Monday, 29 December 2008

What's race got to do with it?

Thanks to The Press's rather obtuse reporting, it's difficult to work out what exactly National MP Nicky Wagner is trying to say in this article - but it seems to me that she's on the side of right.

What I think Wagner's trying to do is condemn the racism which affects Christchurch taxi drivers, and which may have had a part in the terrible death of Afghan driver Abdulrahman Ikhtiari. Wagner says, "There are a large number of immigrants working in the taxi industry, bars and restaurants, dairies and service stations. They work at night, generally lowly paid and serving the community, and are getting abused, and it's not good enough."

Couldn't agree more. I'm resisting the urge to point out National's role in said low wages, or complain about the general racist bizarreness of Christchurch. What I will observe is that Wagner's comment marks a significant departure from the National government of the 1990s, which put great faith in the colour- and gender-blindness of the market, to the extent that those groups which did poorly in the socioeconomic stakes were regarded as personally inadequate. You might remember the Hone Carter affair, when John Carter rang up talkback caricaturing an unemployed Maori man and describing himself as a dole bludger.

Wagner's comments seem to suggest a more mature approach to the issues of race and socioeconomic status - one which recognises some of the structural factors affecting non-Pakeha Kiwis. It remains to be seen whether Wagner's comments represent a shift in the view of the National party as a whole, or whether Wagner, like Katherine Rich before her, will find herself ever so slightly marginalised from the party's hub for expressing mildly progressive views.


Julie said...

Perhaps Wagner could start in her own caucus by asking Lockwood Smith what size hands taxi drivers should have for maximum efficiency?

Anna said...

Yeah - maybe my hopes of progress were a bit premature... ;-)

Hugh said...

Personally I'd say that this does not mark a significant progress from the 90s. I'd say any claim that National has abandoned its faith in the market is, at best, highly optimistic.

But stunts like John Carter's aside (and I'm sure there are many who share his views still within the party) National has always been big on gestures towards racial inclusiveness. And until National actually creates some legislation to address the problem Wagner is talking about, what she says is going to remain just that - a gesture.

Anna said...

I don't think the Nats have lost their faith in the market, but rather that they've become more pragmatic/sneaky, depending on what you want to call it.

Pro-marketeers world-wide have undergone a shift since the Nats were last in government. Acknowledging market failure has become OK - but the things which are done to remedy this are 'more market', ie microfinance in developing countries, and in our own, using the carrot rather than the stick to get solo mums into the labour market, without questioning whether the labour market is actually the best destination.

I think that what Wagner is advocating - ie simply not being racist to low paid workers - is a step forward from some of the shite the Nats came out with last time (notwithstanding their efforts in the Treaty settlement area). Admitting the connection between race and low wages, and implying that low wages are undesirable (rather than the just desserts of people who don't work hard enough or upskill appropriately) is different from the last National govt - but not incompatible with global trends either.

So I'm aware that the Nats are currently trying on the lastest fashion in capitalism, but I still welcome it in comparison to their previous efforts!