Academic bashing in the media a first-hand account | Margaret Mutu

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Academic bashing in the media a first-handaccount

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Maori academics in New Zealand should be wary of talking to the non-Maori media.
Flickr/geoftheref

Maybe its the lot of academics to be misrepresented, but when a single incident can nearly get you sacked it makes you reconsider whether to deal with the media at all.

Last year, comments of mine about Maori attitudes towards immigration were falsely reported in the New Zealand media. The way these were so severely mishandled and so inaccurately reported particularly highlights the failings of media in New Zealand to deal properly with Maori issues.

Fortunately, the reaction to my misquoted comments became an important part of my research into racism in New Zealand.

Misquoted and misrepresented

In early September 2011, I received a media request for comment on a Department of Labour report highlighting negative Maori attitudes to immigration particularly that from Asia.

I responded, explaining that research conducted across a range of disciplines has shown that rather than immigration from Asian countries, it is immigration from English-speaking countries, which include Britain, USA and South Africa, had been the most damaging for Maori.

In particular, work conducted by and for the Waitangi Tribunal has shown that there have been gross and on-going human rights violations perpetrated against Maori by whites immigrating to New Zealand.

A number of white immigrants think they are inherently superior to Maori and have an attitude of white supremacy. Other white immigrants, of course, do not hold these attitudes and recognise and oppose racism against Maori. I recommended that screening procedures for all immigrants should include tests for such attitudes.

Wrong story

On Sept 4 2011, the main story on the front page of the Sunday Star Times was headlined Curb white immigrants: academic. Two subheadings underneath read: SA, UK and US migrants racist, charges Maori scholar and Labour Department bears out ethnic fears.

The article itself starts: A Maori academic says immigration by whites should be restricted because they pose a threat to race relations due to their white supremacist attitudes. It reported that I had called on the government to restrict the number of white immigrants. The article carried on in this vein, misreporting and misrepresenting the comments made.

The University of Auckland received numerous demands for me to be sacked and 30 complaints were laid against me with the Human Rights Commission. Maori media, in particular Maori radio and television, ensured that my comments were correctly reported. The University of Auckland reminded correspondents of the rights of academics as critic and conscience of society. The Human Rights Commission dismissed all the complaints.

Code of silence

Non-Maori media in New Zealand continues to exclude and demonise Maori, especially those who comment publicly on the negative impacts that racism continues to have on the indigenous people.

My own experience has confirmed how views on Maori issues can be misrepresented and twisted in the media, while the debate that we need to have on institutional racism in New Zealand continues to be ignored.

The media frequently calls on academics to comment. While Maori media frequently reports and debates the negative impacts of racism against Maori, non-Maori media often demonises Maori who raise the issue.

One result of non-Maori media attacks on Maori is they rarely speak with non-Maori media. Instead, they speak frequently and openly with the growing Maori media.

However, while non-Maori media is very powerful in influencing the attitudes of all New Zealanders, including Maori, Maori media has much less influence. As such, senior Maori academics do occasionally agree to talk about unpopular issues to the non-Maori media.

However, it is a risky undertaking, no matter how carefully worded the commentary is. Maori academics have a long history of being misquoted, misrepresented and demonised by non-Maori media. Maori academics who do speak to non-Maori media usually try to ensure that they do so only to those journalists who, along with their editors, are known to have the necessary training, expertise and experience to be able to report Maori issues accurately. But even with such caution, commentary can still be misrepresented, as in my case.

Racism database

In the month following the misreporting, I received a large number of email messages. Initially the emails related to the Sunday Star Times report and were predominantly negative. Subsequently they related to the media interviews I gave to both Maori and non-Maori media to correct the misreporting in the original article and the emails became predominantly supportive.

In the interviews, I provided a definition of white supremacy or racism and pointed out that it is not racist to talk about racism. I also asked the country to recognise and discuss its own racism, so that we could start finding solutions.

The email traffic grew into a fascinating database of racism against Maori in New Zealand. 157 individuals sent messages between September 4 and October 8. Of the email correspondents, 77 were supportive, six were neutral or asking for information and 74 were in opposition or were abusive.

62 of the 77 supportive correspondents identified their ethnicity. 27 were Maori, 14 were Pakeha, five were white, three were non-white South Africans, two were Indian and there was one each from a range of other ethnicities.

38 of those who opposed my comments or were abusive identified their ethnicity. As they defined it, 15 were white, seven were New Zealanders, six were Pakeha, three were Kiwi and one each was from several other ethnicities.

Big reaction

A colleague and I later carried out some preliminary discourse analysis on the messages themselves. There were supportive messages but the opposing and abusive messages provided for much more interesting analysis. 27 expressed hatred of Maori or anti-Maori sentiments, along with a range of other negative comments, many personal.

Notions of superiority and attitudes of white supremacy were evident in a large number of the messages. Many took offence at a Maori who had succeeded in the non-Maori world. Extracts from a number of these messages can be read here.

Every message received was replied to. Those who sent supportive messages were thanked. For the abusive and expletive-filled messages, the reply thanked them for contributing so eloquently to my database and research on racism against Maori in New Zealand.

For all those who expressed opposition, references were provided to generally accessible literature on the subject of white supremacy and racism, including a definition of institutional racism. But those who responded mostly maintained their original position.

The institutional racism of the non-Maori media and its contribution to racism among the New Zealand population continue. Maori attempts to combat the racism continue to bring about virulent racist attacks on those who speak out publicly, as non-Maori media persists with excluding or demonising Maori.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Its difficult to know where to start because as a Maori women, a single parent of two I would like to talk about racism the type of racism that you cant put your finger on you cant name it but its blatant its invisible and only a person of colour recognises it.

    I would go into the shopping centre it was obvious the staff would have their eyes on us while we are walking around the aisles, some staff would pretend that they are working in the aisle but they would keep their eye on us. My son would get upset because he was more vigilant to their behaviour and I would tell him to ignore them.

    The worst and most demeaning place for any Maori to enter is WINZ, I have come out of those offices at times so distraught, feeling that I am worthless and a drain on society. I would have had to prepare myself emotionally before going into their offices because sometimes you may be fortunate and get someone who is understanding of your situation or you may get someone who gets you to jump through a number of hoops to then say no to a food grant or whatever. They have security guards in their because some people are pushed to the point that they lash out not out of anger but out of desperation. One thing I noticed is that they had televisions near the entrance ways and it was continuously playing army recruiting video, I think its disgusting that they are targeting people of colour and a specific economic group to join the forces.

    I could go on but these are only two examples I wanted to share, all I can say is that these experiences have affected my family in the way that we endeavour to name the racist experience with people we are around be that doctors, family, work colleagues the experience has made me a stronger person but I wonder what damage it has inflicted on many others.

  2. As a pakeha journalist who has tried hard over the years to report maori issues fairly, i want to challenge the tone of injured innocence, margaret. I heard you on this on morning reort, a live interview by a fairly sympathetic interviewer, and it seemed to me you were making very broad generalisations about whole groups people. There was very little of the nuance you claim above and i wondered why you were putting fuel on the fire. Youve been around long enough, and in my observation are pretty good at manipulating sympathetic coverage when you want it. There is an ugly side to our media and society on race issues. I dont want to seem to deny that. But i think you bear some greater responsibility for the outcome on this occasion than you seem willing to acknowledge.

  3. If she never actually called for immigration restrictions but simply highlighted that racism against Maori comes more from ‘white’ immigrants than Asian- the ethnic group Maori most oppose immigrating to New Zealand- then good on her for making that point, I’m reminded of Mohammad Ali’s opposition to the war in Vietnam “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger”

    The thing I feel uneasy about is her “racism database” a self-selected sample of people emailing her their opinions can’t be used to show anything other than simply ‘there are some racist people in New Zealand’ no social scientist would accept those findings, research into racist attitudes needs a large sample (not self selected to the extent possible) and needs to be in proportion to other demographic factors, for example you’d likely find less racism among members of my generation living in North island than you would from older Pakeha in the South Island

    • I don’t see anywhere a claim that the database is representative. I think creating a database is a fantastic way to turn something very destructive and abusive and assert control and dignity in the situation.

      I also think that, although not representative, explicitly racist comments can be usefully used to indicate what might be going on in other Pakeha heads that they’re not giving voice to, or that they might not challenge…

      It’s like with sexism, how there are the ‘good guys’ who ‘look after’ women, but who aren’t actually committed to challenging other men (the ones who are outright sexist or violent towards women) because those ‘bad guys’ maintain the power of all men over women.

      So, lots of pakeha would never say what Paul Holmes did in his recent column, but they will defend his right to ‘free speech’ (that is, a voice in our biggest daily newspaper!) Because it is actually fine by them the work he does to keep Maori feeling shit/running scared/grateful for any Pakeha who is a bit more enlightened.

  4. Kia mau, kia kaha, e whaea.

    The most unusual thing is to see an exploration of these issues in written, recorded form. Plenty of people talk and argue about racism, but sometimes it’s hard to get a clear image of what is going on.

    Your article provides a valuable marker of the (regrettable) status quo of public and private attitudes in the early twenty-first century. Hopefully, people in the future can read it and be glad that things have changed since. The contrast between certain e-mailers’ extreme and emotional reactions and the measured tone of the article speaks volumes.

    Best wishes from north-western Europe!

  5. Nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa. I began reading Prof Mutu’s paper, but I haven’t yet been able to get past the emails she received after the original article appeared. They make me ashamed to be Pakeha.
    And kia ora to tangatawhenua.com – since I discovered your website, it’s become part of my daily reading. Always interesting, always challenging.

  6. Prof. Makere Mutu is a defending New Zealand’s treaty innocence.

    Kia kaha tonu wahine rangatira!

  7. Kia Ora Margaret,

    I absolutely support your comments, debates and discussions on Racism in Aotearoa and your own stand and korero within your iwi Ngati Kahu and other Taitokerau Iwi. A Maori woman and academic he whai mana.

    Its tiring having to put these issues up close and personal but pakeha are pretty kuare on human rights. Hmmm

  8. Kia ora Tangata Whenua for publishing Prof Mutu and Sue Abel’s paper.

    It’s great to come across a paper that explains so eloquently the attitudes of our “pakeha partners”. It is just unfortunate that a great number lack emotional intelligence, the most important attribute ‘Empathy’.

    It’s no secret that m?ori bashing in the media is rife, and even more disturbing is that it reaches Social Media networking sites. For example Close Up’s facebook page posted:

    ‘Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres has criticised Pakeha who resist moves to give “special treatment” to disadvantaged Maori. What do you make of his comments? He’s live tonight…’

    Was their intent to incite redneck comments? Did they realise it causes division and re-inforces m?ori stereo types? You can only conclude the answer is yes, which is poor form coming from the ‘Public Broadcaster’. If they naively did not think about such consequences you can only imagine who the author is.

    172 years on, the more they beat us down, the more we stand up for what we believe in. Sometimes you let it get to you, but thanks to people like Prof Mutu, Sue Able, Tariana, Hone, Pita and so many many more, they remind us to keep going and hold onto our mana.

  9. kia ora whaea nga mihi nui kia koe ae i support you in what you say and as i have had the negative reaction from not only my area where i lived but also from my former work colleagues i lived in browns bay north shore and was the only maori whanau in my particular area whenever there was any raruraru around i got the knock on the door by the police no matter what time of the day and at work i was demoted by the owner and his puppet a white south african plus a whit uk immigrant made my job impossible to be there that i unselfishly gave up my job house and move elsewhere it has given me the impetus to be a better person than them that is why i am now going to waikato uni this year to do a bacholer in maori and pacific development kia ora

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