When Bob Jones abandoned his defamation suit against filmmaker Renae Maihi last month, it seemed as if he’d had the last word.
The Wellington property developer launched defamation proceedings after Renae started a petition calling for his knighthood to be revoked, following a column in which Jones had written that Waitangi Day should be replaced with “Maori Gratitude Day”. The column was published in the National Business Review (NBR) on February 2, 2018.
The case was heard in the Wellington High Court, but, five days into the 10-day trial, Jones dropped the suit, saying the “parties may never agree on what is acceptable humour”, and that it was “sensible to put an end to proceedings” as “no malice was intended by either”.
However, in a subsequent interview on TVNZ’s Q + A, on March 8, Jones said he hadn’t wanted to drop the case, although he wouldn’t say why he’d done so (perhaps the very real possibility of losing to a Māori woman?). He cited a “confidential agreement” — Renae has since said there was no such agreement — and continued to insist that the petition (signed by 90,000 people) was “an absurd, over-the-top reaction to quite a good joke that would’ve gone down well in any sophisticated society”.
Bob Jones claimed his suit had been about free speech — his, of course, not Renae Maihi’s, whose free speech he attempted to silence.
One of the witnesses who was due to give evidence at the hearing was Dr Moana Jackson, a Wellington-based lawyer and constitutional/Treaty advisor whose experience over the last four decades, both in New Zealand and internationally, has given him an extensive knowledge of the origins and nature of racism.
For example, he was on the United Nations working group which drafted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and he researched and wrote the landmark 1988 report on Māori and the criminal justice system.
Moana was asked by Renae’s lawyer to give his expert opinion on the meaning of racism and hate speech, and to consider whether Bob Jones’s NBR column, as well as various other examples of his writing and public statements, could be regarded as expressing views that are “racist or amount to hate speech”.
He was also asked to address “the social harm that racism, racist discourse and hate speech can cause, generally and in particular to Māori and other Indigenous Peoples”.
As Bob Jones’s withdrawal prevented Moana from giving that evidence, E-Tangata asked him to lay out the arguments that he would have presented in his evidence.
Racism and hate speech, like everything else, have a whakapapa. In this country, it’s part of the history and lived experience of Māori, as it has been of other Indigenous Peoples in other colonising states.
Understanding racism and hate speech is therefore not an abstract exercise in which simple legislative or academic definitions can provide clarity. Rather, it requires an acknowledgement of their historical context as well as the personal and collective hurt and even destruction they have historically caused in the lives of Indigenous Peoples and other people of colour.
They are the people who have most suffered the impacts of racism, and to ignore the history and hurt of racism in their lives, is to not only minimise the damage it causes but to distort the very meaning of racism. It’s rather like trying to explain the Holocaust only in some academic history of antisemitic legislation or definition without acknowledging the lived and dying experience of those who were its victims. The definition and the costs are inseparable.
Racism and hate speech
Legislative definitions are nevertheless helpful, of course. Section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993 includes “race” as one of the “prohibited grounds of discrimination”. The Act declares that it’s unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race in certain areas of public life such as employment, education and housing.
The Act gives effect to international human rights instruments such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Article 1 of the Convention defines “racial discrimination” as:
any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
Instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights affirm that all individuals possess the rights outlined in the Covenant without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour or sex. The wide-ranging rights covered in the Covenant include the inherent right to life and the right to liberty and security of person.
In very simple terms, any act which discriminates against or denies the rights of an individual or group on the basis of their race in the areas covered by the legislation and the human rights instruments can be construed as examples of “racism”.
However, racism may be manifest in many different ways besides the specific examples in the legislation and the human rights instruments. Indeed, history shows that racism has been experienced not just in generalised instances of the denial of liberty or access to housing, for example, but in much less overt and sometimes rarely articulated attitudes which demean or denigrate the worth of another person or population.
They are all interrelated, and the attitudes usually precede the racist actions. The whakapapa and context which they share may seem ancient but it is actually a quite recent European phenomenon.
Throughout human history, people have often been wary and even fearful of those who seemed different. Sometimes they invented fanciful reasons to explain the difference which then became the grounds for prejudice or worse.
But the idea of race as a marker of difference, and the racist assumption that certain people were superior or inferior based on their race, only arose after the early contacts between European Nations and Indigenous Peoples in the 15th century.
Racism and the colonisation of Indigenous Peoples, in fact, happened together. Indeed, most of the main ideas about a racialised “other”, who was deemed to be less worthy than the colonising peoples of Europe, were invented to help justify why Indigenous Peoples could be dispossessed.
Most of the initial ideas were framed within the fictional concept of a “chain of being” and were based on presumptions rather than accurate or reasoned analysis. Thus, the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume claimed in 1754:
I am apt to suspect that the negroes and all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to whites. There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white . . .
Many other thinkers contributed to the creation of an inferior indigenous “other”. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, for example, refined the inferiority to include an absence of the finer human virtues:
the savages have little feeling for the beautiful in moral feeling . . . valour is the greatest merit of the savage and revenge his sweetest bliss.
Such philosophical musings passed into everyday discourse and became accepted as real facts. They certainly set very real events in train and were constantly reinforced throughout the history of colonisation. Thus, in his 1831 essay The Geographical Basis of History, Georg Friedrich Hegel assumed that Native Americans:
are like unenlightened children, living from one day to the next, and untouched by higher thoughts or aspirations.
Māori people were allocated a lower space on the chain of being that was very similar to that of the Native Americans. The ethnographer Elsdon Best, for example, repeated Hegel’s assumption in his claim that:
Uncivilised folk, such as our Maori, may not do any great amount of thinking . . .
An even more popular sign of Māori inferiority was contained in the invention of a “warrior race”. No peoples are ever born just to be “warriors”, to fight and kill and murder. Yet Māori were depicted as living in an eternal war zone where “blood for blood was the one law and revenge was the precious heirloom bequeathed by ferocious father to ferocious son.”
The fact that Māori were also gardeners and poets and lovers and philosophers with all the strengths and fallibilities of being human was set aside in a racist lie.
At the same time, the lies were being augmented by a so-called science of race that was supposedly based on objectivity and scientific rigour. However, its purpose was essentially to “prove” that all the other inventions about race were actually correct since scientists had “the obligation to settle the relative rank among . . . races.”
By the end of the 19th century, racism was the dominant justificatory trope of all the colonising powers. The French colonising theorist Jules Harmand presented it as simply an incontrovertible argument:
It is necessary to accept as a principle . . . that there is a hierarchy of races and civilisations, and that we belong to the superior race and civilisation . . . The basic legitimation of conquest over Native peoples is the conviction of our superiority . . . Our dignity rests on that quality, and it underlies our right to direct the rest of humanity.
The idea of race and the parallel discourses of racism are therefore social constructs that have been learned across generations. Although the notion of race is biologically meaningless, because physical differences such as skin colour have no natural association with group differences in behaviour or ability, it has had historical significance in shaping social realities and attitudes.
For the lies of racism eventually also became an ideology about how the world should be organised. It became a system of oppression which rationalised the political, economic and cultural subordination of Indigenous Peoples by devaluing, ridiculing, and dismissing their ideas, behaviours, identities and sense of worth.
It privileged White Supremacy in political and economic as well as personal terms.
Today, racism therefore lingers both individually, as a personal arrogance or dismissiveness about the “other”, or structurally, as an institutionalised form of overarching and “normalised” power.
As the American Holocaust historian George L. Mosse has noted:
racism as it developed in Western society was no mere articulation of prejudice, nor was it simply a metaphor for suppression; it was rather a fully blown system of thought, an ideology . . . with its own peculiar structure and mode of discourse.
Both manifestations of racism were established in this country. Elsdon Best was just one proponent of its “peculiar . . . discourse”. Indeed, Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith has argued that it established the belief that Māori, like other Indigenous Peoples, were not fully human:
we could not use our minds or intellect. We could not invent things, we could not create institutions or history . . . we did not practice the “arts” of civilisation.
The initial philosophical and pseudo-scientific justifications of racism have now been debunked and the more overt expressions of racism are no longer as common in New Zealand as they used to be. In many instances, they have been expressly prohibited through domestic legislation and the various international human rights instruments. The incidence of blatant discrimination and overt incitements of racial disharmony has certainly lessened.
Yet the ideas of superiority and disdain for, or discrimination against, the “other” still remain. They are part of the legacy of colonisation, whether in the ongoing power of the institutions established in colonisation because they were assumed to be superior to those of iwi and hapū, or in the often denied and personal slur and denigration of Māori and other “non-White” peoples.
Sometimes they are especially evident in the operation of different institutions such as the criminal justice system. Indeed, research has constantly shown the effects of racism in everything from racial profiling of Māori to differential rates of arrest and sentencing outcomes.
In that case, it’s often defined as institutional or systemic racism, and sometimes it’s classified as an example of unconscious or implicit bias. But, whatever definition is applied, it is part of the legacy of the overarching racism of colonisation.
It also still resides in personal attitudes that regard the “other” as somehow less worthy in terms of their behaviour, values and worldview. If it’s noted in some particularly public commentary, it’s sometimes now labelled as casual racism.
Together, these different forms of racism all still characterise the “other” in ways that are prejudiced, offensive or disparaging. The racism is often attributed to particular individuals who then get characterised as exceptions to the general non-racist views of society as a whole.
Sometimes the racism is just denied, which leads to what the French colonial theorist Albert Memmi has described as:
. . . a strange kind of tragic enigma associated with the problem of racism. No-one . . . wishes to see themselves as racist; still racism persists, real and tenacious.
Racism does indeed still persist, and it is therefore possible to formulate a set of criteria to determine whether a specific act or speech might be considered racist.
The criteria accept both the persistence of racism and the ongoing lived experience that many Māori people have of racism. In particular, they acknowledge the many recent findings about the extent and costs of racism on Māori who have to deal with it on a daily basis in one way or another. For example, work by the criminal psychologist Erika Te Hiwi found that:
(Māori) experiences of racism are numerous and pervasive still in Aotearoa.
The criteria for determining racist content are also interrelated, and sometimes one or more of the criteria may be met in the same act or speech. Taken together, they allow a reasoned correlation to be drawn between the facts and ideology of racism and their manifestation in a given situation. They enable a critical interrogation of both the “enigma” and the potential expression of racism.
The criteria include:
(i) the direct or implied claim of a collective superiority by the person vis-à-vis the inferiority of the “other”;
(ii) the use of language or sub-text that is racially offensive and discriminatory against the “other”;
(iii) the use of language that is racially insulting or abusive about the “other”; and
(iv) the use of language that racially disparages the collective cultural integrity of the “other”.
Not every racist act or speech may be precipitated by personal animus or loathing for the “other”. Indeed, many people who express racist views usually disavow any racist intent and may even insist that “some of my best friends are Māori”.
However, people can have individual “Māori friends” yet still harbour an unacknowledged ideological belief about the innate inferiority of Māori as a collective. In such a case, the personal acquaintance may exist alongside a collective disdain. That is part of racism’s contemporary enigma.
An analogy may be made with the persistence of patriarchy. Many men may say “some of my best friends are women”, or “I have been happily married for 40 years to the same woman”, yet harbour unacknowledged misogynistic or patriarchal views that women as a group may in some way be less capable, less worthy of equal pay, and so on.
Those who use racist language or descriptions often seek to deny the racism by claiming it’s satire or “a joke”. However, defining a statement in that way doesn’t mean it ceases to be racist. A label doesn’t change a racist comment into a non-racist one.
Also, satire is generally understood as a witty and intelligent mocking of social mores often used to suggest improvement or to point out the hypocrisies of the powerful. Racism does neither. More often, it’s expressed as a condemnation of the powerless, the “other” who needs improvement in order to bring them up to the supposed level of the superior. Racism is the very antithesis of satire.
Sometimes, too, the racism is denied in the name of free speech. However, too often, free speech is used as an excuse by the rich and powerful as a licence to also demean and ridicule the powerless. It has, in fact, become a shield to hurt and inflict pain upon those who usually have no platform to respond. A supposed defence in the name of free speech that actually hurts people or makes them less free devalues the integrity of free speech as a fundamental human right.
Sir Bob Jones has written countless articles over the years which can be assessed according to the criteria outlined above. They exhibit a level of disparagement and prejudicial descriptions of Māori that amount to a consistent pattern of racist derision. In my view, they are therefore clearly racist and also amount to hate speech.
A number of the articles may be considered as indicative examples of that racism. All of the examples contain writing by, or interviews with, Sir Bob, and are publicly available.
National Business Review: “Media gaffes part 2 and flights of fancy” (February 2, 2018)
In my opinion, the NBR article which gave rise to the proceedings between Sir Bob Jones and Renae Maihi is racist on a number of grounds.
Its very premise or “troll”, that there should be a day of Māori appreciation or gratitude, draws upon the seminal trope of European superiority. Indeed, the suggestion of Māori bringing breakfast in bed for, or mowing the lawns of, “non-Māori folk” replicates some of the most distressing assumptions devised in the earliest iterations of racism.
The notion of servitude was inherent in the “othering” of Māori and other Indigenous Peoples as inferior. It was the ideological presumption behind the assimilationist ideas of the 19th century and the well-documented policy imperatives that Māori boys should be educated only to be labourers and Māori girls to be domestic servants.
The article certainly can’t be excused as satire. It serves no grand or even ironic purpose. Instead, it rehashes tired prejudices that seek to mock and confine Māori to positions of powerlessness. It lacks the wit and wisdom of true satire. In fact, its racism is the very antithesis of satire.
Its apparent perpetuation of the debunked notion of a “blood quantum” may be seen by some as a “satire” on the very notion of Māori existence or cultural identity. However, discredited science can never be a base for true satire, especially as it is now generally accepted that the idea of a “blood quantum” is itself racist.
Salient magazine: “Bob Jones: Nextdoor to No-one” (1973)
This was a free-ranging interview with Sir Bob which contains quite specific racist comments directed at Māori. For example:
You need a Cabinet Minister who would tell Maoris that “you’re all a pack of lazy bastards.” I think we’re very good to the Maori. We’re too good. There’s too much of the “free cars for Maoris” attitude around.
The interview also includes the following comment:
a bit of spanking, even a verbal one, might be a good thing for the Maoris . . . the modern Maori is a disgrace.
The description of Māori in the article as “a pack of lazy bastards” is an inherently racist comment reflecting stereotypical views about Māori character as somehow less committed or capable than more “superior” peoples. In that sense, it perpetuates the direct or implied imputation of a collective non-Māori superiority vis-à-vis the inferiority of Māori.
The imputation is heightened by the suggestion that “we’re very good to Maori . . . too good”. The implied paternalistic beneficence has its own racist resonance in the historical assumption that the dispossession of Indigenous Peoples was “good” for them as it would “uplift” them in the scale of civilisation.
The description of Māori as a “disgrace” is simply a racist judgement. It is based, either consciously or unconsciously, on little more than the presumed right of a self-defined superior to belittle those deemed to be of lesser worth.
North & South: “Straight talking about the race crisis” (February 1988)
The text of this article contains probably the most definitive example of racist comment that I’ve seen in Sir Bob’s work:
An objective outsider assessing the state of affairs in this country would be excused for quickly concluding that Maoris are genetically an inferior race.
While Jones does go on to infer that Māori might not be genetically inferior, the presumption of an “objective outsider” drawing a conclusion of inferiority is clearly racist. The later contrary suggestion does not, in my view, diminish the racist import of the article as a whole.
Indeed, the racism is readily apparent in the following sentence:
What sort of people abandon literally thousands of their children to live Calcutta-style in the streets, huddled together in shop doorways, living off scraps and charity? What sort of people turn the other cheek when literally thousands of their young men form into gangs to rape and murder and pillage and generally declare war on society? The answer, we are told, is a people who profess a unique only-to-them, special aroha; a collective caring and love of the extended family. It simply doesn’t wash any more in the face of such compelling evidence to the contrary.
The unfair dismissiveness of Māori through such an inaccurate and mocking depiction is racist in its insult.
New Zealand Herald: “Bob Jones: Bearded blokes spouting load of hogwash” (February 2013)
Bob Jones’s commentary includes the following statement:
What was extraordinary was the uttering of unadulterated world-class nonsense this event spawned, mainly and predictably by Maori exponents whose capacity to spout garbage is familiar to us all.
The comment is, on its face, offensive and insulting in its assertion of a Māori capacity to “spout garbage.” But it is specifically racist because the offensiveness is posited on an implied inferiority that discriminates and is disparaging of the Māori capacity to express thoughts other than “garbage”.
In many ways, it evokes the old assumption that “we could not use our minds or intellect” to practise the “arts” of civilisation. It may even be seen as a modern expression of Elsdon Best’s assertion that “uncivilised folk such as our Maori” are not given to much thinking.
“The egalitarian myth”, chapter in New Zealand The Way I Want It (1978)
This article refers to a cartoon depicting Māori gang members as apes and concludes that such a comparison is unjust to apes.
No doubt the article, like the cartoon, is intended to be humorous. It fails.
Even if it was humorous, labelling something as humour doesn’t make its racism any less real.
The insulting comparison to apes is racist, and the fact that the piece also relies on widely discredited “scientific evidence” about “genetical intellectual variances between races” renders it even more so in its use of offensive inaccuracy. It not only implies the collective superiority of non-Māori viz-a-viz Māori but includes apes as part of that superiority, something which even the most ardent 19th century race scientists were reluctant to do.
“A Redundant Treaty”, chapter in Wimp Walloping, (October 1988)
Today the tribes exist in name only, nominally preserved for sentimental and cultural reasons by small bands of enthusiasts . . .
Errors in fact and perception such as this can be described as racist on two interrelated grounds.
Firstly, this statement uses language that is racially insulting or abusive about the “other” because it diminishes the fundamental and ongoing importance of iwi, hapū and whānau.
Secondly, it uses language that racially disparages the collective cultural integrity of Māori and in essence demeans their inherent worth — one of the key components of any colonising dialectic.
Summary of the racism in the examples quoted
In my view, the above examples are not only racist in themselves but indicate a pattern of racism which is often based on clearly identifiable cases of factual, scientific, and historical inaccuracy.
They are also abuses of any claim to free speech. They were published on platforms to which Māori have not generally had equal access and indicate a position of privilege and power being used to vilify Māori in racist terms.
Indeed, the unthinking or deliberate exclusion of Māori from such platforms may itself be construed as a racist act which actually prevents the open exchange of views that is so fundamental to free speech.
The hurt racist comments can cause
The comments by Sir Bob are not only shaped by the racist socio-historic context of colonisation — they are also reflective of the contemporary context in which racism continues to be a relevant causative factor in the socio-economic disparities that mar too many Māori lives.
In the 1988 Report on Māori and the criminal justice system, those disparities were identified as markers in Māori “cycles of confinement”. Many of those markers have worsened in the last 30 years, as have the dislocation and injustice which they create.
The publication and dissemination of racist commentary compounds the injustice. It adds a level of collective and personal distress to the lives of many Māori that is unwarranted and undeserved.
Even a brief canvassing of research findings across a number of areas provides some social and cultural background to the racist nature of Sir Bob’s comments and the wider distress suffered by many in the Māori community which his views exacerbate at both a personal and collective level.
For example, the comparative lack of academic success achieved by Māori at all levels of the education system is well-documented. So, too, are the race-based reasons which affect everything from the higher expulsion rates of Māori children to the actual classroom pedagogy or teaching methods.
One recent major research project tracked the experiences of racism encountered by Māori children at school. An experienced college principal reaffirmed the finding that racism was a constant problem:
personal racism is layered on top of, and a direct result of, the institutional racism deeply embedded in our education system that consistently allows us to fail our Māori children . . . (it is) embedded in our stand downs, suspension and expulsion statistics (and) in our definitions of achievement and success.
Frequent research has found similar racism in health, which results in poorer health outcomes for Māori. The poor outcomes include provable racialised standards of lesser care in all sectors of the health system:
. . . our current (health) systems are supporting non-Māori to live healthier, longer lives than Māori. Across the life course we see inequity in many indicators from before birth, through childhood and youth, through adulthood and into old age. (There are) higher rates of Māori disability . . . and a stark difference in life expectancy . . . and levels of care . . Colonisation, failure to meet the requirements of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and institutional racism have established and maintained disadvantage for Māori.
Other research has indicated how the health sector and broader socio-economic disparities are similar to those of other Indigenous Peoples:
historical and contemporary dispossession . . . has disrupted Māori culture . . . with long-term deleterious effects similar to the experience of the Indigenous populations in the U.S. and globally . . . racial/ethnic minorities in both countries face bias and institutional and personally mediated racism . . .
There is a distressing familiarity in the statistics because they are not mere abstractions. Rather, they represent human lives disadvantaged by a persistent and historically-shaped racism.
The various articles and statements made by Bob Jones that I have addressed above purvey the same racist history and values. They also cause the same distress to Māori who read and encounter them.
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