Tuesday 10 September 2019

I am whanau, like it or not

A lot of people may have hoped I’ve moved on from blogging about kimonos and chinamen so I’m going to disappoint….

Reading Ijeoma Oluos “So you Want to Talk About Race” 6 weeks ago I was intrigued to find, due to the geographic region where I’m born, she described me as an Asian. I’ve been turning it over for weeks with bemusement, not sure how it fits.

I was born in Asia. My ancestors emigrated to New Zealand at least 120 years ago. I’ve never been to England or Scotland where they came from before pre 19thC.

I’ve decided it’s true. I am an Asian.

I’m not English. I’m not Scottish. I’d be kicked out of those countries if I went there without a Passport and travel documents.

I am Asian.
….but to most of the rest of the world I’m white and wouldn’t be recognised as Asian. I was born 4th generation in New Zealand but to others my first identity will always be “white” and by technical inheritance – racist.

patches sewed to the skirt top are images reproduced from vintage Japanese postcards that I had printed by Spoonflower

A Fuck You to American Racism

I was born in New Zealand and lived there until I was 26 when I went to live in Australia. 
Today New Zealand is a country of less than 5 million people and is a proudly multiracial country.

British colonists took over the islands by overwhelming mass immigration and aggressive force from the 1790s. By the time my various European ancestors arrived a 100 years later the military and settler hostilities with the indigenous Maori were largely over. The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed between Maori leaders and Queen Victoria in 1840. In modern day New Zealand that treaty is still legally upheld and has formed a strong foundation for the empowerment of the Maori by upholding their rights in perpetuity to large tracts of tribal land, control over rivers, coastlands and beaches. In NZ Whanau is strong and "white" descended NZers are welcome to become iwi. 

Americans have an ethnocentric view that their particular version of racism is the same everywhere in the world. American BIPOC campaigners seem to arrogantly disregard that outside their borders there might be different experiences between indigenous and colonisers. Racism is a many headed hydra that presented different fangs in every culture. The American type of racism is particularly vicious because of its entanglement with slavery over hundreds of years. American slavery started in 1619.

In the country of my birth and dual citizenship a much softer version of racism was perpetrated. There was no slavery, no reservation lands that the Maori were forced to live on, no miscegenation laws, no segregated education systems, no lynch mobs or versions of the KKK. 
How many Americans have ever met a Maori, visited New Zealand or know where Waitangi is? On one of my American trips I went to Gettysburg because Lincoln and the American civil war is fascinating.  I read numerous books about American history and racism. My 2 favourites are – “The Hemingses of Monticello” and “White Fragility”. Are currently reading “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X Kendi.

But the infuriating thing about American racism, like so much ubiquitous American culture, is that the concept has permeated everywhere internationally and has become the stereotype lens that many people interpret what racism is. Americans will always assume if I talk about racism that I’m talking about their version of it. Such an insular country that they cannot conceive of vastly different histories elsewhere. Black American social commentator Aja Barber said she moved to England to live because she felt safer there, so that implies she acknowledges there are less virulent versions of racism in different nations of the world.

How many Americans have ever been to New Zealand where I was born? I am proud to come from a nation which is highly integrated with its native Maori people. My experience is that the American assumption that all racism is just the same as what they created is wrong. I may be a racist by technical inheritance but I love the Maori people and numerous of my close family relatives are Maori identifying people.

It seems I’m a racist, inherited from my white ancestors 3 generations back - but I’m a Kiwi kind, not an American racist.

My problem with Chinamen

I’ve been amazed how many people took offence at my use of the word “slitty” to insult the Chinese people who are appropriating photos of my work to sell their fraudulent products. In truth I find Asian features very attractive and the characteristic slanted eyes are especially beautiful.

It was rude and offensive and intended to be so. But it didn’t spring from racism. It got attention and censure because it’s the kind of thing that racists say. It came from childish outrage at my powerlessness to stop their criminal fraud. I said it because I knew the workers of ChicV that read my blog and check in regularly to see what they can appropriate would find it offensive. The truth is, they hate me too. They are apparently quite comfortable doing a job that requires them to raid and steal images of other peoples work to use as false representations of the products they sell.

Racism is a system that upholds and perpetuates the belief that an identifiable group of people is superior to another group that is discerned to be inferior. It becomes a cultural, social and political set of ideas that is supported in law, rights and regulation favouring the superior group over the inferior.

I am anti-racist. I don’t believe I’m superior to any other race of people on Earth. I especially admire the indigenous Asian people of the Pacific – the Maori, indigenous Australians, the Japanese.

I am deeply fearful of Chinese racism and their imperialistic objectives to control the Pacific. While I acknowledge the awful crimes my English ancestors committed through colonialism I don't think The Peoples Republic of China will treat the native populations of the Pacific in any more of an enlightened way than the English did 250 years ago if they were to achieve power in this region.

Racist behaviours and beliefs aren't owned just by people of "white" ancestry.