One Switch At a Time (2/2)

The white supremacy ideology is built on very small things.  Things like these:

  • Refusing to say Māori place names correctly
  • Feeling cross when there is some Māori on Radio New Zealand
  • Never watching Māori TV because you’re not Māori
  • Never learning the words to the Te Reo part of the national anthem

While I don’t like anthems in general, and avoid singing our one in English where possible, it is also true that I know all the words in English and only a few parts in Te Reo.  

This is the first step: recognising what you do to avoid the other culture, because avoiding something is part of the continuum.

The next step when dealing with the white supremacy within myself is to sit with the discomfort – to not immediately try and defend myself or make excuses – but to just sit with it.  Think about it. If I can do that and ask myself questions like: “why haven’t I engaged with this?” or “why do I feel uncomfortable?” it helps me to move forward.

Let’s take some of the big intertwined reasons that people feel uncomfortable: the feeling they are being blamed and the feeling that they have to give up something.

“If it was the Crusaders fault that [the shootings] had happened I’d understand, but the Crusaders had no part in what happened.” [link]

This is similar to: “I didn’t colonise the Māori and steal their land so why should I feel guilty?”  

You shouldn’t.  Feeling guilty about that is weird.  Like thinking that the Crusaders should feel guilty about the mosque shooting would be weird.  However, pretending that neither of these things has any connection to the current situation for different groups in our society is also weird.  

Take the confiscation of Māori land.  Those historical actions have clearly created modern Aotearoa.  You don’t need to feel guilty about that, but I think you should acknowledge that (a) history explains reality, and (b) if there is an injustice we should seek to fix it.  Denying both things is wrong: rationally in the case of (a) and morally in the case of (b).

So don’t worry about feeling guilty.  It’s not needed of you as an individual.  Listening is.

Giving something up is harder because you will actually have to do that but what is required is small.  For example: changing the name of a rugby business from the Crusaders – a name some people have suddenly realised is quite similar to calling their team the Gestapo – is not a significant loss.  If you are a big fan of that team then it is certainly upsetting, but it is not causing you material loss in any way.  Correcting injustice won’t.  Ever.  It will NEVER CAUSE YOU LOSS.

Did “giving” women the vote cause the patriarchy to collapse?

Did “giving” gay people the right to marry destroy marriage?

Remember that the lowest levels of white extremism are also the most common so they are the hardest to see because they are “normal”.  The personal is political and the personal is, of course, a very small thing in the grand scheme of history, and the tides of society. Some people believe there is no point in turning off the light switch when they leave the room.  What does one action mean when the problem is so large, the causes are external and historical, and I am not personally to blame? Even so, some people turn off the light switch when they leave the room.

Dealing with white supremacy is the same.  It’s about small actions at the low end. Which means confronting disengagement, avoidance and discomfort inside most of us.  It’s about reading the news with a heightened sensitivity. It’s about seeing that the name the Crusaders, and the horsemen with crosses and swords, are related to what happened in Christchurch.  Not directly, but related.

Here is a checklist I use for myself, and you can use it to.

  1. Stop thinking that ending white supremacy is about keeping an eye out for Nazis.
  2. Look inside myself at how respond to the “other” – do I avoid them?  do I feel uncomfortable with them?  do I shrug and ignore them?
  3. Why?  Answer honestly.  Don’t be defensive.  Listen to yourself.
  4. Go and listen to the group I ignore or feel uncomfortable about.  On the internet if I don’t know anyone from that group.  Listen to a range of opinion from inside that group.  Are the views of most in that group compatible with a healthy society?  Yes?  Look at point five.  No?  Look at informing people, and pushing for controls and de-platforming.
  5. Reconsider the relevant principles of my society from that group’s point of view.  Is free speech and democracy working well for them?  How could it work better?

This is too long and too deep a process to do all the time.  I suggest you save it for a news story that inflames you.

Anything like these steps has an ideology baked into it.  These steps have a starting point that assumes a society can cope with being diverse.  It also has an assumption about what a “healthy society” is which is to do with a certain tough tolerance.  Not an “everything goes” tolerance (which takes us back to the loudest voice wins scenario), but to a tolerance with limits and protections.  I think it is asking for change.  It implies – at point five – that our current model is not that good and it asks a question: how can we be better?