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Research busts myth that “Pakeha” is a derogatory term


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The myth that the label “Pakeha” is negative and offensive has been challenged by the latest findings from the large scale New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.

The study found generally positive feelings between Maori and New Zealanders of European descent.

We found no evidence whatsoever for the suggestion that the term ‘Pakeha’ is in any way pejorative or might reflect a negative attitude toward New Zealanders of European descent,” says Dr Sibley from The University of Auckland’s School of Psychology.

“Our findings indicate that the choice by Maori to use the term Pakeha is linked to how strongly they identify as Maori.

The choice to use Te Reo is part of identity – rather than anything to do with Maori attitudes toward New Zealanders of European descent,” says Dr Carla Houkamau of The University of Auckland Business School.

“Our data show that Maori who prefer the term Pakeha to other descriptions, such as ‘New Zealand European’, ‘Kiwi’, or ‘New Zealander’, tend to view their own ethnicity as a more central to their self-concept,” says Dr Sibley.

Maori also express very positive, warm attitudes toward New Zealanders of European descent generally, regardless of the label that they use to describe them.”

“We think this is a really positive finding for New Zealand,” adds Dr William Hoverd, a Research Associate in the School of Classics, Art History and Religious Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.

“The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study provided the first opportunity to actually test this idea out in a nationally representative sample” says Dr Carla Houkamau.

The study surveys the attitudes and beliefs of thousands of New Zealanders, and provided data on a wide range of questions from race relations to religious beliefs and personality types.

New Zealanders of European descent also had generally warm attitudes towards Maori, but those who preferred to self-label as Pakeha expressed more positive views of Maori than those who chose other terms, such as “New Zealander” or “New Zealand European”

“Our findings suggest that Europeans who prefer to use the term Pakeha to describe themselves, are likely expressing a desire to recognise a positive relationship with Maori”, says Dr Sibley.

Europeans who prefer to use the term Pakeha were generally supportive of symbolic aspects of biculturalism the study showed.

The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, launched by Dr Sibley in 2009, surveys thousands of New Zealanders every year on a wide range of topics.

The latest findings are derived from an analysis of two of the questions in the 2009 survey, about the terms people prefer to describe New Zealanders of European descent and their ratings of warmth toward themselves and members of other ethnic groups.

  • Use of the term Pakeha was relatively low overall (14%)
  • the most popular term was New Zealander (50%)
  • Amongst Maori levels of support for the four main terms were:

    • New Zealander 37%
    • Pakeha 31%
    • Kiwi 24%
    • New Zealand European 19%

    Amongst New Zealanders of European descent:

    • New Zealander 53%
    • Pakeha 12%
    • Kiwi 17%
    • New Zealand European 25%

    A total of 6,518 people took part in the survey and their ethnicities were broadly representative of the New Zealand population, with 1,163 Maori participants and 4,618 New Zealanders of European descent.

    For more information about the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study visit the study website: www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/NZAVS

    A video describing the findings can also be found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ETDIRVY6lg

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