over the eastern seaboard of Australia. It’s a day of festivals, concerts, citizenship ceremonies and acknowledgements of the contributions Australians have made with the recipients of honours and Australian of the year announced. Entrepreneur and electrical retailer Dick Smith even got into the jingoistic spirit with his casually racist advertisement for Aussie foodstuffs, beautifully critiqued by Sunili. I’m not sure if the stones that hit both our heads as we were walking along the Nepean highway to look at housing options were an important Australia day cultural tradition for young blokes in fast cars (I’d like to know how their aim was so brilliantly accurate). Nevertheless fervent nationalism is everywhere, cars and houses are adorned with Australian flags and there is an exacerbation in bogan behaviour as comedians Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet and Robert Foster/Kenneth Oathcarn observe.

S Peter Davis who made a YouTube video Straya Day, notes that

as January 26 rolls around, you begin to see cars on the road with little Australian flags poking out the windows like a diplomatic cavalcade. In what is usually a pretty tolerant and multicultural nation, this is one day of the year when folks start casting suspicious and slightly disapproving glances toward brown people. Anti-immigrant slogans like “We grew here, you flew here,” and the somewhat more direct “Fuck off we’re full” begin to make the rounds. Understand, it’s the minority of people, and Australia does not hold the patent on racism. But when you combine this with a cocktail of youth, alcohol and barbecue…parts of the country just explode in a shower of beer, singlets and thongs.

Or not as the pictures below reveal.

Beer baby
Via Chalk Hotel’s Facebook page

This day of barbecues and beer is also called Invasion or Survival day. It represents “an undercurrent of division and inequality that belies the happy, egalitarian culture that the day is meant to convey, “a day of mourning for the land that was taken and the ensuing two centuries of social alienation and discrimination” as Robin Tennant-Wood puts it. There are also Survival Day celebrations like the 2013 Share The Spirit Festival featuring Indigenous music, dance and culture. Numerous Invasion day marches have also taken place across Australia.

Grandtheft Australia
Via Idle No More Facebook page

Hip hop artists Reverse Polarities recent release “Invasion Day” acknowledges the historical and continuing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians and pushes for Australians to understand their history rather than being immobilised by guilt (white Australians) or innocence (visibly different new Australians):

Many Australians feel guilt for the actions their white predesessors and claim non- involvement due to being new Australians. We must be active in our understanding of history. The past is not ours to change, but the future can be shaped.

INM Invasion day
Via Idle No More Australia’s Facebook page

Peter Gebhardt a poet, retired County Court judge and former principal asks for accountability and reckoning with the history of genocide “What might an Aboriginal person say of Australia Day? Why should the Aborigines celebrate that day?” He adds:

It was the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres. The wind-stench of bodies burned in bonfires hangs heavy upon the nation’s conscience and in the clouds…You can shuttle history, but you cannot shuttle facts. It would be a great Australia Day if it faced honesty, historical facts, abandonment, hypocrisy, shelved superiority and embarked upon an exercise of spiritual empathy rather than religious hubris.

A point supported by Tristan Ewins, who calls for celebration and critique of this national day:

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

The desire for redress and accountability has a long way to go to being realised, but small steps toward reconciliation are evident. This year for the first time both the Aboriginal and Australian flags were simultaneously hoisted on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aboriginal flag on bridge
Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: News Limited via new.com.au

Apparently, more than 17,000 people from 145 countries took the citizenship pledge to become Australians on January 26th. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, Tony Abbott Leader of the Opposition told an Australia Day breakfast and citizenship ceremony in Adelaide that change should be welcomed “when it’s in accordance with the customs and traditions of our people” and he added that new citizens were “changing the country for the better”.

Being a new arrival in Australia myself has been interesting, there are many similarities with New Zealand. The neoliberal multicultural success stories of refugees and migrants loom large both in media and in private conversations. Take Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year 2013 who arrived  in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan and went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. Or diasporic Maori, Frank (name changed) who repeatedly called himself and other Maori “niggers”in front of his car salesman colleagues. He told me that his wife wanted to return home six months into their stint here and he insisted they “tough it out”, he quipped “things are fine if you just work hard”. He’s taught his children important aspects of Te Ao Maori and has disdain for the various groups that have formed stating that “if you want to learn about your culture you should go home to do it”. Rauf Soulio (chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and a judge of the District Court of South Australia) peppers an opinion piece with words and phrases like “enterprise”, “courage and commitment” and talks about people who “strove to build new and prosperous lives”.  Extolling a neoliberal narrative combined with a commitment to reconciliation:

It is one of the hallmarks of our multiculturalism that we work hard to ensure that those who come here have every opportunity to become fully participating members of Australian society, rather than remaining guests or temporary visitors. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have Australian lineage or ancestry when you arrive – as long as you contribute.

Aus-strayer
Illustration: Ben Sanders/The Jacky Winter Group in the Sydney Morning Herald

Yup, I’m here to work and become a “fully participating member” of Australian society, and to that end have also been consuming multiculturalism with relish and delight. I am blissfully happy at being able to access ingredients and cuisines that are difficult to find in Aotearoa. But consumption aside, I do want to find a way to engage ethically with this place. Shakira Hussein‘s incisive critique of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London brilliantly skewers Morrison’s selective consumption of multiculturalism:

Morrison doesn’t spell out which aspects of “diversity” would be considered acceptable under a more balanced post-multicultural regime, but I’m guessing he subscribes to the consensus view that multiculturalism has had a beneficial effect on the Australian diet. (Sharia tribunals? No thanks. Homous and baklava? More, please.) Even those most ardent racists participate in the multiculturalism of consumption. But while enjoying our pizza and laksa, we need to “send a message” that such tolerance “is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values and laws of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not licence: the primacy of the English language”.

His comments come just in time for Geert Wilder’s visit to Australia next month. See Deborah Kelly’s kit below.

Veiled woman

I was in Sydney almost seven months ago when I caught up with a friend of the family who asked me why I hate white people. I had to explain to him that my work is about critiquing white hegemony and that is a different thing. Critiquing hegemony and racism and advocating for indigenous rights is viewed decidedly un-Australian, as effectively parodied by Don Watson:

We’re pragmatists. It comes with being Australian that we don’t upset ourselves about things of no practical consequence. Of course, for some people the wine’s always corked. You’ll hear them from Ballarat to Bali, running the country down. Fair dinkum, you want to deck the bastards sometimes. But, as I said, we don’t upset ourselves. Poor things, they can’t think of the foundation of the country without thinking of the people it was taken from. They can’t think of dear old decent Arthur Phillip without thinking of the time he sent out men with bags to collect half a dozen Aboriginal heads. Nothing in the manifold benefits of British rule, British institutions, British customs and British capital cheers them up or excites a little gratitude.

Remind them of the nation’s progress, show them how human health and happiness have in general flourished here, and in return you’ll get the vale of tears it has been for the Aborigines, or the grave injustices to women, or the treatment of refugees arriving on boats: as if because some people got the rough end of the pineapple we are all supposed to be abraded by it.

Michel Foucault the French philosopher said that the point of “a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest”. For me, as an academic with a commitment to social justice, blindly supporting the status quo is not an option. I know that I have a long journey of learning and unlearning ahead of me, without the reassurance of state sanctioned biculturalism or a biculturalism grounded in treasured processes and relationships in Aotearoa that have inflected my adult life. But this grounding from the place I’ve called home for most of my life will be fundamental to examining my complicity in the maintenance of oppression, my understanding of the multicultural project and to forging my own rather than received understandings of indigineity here in Australia. Luckily there are many who’ve already walked this path. Between their wisdom and those of my global intellectual and political community I think I am koalified to undertake this next adventure.

Via Colourfest film festival
Via Colourfest film festival

 

 

 

Migrant support for Idle No More

When my parents were considering migrating from East Africa, their focus was on the white settler contexts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. For a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here, they settled on Aotearoa New Zealand. A part of me always felt like my life would have been better if we’d moved to Canada or the United States, because there would have been a bigger Goan community and more support for my family. I reasoned I might have felt more culturally confident, more capable at speaking Konkani. My visit to Canada in October helped me accept the gift that my parents had given me in migrating to Aotearoa New Zealand. By not being wrapped in the comforting cocoon of an insular diasporic community, I had to figure out my own relationship with my personal and cultural history but also what Ghassan Hage terms, an ethical relationship with colonisation and living on colonised land. Visiting Canada and meeting terrific indigenous people and migrant scholars allowed me to see the contrast between Canada’s genocidal history and its self-representation as a benign, civilised and benevolent nation. The parallels between Aotearoa and Canada of a colonial history supplemented by exploited migrant labour to meet settler ends mirrored the clearly unfair outcomes in measures of health, well-being and prosperity for indigenous peoples that I see in Aotearoa New Zealand as a health professional. For the first time I began to see how the issues I’d been grappling with as a migrant were replicated across seemingly disparate white settler contexts.

Idle No More. Immigrants support Indigenous rights. Les immigrantes appuient les droits des peuples autochtones. Los inmigrantes apoyan los derechose de los pueblos indigenas. Via Harsha Walia
Image courtesy: Aaron Paquette

The Idle No More movement which began on Great Turtle Island on December 10, 2012 was initiated by four women Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean in response to legislation (Bill C-45) affecting First Nations people and gained momentum with the hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. Impressively the United Church of Canada has acknowledged it’s complicity in colonization, inequality and abuse, through being one of the bodies that ran Indian Residential Schools. In 1986 they apologized to Aboriginal peoples for confusing “Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.” Apologizing to former residential schools students in 1998. Their response to the Idle No More movement has been to fully support Chief Spence’s statement that “Canada is violating the right of Aboriginal peoples to be self-determining and continues to ignore (their) constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights in their lands, waters, and resources.”

Other activists have also taken note of the commonalities of the struggle, noting how how what is particular, has universal relevance. Naomi Klein notes that

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada’s roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.

International support has come from the occupied lands of Palestine and indigenous communities around the globe. In Aotearoa New Zealand a Facebook page has been developed called Aotearoa in Support of Idle No More: Maori women’s group Te Wharepora Hou, a collective of wāhine based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland  with a commitment to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine have also pledged support. As a migrant occupying a disquieting position in a country working through issues of biculturalism and mutliculturalism in a monocultural context. Diasporic migrant communities and organisations have also backed the Idle No More movement, with South Asian activists and BAYAN-Canada, an alliance of progressive Filipino organizations noting the similarities between migrant experiences and indigenous struggles.

Immigrants in Support of Indigenous Rights via Harsha WaliaPhoto credit: Cameron Bode
Immigrants in Support of Indigenous Rights via Harsha Walia
Photo credit: Cameron Bode

How do we do engage with an indigenous struggle when we do and don’t belong at the same time? Himani Bannerji notes in a Canadian context (but one that readily resonates through various white settler contexts):

So if we problematize the notion of ‘Canada’ through the introjection of the idea of belonging, we are left with the paradox of belonging and non-belonging simultaneously. As a population, we non-whites and women (in particular, non-white women) are living in a specific territory. We are part of its economy, subject to its laws, and members of its civil society. Yet we are not part of its self-definition as ‘Canada’ because we are not ‘Canadians.’ We are pasted over with labels that give us identities that are extraneous to us. And these labels originate in the ideology of the nation, in the Canadian state apparatus, in the media, in the education system, and in the commonsense world of common parlance. We ourselves use them. They are familiar, naturalized names: minorities, immigrants, newcomers, refugees, aliens, illegals, people of color, multicultural communities, and so on. We are sexed into immigrant women, women of color, visible minority women, black/South Asian/Chinese women, ESL (English as a second language) speakers, and many more. The names keep proliferating, as though there were a seething reality, unmanageable and uncontainable in any one name. Concomitant with this mania for naming of ‘others’ is one for the naming of that which is ‘Canadian.’ This ‘Canadian’ core community is defined through the same process that others us. We, with our named and ascribed otherness, face an undifferentiated notion of the ‘Canadian’ as the unwavering beacon of our assimilation.

The experiences of marginalisation that Bannerji elucidates can guide our responses to the Idle No More movement. Gurpreet Singh from Vancouver, notes that South Asian seniors have always referred to the indigenous peoples as Taae Ke (family of elderly uncle). If we see a familiar connection between what we ourselves experience as migrants and extend that empathy to the struggles of indigenous people who have experienced an inter-generational slow genocide, we might be able to see beyond our own oppression and our view that we are too far outside the structures of power to claim a space. Privileged in some ways, disadvantaged in others, our futures are tightly imbricated in this indigenous struggle. Our presence has sometimes diffused indigenous claims and we must consider our complicity in the continuing colonisation of indigenous people. We must put pressure on governments to recognise the rights of indigenous people and their unique place as guardians of the lands we stand upon, our futures depend on it.

At the asset sales March in Auckland in April 2012. Banner by YAFA-Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa.
At the asset sales March in Auckland in April 2012. Banner by YAFA-Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa. Photo by Sharon Hawke.

 

 

Xenoglossophobia: Speak English or die

So if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself —Gloria Anzaldua.

Language maintenance and pluralism mean different things to different groups. Multilingualism is an act of survival for linguistic minorities, but read as a deviation, a threat, a sign of defiance and a rejection of fundamental nation-state values by the dominant culture in migrant receiving and white settler contexts. This interpretation of language pluralism is epitomised in the Stormtroopers of Death song Speak English Or Die (1985).

You come into this country
You can’t get real jobs
Boats and boats and boats of you
Go home you fuckin’ slobs
Selling hot dogs on the corner
Selling papers in the street
Pushing, pulling, digging, sweating
Where you come from must be beat[CHORUS]
You always make us wait
You’re the ones we hate
You can’t communicate
Speak English Or DieYou don’t know what I want
You don’t know what I need
Why must I repeat myself
Can’t you fuckin’ read?
Nice fuckin’ accents
Why can’t you speak like me
What’s that dot on you head,
Do you use it to see?

I was reminded of it with the news of a racist incident in Melbourne where a group of French-speaking women travelling on a bus were told by another woman to “speak English or die”. The verbal abuse captured on video shows a second man threatening to cut the woman with a knife. The knives remained in the kitchen in a New Zealand Herald report about the unfair dismissal of a chef who in addition to the sin of not knowing the difference between types of tofu “insisted on listening to Indian music and speaking Hindi” which  “affected” customers. This anxiety about the speaking of languages other than English extends to the policy sphere with many states in the US introducing legislative bills to make English the official state language, for example Minnesota in 2011. Even signs in languages in other languages provoke discomfort. Massey University researchers Robin Peace and Ian Goodwin found some New Zealanders responded with “annoyance” or “repugnance” when confronted with a space that did not make immediate, translatable sense.

What is with this monolingual sense of entitlement over public space and deep rage that is provoked by people speaking (or singing as the Frenchwomen were) in their own language?

I think it has a lot to do with how “we” might imagine “ourselves”. Language is a glue that coheres people, identities and values. Hearing a different language represents a threat to the power relations of the dominant group.

Immigrants are not supposed to be heard…. Immigrant culture and language—assumed to have little prestige or usefulness in comparison with the dominant American culture and the English language—are supposed to fade away quickly as assimilation runs its course—Castro, 1992.

The anxiety (Xenoglossophobia) generated in hearing a language that is out-of-place, reflects an anxiety about broader demographic changes that have resulted in the browning of our societies. Having a monoglot ideology though means that linguistic diversity is denied and prohibited. If English is the only language that can be heard, then this effectively silences other languages, cultures and ideas.

Assimilationist and genocidal approaches to linguistic plurality have been central to settler capitalist histories requiring the coercive adoption of majority languages in the interests of economic development. Monolingualism was fundamental to economic growth and supporting language minority rights was viewed as a threat to the nation-state because of having an unassimilated ‘other’ (Phillipson, Rannut, & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994, p. 4). Colonisation and migration led many to abandon their own languages in order to access the social and political benefits of incorporation and assimilation or risk being stigmatised. My experience of trying to reclaim my own language is relevant here. The Portuguese colonisation of Goa led to the Konkani language being marginalised through the enforcement of Portuguese. This linguistic displacement made Konkani the lingua de criados (language of the servants) as Hindu and Catholic elites turned to Marathi and Portuguese respectively. Ironically Konkani is now the ‘cement’ that binds all Goans across caste, religion and class and in 1987 Konkani was made an official language of Goa. Ironically, contemporary iterations of [neo]colonial and [neo]liberal agendas require the appropriation of languages in the interests of global capital, as seen by the push for Chinese language learning in Australia, with monolinguists questioning the global relevance of indigenous languages. Setting up a familiar dynamic of competing indigenous and migrant others. Interestingly the National Statement on Language Policy published by The Human Rights Commission reflects these tensions:

Human Rights and Responsibilities

The right to learn and use one’s own language is an internationally recognised human right. Human rights treaties and declarations specifically refer to rights and responsibilities in relation to indigenous languages, minority languages, learning and using one’s mother tongue, the value of learning international languages, and access to interpretation and translation services. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that ‘a person who belongs to an ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority in New Zealand shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of that minority, to enjoy the culture, to profess and practise the religion, or to use the language of that minority’.

New Zealand has a particular responsibility under the Treaty of Waitangi and international law to protect and promote te reo Mäori as the indigenous language of New Zealand. It also has a special responsibility to protect and promote other languages that are indigenous to the New Zealand realm: Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau, Cook Island Mäori, and New Zealand Sign Language. It has a regional responsibility as a Pacific nation to promote and protect other Pacific languages, particularly where significant proportions of their communities live in New Zealand.

Economic Development

A significant and growing proportion of New Zealand’s trade is with Asia and learning the languages of our key trading partners is an economic imperative.

Interestingly the New Zealand Settlement Strategy in its seven goals for successful settlement, aims for newcomers to New Zealand to:

  1. feel welcomed and connected
  2. get the right job and contribute to future prosperity
  3. speak and understand New Zealand English
  4. know how to access information and services
  5. feel proud and confident
  6. feel safe
  7. understand and contribute to New Zealand society.

But there is no emphasis on language maintenance.

Aotearoa New Zealand and linguistic pluralism

Aotearoa New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). English is a de facto official language as it is widely used in Aotearoa, English is spoken by 95.9 percent of people, after which the most common language in which people are proficient in is Māori, spoken by 4.1 percent (157,110 people). 24,090 people report being able to use New Zealand Sign Language and 6,057 people can communicate in all three official languages. Between 2001 and 2006, the numbers of people in New Zealand who spoke Hindi almost doubled, from 22,749 to 44,589, the number of people able to speak Northern Chinese (Mandarin) increased from 26,514 to 41,391, the number of people able to speak Korean increased from 15,873 to 26,967, and the number of people able to speak Afrikaans increased from 12,783 to 21,123. The number of multilingual people increased by 19.5 percent between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses to reach 671,658 people, a 43.3 percent increase from 468,711 people in 1996. Where you were born has a big impact on whether you speak two or more languages, overseas-born residents are more likely than New Zealand-born usual residents to be able to speak two or more languages. 35 percent of overseas-born children (aged 0 to 14 years) speak two or more languages, compared with 11.5 percent of New Zealand-born children. As do working-age people aged between 15 to 64 years, of whom almost half 48.5 percent were multilingual, compared with 10.0 percent of New Zealand-born people. In 2006, 2.2 percent of people could not speak English. Of these, the majority were born overseas (80.3 percent).

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission views the promotion of language as a human right. Its 2005 vision for language was that “by the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040 New Zealand is well established as a bilingual nation and communities are supported in the use of other languages”. It contributes to that vision in many ways including publishing a monthly e-newsletter, Te Waka Reo; a National Statement on Language Policy; supporting language weeks and other language promotion activities,and dealing with complaints about discrimination involving language (e.g. using languages other than English in the workplace).

Being fluent in three languages but not in Konkani when I arrived in New Zealand (and now not being able to speak at all in Maragoli and poorly in Swahili) has taught me that languages open up different ways of thinking and of understanding the world, but fluency isn’t passive. It must be nurtured in the context of a community. The last New Zealand Census identified that there were 588 Konkani speakers in Aotearoa, an increase from 210 in 2001. This rise gives me great heart and hope for the possibility that I might be able to reclaim my own language (amchi bas). Learning other languages has taught me to empathise and to advocate. Perhaps more than anything this is what learning another language or reclaiming our own language offers us, a chance to connect with ourselves and others in ways that are truly meaningful, but that too must be fostered.

If you talk to a [wo]man in a language [s]he understands, that goes to [her]/his head. If you talk to [her]/him in [her]/his language, that goes to [her]/his heart—Nelson Mandela

A level playing field? Sport and racism

At the weekend it was my parents’ wedding anniversary. They got married in Dar es Salaam and one of the distinguishing features of their wedding was the hockey stick “guard of honour” that their friends created for them outside the church after the service (my Mum played hockey for Tanzania). The family capability and Goan cultural propensity to excel at sport (take Seraphino Antao the first Kenyan athlete to win a gold medal at the 1962 Commonwealth Games) skipped right past me. Mostly I enjoy the social, political and cultural issues in relation to sport like the national anthems, the medals and the underdog winning. The recent completion of a PhD (yes really) has also given me some confidence and time to begin to explore questions like the neocolonial exploitation of African players by European football clubs and how raw materials in the form of players are sourced, refined and exported for consumption and wealth generation in Europe leaving the African periphery impoverished. But that’s another blogpost. This post is about racism and sport, but I needed to do a geneaological manouevre and trace my own relationship with sport through my experience of being a Goan via East Africa now resident in Aotearo New Zealand. I’ve mapped some of the ways in which sport has been mobilised such as the re-shaping of personhood for colonised peoples and in turn the ways in which western sport has been appropriated by diasporic and marginalised communities as a form of resistance. I then talk about the prevalence of racism in sport, the contributing factors and what can be done.

Photo of Goans in Dar es Salaam via Jo Birkmeyer-submitted to Mervyn A Lobo’s blog 

The establishment of sport in colonial contexts was linked with Western Christian church activity and colonialism. Sports were introduced to meet both the needs of churches and colonial governments in transforming bodies into desirable shapes and capabilities so imperial reform could be undertaken by locals thereby creating physical and moral reform against existing less palatable indigenous norms. Games like cricket and football were intended to reinforce the superiority of colonial culture and transmit a particular moral order and values that were seen lacking in the colonised group such as team spirit, commitment, the sacrifice of individual aspirations to the group, bravery and so forth. Particular versions of masculinity were also being promulgated in a context where many Asian men were seen as effeminate.

In the diaspora, Goans formed clubs and institutions replicating village ties and loyalties back home which helped to allay loneliness, cultural alienation and the challenges of navigating a new country. In 1921 it was estimated that almost half a million Goans lived in Goa, Dama and Diu and that up to 200,000 Goans lived in British India, East Africa or Mesopotamia (James Mills, 2002). One quarter of that number lived in Bombay. Expatriate sports confirmed ties with the homeland, created a sense of community and provided an oasis from the demands of navigating belonging in racially stratified communities. Every Saturday after mass at the Holy Family Cathedral in Nairobi my parents would make their way with us to the Railway Goan Institute founded in 1909 which later became the Railway Institute in 1967. I have great memories of hurtling around (we seemed to do a lot of running along those wooden floors) and being spoiled rotten by my parent’s friends who would provide us with bottomless supplies of coke and crisps. Goans in Kenya also formed other clubs like The Goan Institute Mombasa in 1901, Goan Institute Nairobi in 1905 and the Goan Gymkhana in 1936 with sports an important focus of diasporic life.

Closer to where I live now in New Zealand, Indians in Wellington formed their own hockey team in 1936, which also marked the year that the Auckland Indian Sports Club (AISC) was established.

Photo reproduced with permission from Te Ara. Original article: Nancy Swarbrick. ‘Indians’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-11
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/indians/5/5

Many other communities also made sport a focus of their activities, for example the New Zealand Chinese Association Annual Sports Tournament (AKA Easter Tournament) started in 1947 and runs every Easter Weekend. It consists of a sports tournament and cultural event for Chinese members and competitive sports like basketball, volley ball, touch rugby, netball, lawn bowls and golf are enjoyed. Similarly pan-ethnic events like the Ethnic Soccer Cup at the Auckland International Cultural festival are eagerly awaited and full of good natured fun and tough competition.

Photo by the Localist

Sport seemingly offers a transcendent space, where cohesion and connection is possible not only within and across diasporic communities, but also across dominant and minority communities. A phrase bandied around frequently last year was the way in which hosting the Rugby World cup in New Zealand “brought us together as a nation”.  Who of us will ever forget the ferocious and irrepressible passion of the Tongan community in New Zealand supporting their team? I love the ideal that sport can be a place where people with diverse interests, histories and values can be unified in one setting. I’ve watched with growing feelings of warmth the ways in which our Pacific players have infused “the game” of rugby with flair and energy and increased the ratio of tattoos, dreadlocks and eye-liner.

This illusion that sport can be a connecting force is challenged in Sara Ahmed‘s critique of the “happy” multicultural film Bend it Like Beckham. Directed by Kenyan-born, Punjabi British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha, Ahmed suggests that the central message of the film is that “the would-be- citizen who embraces the national game is rewarded with happiness”. The feel good vibe of this film ignores the negative affects surrounding racism and unproblematically represents visibly different migrants as patriarchal, closed, traditional, fixed and unchanging. White people can be inspired and warmed by Jess’ migrant success, as she bends the ball (a metaphor for disrupting cultural barriers) without needing to feel guilty about racism. The film plays into the notion that success is the reward for integration and is also proof that racism can be overcome.

My fantasy that the arrival of the first Asian All Black will give Asians more street cred and admiration has taken a battering with the racist responses to the “Linsanity” phenomenon. Jeremy Lin, the Asian American son of Taiwanese immigrants and graduate of Harvard has experienced spectacular NBA basketball success but the headline “Chink in the Armor,” or the tweet by Jason Whitlock referring to “two inches of pain” have deeply hurt many Asian Americans. Understandable, given the limited representation of Asian Americans in mainstream media and because the blatant racism provided a barometer reading of how this group are viewed in a racially charged landscape. But as Long, Tongue, Spracklen and others have noted, we live in a racist society so why should there not be racism in sport? Racist taunts and chants at matches and the throwing of banana skins at players have been supplemented by attacks via social media adding a new viciousness. A Welsh student was recently been imprisoned for using twitter to spread racist rants about acritically ill footballer Fabrice Muamba and locally, unhappy fans took to twitter to racially denigrate Blues coach Pat Lam.

Sport media coverage contributes to inequity by not reflecting social and cultural diversity. The MARS – Media against racism in sport programme– developed by The Council of Europe and the European Union recognises the following inequalities in representation in sports news stories:

  • Gender under-representation -where women comprise only one quarter of all stories despite making up half the population.
  • Migrants making up around 10% of the EU population but representing less than 5% of the main actors in the news in Europe.
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people representing roughly 6% of the population of the United Kingdom but accounting for less than 1% of the population seen on TV.
  • 20% of the British population has an impairment or disability but less than 1% are represented on British TV.

These inequalities in sports media coverage reflect broader societal inequalities. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s annual review of race relations Tūi Tūi Tuituiā, Race Relations in 2011 released in March 2012 noted a “continuing degree of racial prejudice, significant racial inequalities, and the exclusion of minorities from full participation in all aspects of society”. The Commission identified racial prejudice in the form of: “negative attitudes to the Treaty, to indigenous rights, to Māori, Pacific peoples, Asians, migrants and refugees”. The report noted that these prejudices were implicated in discrimination, marginalisation, and inequalities, ultimately proving a barrier to the realisation of the social and economic benefits of diversity.

The racist soup of Pakeha media culture not only excludes particular groups but it also reproduces pathological, deficient and destructive representations of groups that are already discrimiinated against and marginalised. Take the “common sense” racism of Paul Henry, Michael Laws and Paul Holmes who all compete for New Zealand’s top racist.Take the comments by the former All Black and World cup Rugby Ambassador Andy Haden, who referred to a “three darkies”selection policy by rugby franchise The Crusaders. When Haden made an apology it was “to anyone who was offended” by the comments. He received a smack on the hand with a wet hanky from our Prime Minister John Key despite the outrage and I don’t think he had to resign. Key defended Haden’s actions as having a precedent in Paul Holmes‘ “cheeky darkie” comments in 2003. The gutless and useless Broadcasting Standards Authority refused to uphold 10 complaints over the  comments on Radio station Newstalk ZB. They acknowledged that the comments went beyond the limits of acceptability and breached broadcast standards, but they were happy that the actions taken internally by broadcaster were adequate. Thank goodness for writers with a conscience like Tapu Misa who is my only reason for continuing to purchase the morning newspaper and the long missed Karlo Mila from the Dom Post who can still remind us through her poetry that words scar.

Poster by Dudley Benson (2012)

Where there is power, there is resistance (Thanks Foucault). Racism (and anti-Semitism) in sport have also provided a space for protest and resistance. American sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman who were the only two Jews on the USA Olympic team, were pulled from their relay team on the day of the competition in the 1936 Berlin Olympics,. There was speculation that the American Olympic committee did not want two Jews to win gold medals in the context of Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Aryan pride. These are the same games where Jesse Owens won four gold medals.  Fast forward to the 1968 Olympics when Tommy Smith and John Carlos powerfully raised their fists on the podium in a Black power salute. The symbolism of this gesture referenced the black American community (black gloves); black American poverty (black socks, no shoes), black American lynching (Smith wore a scarf and Carlos a bead necklace).

Source Jonny Weeks:The Guardian

Closer to home, look at the stand many New Zealanders took against the Springbok rugby tour of 1981. 150,000 people took part in over 200 demonstrations in 28 centres and 1500 people were charged with protest related offences. The protests were in response to New Zealand opposition to the apartheid and segregation practiced in South Africa. These apartheid policies had impacted on team selection for the All Blacks, and Māori players had been excluded from touring South Africa by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) until 1970. I take my inspiration from this event that “New Zealanders” might take their history into account and challenge the unacceptable comments against Pat Lam and show leadership over such behaviour.

So what are we to do about racism in sport? How can we use the values of sport, ostensibly fairness, teamwork, a fair go, equal opportunity, respect and care for each other to help us create a real level playing field, locally and globally? We can protest the sponsorship of the London Olympics by Dow (Union Carbide was merged into Dow and responsible for the tragedy at Bhopal not least 25,000 deaths and much much suffering). We can ask much more of our junk food media and not consume it as Jennifer Sybel suggests.  We can ask that the groups in our communities that are under-represented (disabled, women, LGBTQ, visibly different) get a fairer go and that  stories that purport to represent them contribute positively to our cultural and social diversity. We can take more responsibility for the actions of racist tweeters and taunters and recognise their actions come from consuming the same junk food media that we do. Rather than individualising their behaviour we can ask questions about what kind of playing field we have created and whether we want to put any effort into creating an alternative.

Illustration by Jim Sillavan for the Guardian

 

 

When helping does not help: Invisible children and colonialism

In almost thirty years of being a nurse I’ve learned that what one person thinks is helpful can be coercive to another. “Help” is complex, raising questions such as: how has the helper negotiated the relationship? Does the helper understand the problem? Do the people being helped agree with the helper’s framing of the problem? There is also the issue of power in the helping relationship. How did the helper get the power to help? What access to resources and knowledge does the helper have? Does helping disempower the helped?

The film and campaign KONY 2012 by Invisible Children and directed by Jason Russell about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by the “monster” Joseph Kony has generated passionate pleas from a range of “friends” to support the “people” of Uganda. I am excited about the democratisation of information through social media, but I’ve been frustrated that this video has made us all “experts” about Africa. There is a bigger social and political backdrop to this story which has been tracked by Blackstar news and Akena Francis Adyanga.

My concern with this video is that it valorises the story being told by Invisible children (and other white people) at the expense of African leaders, without access to the same power structures or resources. The  documentary repeats the colonial imperative for Africa to be saved by white people. This video smacks of yet another colonial “civilising” project,  where the old binaries of colonialism are revived. These frame Africa as backward, while the west is modern; “we” are positioned as free while “they” are oppressed and so on. In this binary of good and bad, Africans are represented on the not so good side of the binary. Therefore, the solution must be a good one, a white one, and in this hierarchy Africans lose out. Local efforts and voices go unacknowledged in favour of the white saviour complex, which as Teju Cole suggests “supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening”. Even the name  “Invisible Children” as the Sojourner project points out “denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans – many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers”.

I have a stake in this propaganda video on several fronts. One is my personal experience of being born in Tanzania to parents who were also born in Tanzania and and having two sisters who were born in Kenya. My own life has been shaped by three versions of colonialism: German, Portuguese and British, and continues to be shaped by colonialism’s continuing effects in the white settler nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Secondly, in my doctoral studies, I investigated the colonial legacies of health and nursing in the context of migrant maternity. My profession of nursing is not only an altruistic and caring enterprise, but is also complicit with biomedicine in the advancement of colonialism and imperialism. Medicine has used imperial claims to modernity and universalism, while the concept of “health” has in turn has lent moral credibility to the colonial enterprise. Consequently, one of my theoretical and political commitments is the resistance to imperial cultural analysis. I abhor the white saviour narrative, where vulnerable children or women of colour must be rescued from men of colour by “culturally superior” white men or women.  We need less individualising narratives, where the full social, political and historical contexts of a situation can be considered.

So what does a process such as colonialism have to do with this video? European colonialism put in place hierarchies of superiority/inferiority and structures of domination and subordination. The conquest and control of other people’s land and goods has recurred throughout human history, but European colonialism in the 19th century allowed for the growth of European capitalism and industry through the economic exploitation of raw materials, cheap, indentured or slave labour and profitable land in the colonies. Profits always returned to the imperial centres. Domination and authority were supported by defence and foreign policies and internalised so that ordinary “indeed decent men and women accepted their almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior, or less advanced people” (Said, 1993, p.10). These imperial ventures were justified on the basis of developmental and pedagogical notions of progress and improvement. They created the template for contemporary production under globalisation. So none of us are outside of or immune from postcolonial relations, values and belief systems whether our ancestors were colonisers or colonised. We are all influenced by colonialism.

Narratives produced about the colonies have historically defined the West in contrast with the “Orient”. The Orient was represented in a denigrating and negative way, in order to represent a civilised and positive Britain. Generalisations were made about groups of people who were treated as a homogenous mass (rather than communities of individuals) about whom knowledge could be obtained or stereotypes created – for example ‘the inscrutable Chinese’. The video plays into this oppositional dichotomy of “us” and “them”, constructing two social groups as distinct and internally homogenous. It begins with a sense of connection, it targets our desire to belong and connect by talking about social media, emphasising what we have in common. However, the “we” that it refers to is white. The video then moves to the “other” and the mobilisation of social movements that social media allows in the form of the Arab Spring. The director Russell then shares a very personal experience of the birth of his son and how his son takes part in his father’s film work and activism. The son embodies Russell’s desire for a better world than the one he came into “because he [my son] is here, he matters”. Russell then takes us to Uganda and the experience of another young man who has had a different life from that of his son. A young man who has experienced loss and unimaginable suffering, who has no future because of Joseph Kony. Russell says something like “you mean this has been happening for years? If this happened in America for one day it would be on the cover of Newsweek”. How can we fail not to be moved? Rusell takes us through the journey he makes with his friends of trying to raise the attention of the United States government of the plight of this young man and eventually through the advocacy and donations of lots of young people who donate small amounts of money every month, the government takes action. Of course this might have nothing to do with the fact that oil was found in Uganda in 2009. Russell in his voice over says they did not wait for governments, they’ve built schools, created jobs, created warning systems to keep people safe. All funded by young people.  Russell invokes liberal humanist arguments (the very ones that were central to colonial capitalism) about the right of the individual to have a good life. As Teju Cole righly points out “the White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege”.

The video enacts the binary colonial script of the civilised and liberated white person who rescues Ugandan children, thereby affirming the superiority of the former. Russell reproduces the narrow representations of people of colour as a mass of oppressed people who live in a world without freedom, ruled by oppressive vain tyrants (oops that sounds like the West!). He reproduces a flattened and familiar “single story” of Africa. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  In the process, the complexity and diversity of people’s lives are lost and local activism is hidden from view in favour of camera crews with resources and magnanimity. Think about Binyavanga Wainana’s essay, How to Write about Africa:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress

The effect is that we focus on the other, instead of looking at the monsters in our own communities. Rather than offering our support to the efforts of indigenous people who are quietly attempting to right wrongs without a television camera present, we get carried away in a tide of righteous indignation about “stopping the monster”.The video provides a depository for our own feelings of powerlessness and frustration. It demands very little of us. We don’t need to be accountable to a faceless mass, because we can trust Russell, we’ve seen the birth of his boy child, we’ve seen him in his kitchen, we’ve seen him in the family bed with both his children. He is trustworthy. Never mind facts such as Kony is no longer in northern Uganda, that the Ugandan army have also contributed to the violence meted out to civilians, that General Museveni used child soldiers way back in 1986 or that only 31% of funds that Invisible children receive go into this charity work.

So what does helping really mean in a different social context? How does sharing a link to a video to an organisation that is barely transparent about its funding, that uses the bodies of children to make a point, that carries us away with the injustice of it all, help? How does the fact that the focus now in Northern Uganda is about repatriating child soldiers who are being held in DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic, on postconflict rehabilitation and the reintegration of child soldiers? What impact will this film have on former child soldiers who have now reintegrated into  their communities? Can something with good intentions lead to misconceived interventions? Hell yes! The history of modern Africa is replete with aid failures and poorly allocated resources.

I am not against standing up and fighting for what is right, but only when we really understand what we are standing up for, not on “zero knowledge and maximum hysteria” as Elliot Ross argues. So we must make the most of this technology that is available to us and to critically interrogate the sources of this new media, their motivations and their operations . We need to do the research, to ask questions about our own complicity in contemporary geopolitics and to support the people who understand the problem.

All of me meets here, an alchemy of parts – Negotiating my identities in New Zealand

Originally published in:  DeSouza, R. (2011). ‘All of me meets here, an alchemy of parts’ – Negotiating my identities in New Zealand. In P. Voci & J. Leckie (Eds.), Localizing Asia in Aotearoa (pp. 231-245). Wellington: Dunmore Publishing.

He could not see that i could be both … The body in front of him was already inscribed within the gendered social relations of the colonial sandwich. i could not just ‘be’. I had to name an identity, no matter that this naming rendered invisible all the other identities of gender, caste, religion, linguistic group, generation (Brah, 1996, p. 3).

Introduction

The title of this chapter comes from a poem by Chris Abani (2000) whom I met many years ago at the Poetics of exile conference. This line from the poem captures the intention of this chapter, to bring parts of myself together. I am often asked the question ‘where are you from?’ Depending on the person asking, it can imply that I have come from somewhere else, not here; that I am visibly and noticeably different; and sometimes reflects a desire on the part of the person asking to either connect, name or categorize. For the sake of economy, choosing one identity and keeping things simple inevitably backfires. answering Tanzania, the country of my birth, and that of my parents, or Goa, India, the place of my ancestors, results in more questions. The question has different nuances in the place of my ancestors and in the place where I choose to live: Aotearoa/New Zealand. Being asked where one is from more easily translates to ‘whom do you belong to?’ and the reference points are intimate, connecting me to a village and to a family. In Māori contexts, similar notions of belonging to place and people are invoked, where intimacy and connection rather than categorization are emphasized. such a question highlights issues of identity, difference and belonging. The process of active negotiation of identities in relation to oneself is the focus of my chapter. I centre on a little-known minority group within a larger indian umbrella identity – the Goan diaspora living in New Zealand. My aim is to provide a complex answer to the question of where I am from and, in doing so, provide a platform for further scholarship about the Goan diaspora in New Zealand.

 

People of colour decolonisation hui

The Decolonise Your Minds! Hui on February 5th in Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa provided a great opportunity to present my PhD work to awesome folks with similar theoretical and political commitments. Outside a professional or academic context and supported by fabulous vegan food and great korero and creativity, the radical space provided a great opportunity to not have to explain everything!

In my presentation, I talked about the ways in which the people who are supposed to care in institutions can engage in subtle coercions and “do” violence. This violence works through the reproduction of taken for granted norms and values, such that pressure is exerted on those whose personhood sits outside the accepted norms and values and reshapes their personhood. Reflecting an assimilatory process similar to the colonial process of moral improvement. Hardly a surprise considering that institutions like health and education are colonial, having been transplanted from the metropole to the colony and super-imposed over indigenous ways of learning and maintaining health.

Using the example of maternity I talked about the ways in which heath professionals draw on culturally and socially available repertoires of care that can be less than helpful when imposed on women of colour. This is because so often these repertoires are drawn on the basis of an implicit ideal user who tends to be cis-woman, heterosexual, white, middle class and one who takes up the ‘imperative of health’. That is the ideal neoliberal consumer who makes herself an expert through her consumption of self-help books and its acceptable accoutrements, who takes responsibility by attending ante-natal classes and who labours naturally with her loving and supportive partner present. She obeys the edicts of the health professional and makes reasonable requests that align with the dominant discourse of maternity as an empowering experience (if you are “informed” and “take responsibility”).

You can listen to the audio which is hosted by the Pride New Zealand website. I take the audience through the idea of discourses and how they shape subjectivity and practice.

Please note I have a tendency to swear when I am speaking passionately about something!

Are we there yet?

This piece was originally published at Tangatawhenua.com http://news.tangatawhenua.com/archives/14051

On October 3rd 2011 as part of the series: Are we there yet? These articles are being written as a prelude to the election in November, and focus on the ‘wish list’ of Generation Xers; their hopes, dreams, aspirations and vision for New Zealand society.

I have two enduring memories of arriving in New Zealand with my family in June 1975. On the drive to our new home from Mangere, I was stuck by two sights, the first were the abundant citrus trees, promising sweetness and growth in this new life and the second, the Blockhouse Bay Foodtown supermarket where we shopped for our first meal before it closed (and no I don’t remember what that was!).

The supermarket too represented abundance but the shopping trip was a portent of the self-reliance my family would need to develop to survive in this country. A marked contrast to the hospitality of home cooking that we might have expected as newcomers from the other side of the world. Later, I found out that Tom Ah Chee a New Zealand-born Chinese, was one of the three small business owners to invest in the Foodtown, New Zealand’s first American-style supermarket.

The neoliberal narrative of migration is that my family came to New Zealand (like other migrants) for a better life. Another explanation is that we were pulled to New Zealand as a result of the unevenness of life chances created by colonial capitalism. As South Asians in East Africa we were what Avtar Brah calls the filling in the colonial sandwich. Occupying a precarious uneasy place that had neither the imperial support of the British coloniser nor the entitled weight of indigeneity. Migration to New Zealand offered an escape from the colonial sandwich to maybe a liberal pizza, a place of equal footing, a safe haven, replete with economic and academic opportunities. “New Zealand has no ‘colour bar’” I remember my Mother proudly telling friends. Unfortunately, like the settler colony we’d left, the dynamic was the same but the nuances were different. In East Africa Asians had a symbiotic relationship with Africans and were understood (a checklist of some of the popular foods in Kenya, shows how our culinary destinies were interwoven despite the imminent exclusionary nationalist future: kachumbar, chapati, pilau, chai, samosa to name a few). In New Zealand, food provided an entry point in a different way. I sold Maori cookbooks to raise funds for the Hoani Waititi marae in Henderson.

The migrant’s new life is characterised by a delicate dance between preservation and hope. Treasuring a past that might never be retrieved while hoping to succeed and make good on the sacrifices that have been incurred. But other kinds of reconciliation are also necessary; requiring that migrants develop what Ghassan Hage calls an ethical relationship with the history of colonial capitalism/colonisation in which they are implicated. The narrative of migration as an individual choice framed by the desire for betterment must be considered against the collusive role of migrants in usurping the indigenous. As must being subsumed into larger stories of ethnic communities as uninvited foreign guests, in need of careful management and modernisation so as not to lower the cultural standards of the receiving society (“our way of life”).

Reckoning with a colonial history requires coming to terms with New Zealand’s history of racism. Knowing that anti-Chinese and anti-Indian sentiment has been evident since the arrival of these groups in the 1800s, where they represented the largest groups of migrants and refugees, and were viewed as threats to jobs, morals and sexuality. Chinese particularly were the targets of exclusionary immigration legislation through the 1881 Chinese Immigration Act, which exacted a poll tax of £10 from all Chinese arriving in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Indians, as British subjects were not exempt from hostility nor restrictive legislative practices despite their status. The 1899 Immigration Restriction Act restricted Indian and other Asian immigration and the formation of the White New Zealand League, in 1926 epitomised this hostility. The latter formed to counter the potential for contamination of bloodline, values and lifestyle posed by Chinese and Indian men. The introduction of the 1920 ‘permit system’ reflected demands for increasing prohibitions and excluding and/or repatriating Asian migrants.

The end of an unofficial White New Zealand migration policy was not brought about by a desire for equity or fairness. Economics was central to this policy shift, and the 1986 review of immigration was a response to a ‘brain drain’ and decreased immigration to New Zealand. Consequently migrant selection shifted from preferred source countries (largely European) to being skills based in the Immigration Act of 1987, whereby a points system was introduced. The introduction of the Business Immigration Policy and  ‘Family reunification’ and ‘Humanitarian/refugee’ categories plus the growth of a thriving export education market consolidated this long-term trend to diversity. Consequently Asians grew in number and became more visible and central to the national economy and the number of people from Middle Eastern, Latin American and African communities (MELAA) increased. However, the residue of the old attitudes and fears remains, migrants and refugees are held with great ambivalence- disadvantaged in the employment stakes but welcomed for the spice and innovation their presence adds.

I began this piece by talking about my family’s welcome to New Zealand through consumer capitalism at Foodtown. On reflection, the supermarket is an apt metaphor for migration, both for the visibility and promise of its products and for the invisibility of its processes. Neoliberal narratives of individualism and ‘choice’ render invisible both the dispossession of the local and indigenous and the economic imbalance necessary for the movement of goods and people to the West in order for capitalism to flourish. Yet if these two aspects of migration were made visible, in the same way that more ethical consumptive practices are becoming a feature of contemporary life then other kinds of relationships might be made possible. In the case of ethnic communities, direct negotiation with Maori for a space where indigenous Maori claims for tino rangatiratanga, sovereignty and authority are supported while the mana of newcomers to Aotearoa is upheld hold promise.

So, I close this piece with an alternative story of welcome. Two years ago we had a Refugee conference at AUT University, where Tainui, Refugee Services and a group of refugees talked about the powhiri process they had instituted as part of the orientation of newly resettled refugees in Hamilton. Their presentation included a powhiri during which a refugee participant delivered his mihi in Swahili. Much to his astonishment when he came to sing his Swahili waiata I joined in. It was a moving experience. In his korero he said that the original powhiri in Hamilton had helped him to stand tall and regain his mana after the dehumanising experiences of his refugee journey. On a larger scale, Maori King Tuheitia, invited ethnic communities members to a special powhiri during the 5th Koroneihana (Coronation) celebration at Turangawaewae marae in August this year. Isn’t this the kind of Aotearoa we want? Where standing tall is possible for all of us?

Ruth DeSouza
Are we there yet? Contributor


Footnote

The process of direct negotiation with Maori has already begun and there are many resources available.

Identity politics: A response to Garth George

My response to a piece by Garth George (August 5th 2010) where he argues that [we] “have become unthinking victims of the doctrine of multiculturalism, in all its politically correct dissimulation and deception”.

There are some good reasons for the rise in identity politics among minority groups, dismissed by Garth George as a “culture of victimhood. The idealised portrayal of liberal democracy (with values such as freedom and equality) ignores three key issues. First, the destructive and dehumanising practices of slavery and colonisation occurred within liberal frameworks. Liberal values were withheld from the colonised as well as many Western subjects (women for example). Secondly, while liberal agendas of freedom and equality, and conceptions of universal human rights have been powerful and central to liberation struggles, often Eurocentric, Western norms have been privileged and the universal person taken to mean white, male and middle class. Finally, the deployment of notions of equality and universalism for ameliorating conflicts between groups of people, has created new problems such as unequal power relations and differential health and social outcomes. The location of culture in the public or private sphere is an important conversation. When it suits, the metaphor of enrichment is used to consume diversity, through festivals, restaurants and more. Placing cultural needs firmly in the private sphere reflects a reluctance to extend a reciprocal courtesy and make our institutions more responsive.

A view from a Goan in Aotearoa/New Zealand

The ocean is what we have in common: Relationships between indigenous and migrant people.

This piece was previously published in the Goanet Reader: Mon, 30 Nov 2009

Legend has it that Lord Parashuram (Lord Vishnu’s sixth incarnation) shot an arrow into the Arabian Sea from a mountain peak. The arrow hit Baannaavali (Benaulim) and made the sea recede, reclaiming the land of Goa. A similar story about land being fished from the sea by a God is told in Aotearoa, New Zealand, where Maui dropped his magic fish hook over the side of his boat (waka) in the Pacific Ocean and pulled up Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui), the North Island of New Zealand.

The first story comes from the place of my ancestors, Goa, in India and the second story comes from the place I now call home, Aotearoa, New Zealand. Both stories highlight the divine origins of these lands and the significance of the sea, as my friend Karlo Mila says “The ocean is another source of sustenance, connection and identity…. It is the all encompassing and inclusive metaphor of the sea. No matter how much we try to divide her up and mark her territory, she eludes us with her ever-moving expansiveness. The ocean is what we have in common.”

This piece for Goanet Reader is an attempt to create some engagement and discussion among the Goan diaspora about the relationships we have with indigenous and settler communities in the countries we have migrated to, and to ask, what our responsibilities and positions are as a group implicated in colonial processes?

My life has been shaped by three versions of colonialism: German, Portuguese and British, and continues to be shaped by colonialism’s continuing effects in the white settler nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Diasporic Goans have frequently occupied what Pamila Gupta calls positions of “disquiet” or uneasiness within various colonial hierarchies. For me, this has involved trying to understand what being a Goan means, far away from Goa and to understand the impact of colonisation.

I was born in Tanzania, brought up in Kenya and am now resident of Aotearoa/New Zealand with a commitment to social justice and decolonising projects. What disquieting position do I occupy here?

Both sets of my grandparents migrated to Tanganyika in the early part of the 20th Century. Tanganyika was a German colony from 1880 to 1919, which became a British trust territory from 1919 to 1961. Tanganyika became Tanzania after forming a union with Zanzibar in 1964.

On my father’s side, my great-grandfather and grandfather had already worked in Burma because of the lack of employment opportunities in Goa. Then when my grandfather lost his job in the Great Depression, he took the opportunity to go to Tanzania and work.

Indians had been trading with Africa as far back as the first century AD. The British indentured labour scheme was operational and had replaced slave labour as a mechanism for accessing cheap and reliable labour for plantations and railway construction, contributing to the development of the Indian diaspora in the 19th and 20th century.

Large-scale migrations of Indians to Africa began with the construction of the great railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria in Uganda in the late nineteenth century. Indians were recruited to run the railways after they were built, with Goans coming to dominate the colonial civil services.

Some 15,000 of the 16,000 men that worked on the railroads were Indian, recruited for their work ethic and competitiveness. Sadly, a quarter of them returned to India either dead or disabled. Asians who made up one percent of the total population originated from the Gujarat, Kutch, and Kathiawar regions of western India, Goa and Punjab and played significant roles as middlemen and skilled labourers in colonial Tanganyika.

During the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, over 10,000 Asians were forced to migrate to the mainland as a result of violent attacks (also directed at Arabs), with many moving to Dar es Salaam. In the 1970s over 50,000 Asians left Tanzania.

President Nyerere issued the Arusha Declaration in February 1967, which called for egalitarianism, socialism, and self-reliance. He introduced a form of African socialism termed Ujamaa (“pulling together”). Factories and plantations were nationalized, and major investments were made in primary schools and health care.

My parents migrated to Kenya in 1966. The newly independent East African countries of Tanzania (1961), Uganda (1962), and Kenya (1963) moved toward Africanising their economies post-independence which led to many Asians finding themselves surplus to requirements and resulting in many Asians leaving East Africa, a period known as the ‘Exodus’.

A major crisis loomed for United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government with legislation rushed through to prevent the entry into Britain of immigrants from East Africa. The Immigration Act of 1968 deprived Kenyan Asians of their automatic right to British citizenship and was retroactive, meaning that it deprived them of an already existing right.

Murad Rayani argues that the vulnerability of Asians was compounded by the ambiguity of their relationship with the sub-continent, and with Britain whose subjects Asians had become when brought to East Africa.

Enoch Powell’s now infamous speech followed where he asserted that letting immigrants into Britain would lead to “rivers of blood” flowing down British streets. The Immigration Act of 1971 further restricted citizenship to subjects of the Commonwealth who could trace their ancestry to the United Kingdom.

In 1972 Idi Amin gave Uganda’s 75,000 Asians 90 days to leave. My parents decided to migrate to New Zealand in 1975.

While ‘Asians’ (South Asians) were discriminated against in relationship to the British, they were relatively privileged in relationship to indigenous Africans. As Pamila Gupta says, Goans were viewed with uncertainty by both colonisers and the colonised. Yet, the Kenyan freedom struggle was supported by many Asians such as lawyers like A. Kapila and J.M. Nazareth, who represented detained people without trial provisions during the Mau Mau movement. Others like Pio Gama Pinto fought for Kenya’s freedom, and was assassinated. Joseph Zuzarte whose mother was Masai and father was from Goa rose to become Kenya’s Vice-President. There was Jawaharlal Rodrigues, a journalist and pro-independence fighter and many many more. In 1914, an East African Indian National Congress was established to encourage joint action with the indigenous African community against colonial powers.

In the two migrations I have described, Goans occupied a precarious position and much has been documented about this in the African context. However, what precarious place do Goans occupy now especially in white settler societies?

Sherene Razack describes a white settler society as: ” … one established by Europeans on non-European soil. Its origins lie in the dispossession and near extermination of Indigenous populations by the conquering Europeans. As it evolves, a white settler society continues to be structured by a racial hierarchy. In the national mythologies of such societies, it is believed that white people came first and that it is they who principally developed the land; Aboriginal peoples are presumed to be mostly dead or assimilated. European settlers thus become the original inhabitants and the group most entitled to the fruits of citizenship. A quintessential feature of white settler mythologies is therefore, the disavowal of conquest, genocide, slavery, and the exploitation of the labour of peoples of colour.”

I’d like to explore this issue in the context of Aotearoa/New Zealand where identities are hierarchically divided into three main social groups categories. First in the hierarchy are Pakeha New Zealanders or settlers of Anglo-Celtic background. The first European to arrive was Tasman in 1642, followed by Cook in 1769 with organised settlement following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The second group are Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand who are thought to have arrived from Hawaiki around 1300 AD and originated from South-East Asia. The third group are “migrants” visibly different Pacific Islanders or Asians make the largest groups within this category with growing numbers of Middle Eastern, Latin American and African communities. This latter group are not the first group that come to mind when the category of New Zealander is evoked and they are more likely to be thought of as “new” New Zealanders (especially Asians).

Increasingly, indigenous rights and increased migration from non-source countries have been seen as a threat to the white origins of the nation. While, the Maori translation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi may be acknowledged as the founding document of Aotearoa/New Zealand and enshrined in health and social policy, the extent to which policy ameliorates the harmful effects of colonisation remain minimal.

This can be seen in my field of health, where Maori ill health is directly correlated with colonisation. Maori nurses like Aroha Webby suggest that the Articles of the Treaty have been unfulfilled and the overall objective of the Treaty to protect Maori well-being therefore breached. This is evidenced in Article Two of the Treaty which guarantees tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) for Maori collectively and Article Three which guarantees equality and equity between Maori and other New Zealanders.

However, Maori don’t have autonomy in health policy and care delivery, and the disparities between Maori and non-Maori health status, point to neither equality nor equity being achieved for Maori. In addition, colonisation has led to the marginalising and dismantling of Maori mechanisms and processes for healing, educating, making laws, negotiating and meeting the everyday needs of whanau (family) and individuals.

So in addition to experiencing barriers to access and inclusion, Maori face threats to their sovereignty and self-determination. Issues such as legal ownership of resources, specific property rights and fiscal compensation are fundamental to Maori well being. Thus, the Treaty as a founding document has been poorly understood and adhered to by Pakeha or white settlers, in terms of recognising Maori sovereignty and land ownership.

Allen Bartley says that inter-cultural relationships have been traditionally shaped by New Zealand’s historical reliance on the United Kingdom and Ireland, leading to the foregrounding of Anglo-centric concerns. Discourses of a unified nation have been predicated on a core Pakeha New Zealand cultural group, with other groups existing outside the core such as Maori and migrants.

This monoculturalism began to be challenged by the increased prominence of Maori concerns during the 1970s over indigenous rights and the Treaty of Waitangi. The perception of a benign colonial history of New Zealand — an imperial exception to harsh rule — supplanted with a growing understanding that the Crown policies that were implemented with colonisation were not there to protect Maori interests despite the mythology of the unified nation with the best race relations in the world that attracted my family to New Zealand to settle.

So while countries such as Canada and Australia were developing multicultural policies, New Zealand was debating issues of indigeneity and the relationship with tangata whenua (Maori). More recently people from ethnic backgrounds have been asking whether a bicultural framework can contain multi-cultural aspirations. New Zealand has not developed a local response to cultural diversity (multiculturalism) that complements the bicultural (Maori and Pakeha) and Treaty of Waitangi initiatives that have occurred. However, many are worried that a multicultural agenda is a mechanism for silencing Maori and placating mainstream New Zealanders.

So is there a place/space for Goans in New Zealand? Or are we again occupying a disquieting space/place? According to Jacqui Leckie, one of the first Indians to arrive in New Zealand in 1853 was a Goan nicknamed ‘Black Peter’. Small numbers of Indians had been arriving since the 1800s, Lascars (Indian seamen) and Sepoys (Indian soldiers) arrived after deserting their British East India Company ships in the late 1800s.

The Indians that followed mainly came from Gujarat and Punjab, areas exposed to economic emigration. Indians were considered British subjects and could enter New Zealand freely until the Immigration Restriction Act (1899) came into being. Migration increased until 1920, when the New Zealand Government introduced restrictions under a “permit system”.

Later, in 1926, The White New Zealand League was formed as concern grew about the apparent threat that Chinese and Indian men appeared to present in terms of miscegenation and alien values and lifestyle. Discrimination against Indians took the form of being prevented from joining associations and accessing amenities such as barbers and movie theatres.

By 1945, families (mostly of shopkeepers and fruiterers) were getting established, and marriages of second-generation New Zealand Indians occurring. The profile of Indians changed after 1980, from the dominance of people born in or descended from Gujarat and Punjab. Indians began coming from Fiji, Africa, Malaysia, the Caribbean, North America, the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

Migrants are implicated in the ongoing colonial practices of the state and as Damien Riggs says the imposition of both colonisers and other migrants onto land traditionally owned by Maori maintains Maori disadvantage at the same time that economic, social and political advantage accrues to non-Maori.

But my friend Kumanan Rasanathan says that our accountabilities are different: “Some argue that we are on the Pakeha or coloniser side. Well I know I’m not Pakeha. I have a very specific knowledge of my own whakapapa, culture and ethnic identity and it’s not akeha. It also stretches the imagination to suggest we are part of the colonising culture, given that it’s not our cultural norms and institutions which dominate this country” (Rasanathan, 2005, p. 2).

Typically indigenous and migrant communities have been set up in opposition to one another as competitors for resources and recognition, which actually disguises the real issue which is monoculturalism, as Danny Butt suggests. My friend Donna Cormack adds that this construction of competing Others is a key technique in the (re)production of whiteness.

My conclusion is that until there is redress and justice for Maori as the indigenous people of New Zealand, there won’t be a place/space for me.

As Damien Riggs points out, the colonising intentions of Pakeha people continues as seen in the contemporary debates over Maori property rights of the foreshore and seabed which contradict the Treaty and highlight how Maori sovereignty remains denied or challenged by Pakeha.

My well being and belonging are tied up with that of Maori. Maori have paved the way for others to be here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, yet have a unique status that distinguishes them from migrant and settler groups. After all I can go to Goa to access my own culture but the only place for Maori is Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Increasingly, the longer I’ve lived in Aotearoa/New Zealand and spent time with Maori, the more I’ve begun to understand and value the basis of Maori relationships with the various other social groups living here as being underpinned by manaakitanga (hospitality), a concept that creates the possibility for creating a just society. Understanding and supporting Treaty of Waitangi claims for redress and Maori self-determination (tino rangatiratanga) allows for the possibility for the development of a social space that is better for all of us.