Thursday, 12 April 2012

no, we aren't a nation of migrants

over the years, i've heard many politicians use a variation of this theme: "we are a nation of migrants, whether we or our ancestors came here by waka, boat or airplane". this phrase is used when the politician is addressing ethnic minorities who are mostly assumed to be migrants rather than locals, in attempt to show that we nz'ers are all equal and that migrants shouldn't be discriminated against.

i'd sit there and listen to this without thinking much of it, until the day i was sitting next to a maori women who expressed just how offensive that phrase is. her point was that it was a way of invalidating the indigenous status of maori, by equating them with all who have come to nz, but more importantly, equating them with the british migrants who colonised this country and were the source of dispossessing the indigenous population.

more than that, it diminishes the maori struggle for justice via the treaty. after all, as this woman pointed out to me, having settled here over 1,000 years should be enough to lose the migrant tag. that history should be enough to deserve the recognition of being indigenous peoples, which has certain implications and gives rise to certain responsibilities on a state that has been the mechanism of dispossession and oppression. hence why we have this (pdf), which nz is now a signatory to.

by making these points, i'm not saying that migrants are less than. there is no hidden implication that being a migrant is a bad thing, or that if you're a migrant or children of migrants, that you are somehow deserving of fewer rights or are less of a nz'er than another person. i'm just saying that the use of the term migrant in this context and in this way is incorrect in a way that is harmful, particularly to our indigenous peoples but also to others.

the statement ignores the fact that different groups of migrants are treated differently in this country. when you see stories in the media of migrants who are in danger of being sent back to their countries of origin, and the angle is that this is a terrible thing to be doing, those migrants are invariably white. not always, just almost always.

and they are described a the "right kind of migrant", which is a clear dogwhistle. although those who use the term would claim "we mean the kind of migrant that is working hard and contributing to this country". except that almost all migrants are trying to do that - whether by running dairies or driving taxis or taking up some other kind of self-employment because the job market actively discriminates against them. but their stories of being sent back don't hit the news all that much, and if they do, they don't often get too much sympathy.

academics describe the different treatement of various groups of migrants as a dichotomy between invisible vs visible migrants. invisible migrants (in this country) tend to be white and tend not to be called migrants at all. yes, they still face the difficult issues of resettlement, but they are able to integrate into our society much more easily because that society tends to be very much more accepting of them. the word migrant tends to be used as a synonym for ethnic minority, invariably for people of colour, be they migrant or local born.

following on from that, the statement also equalises the history of migrants from non-british countries. some of these people migrated here in the 19th & early 20th centry, but they came into an oppressive system, which included a poll tax, a complete lack of inclusion into general society , even official descriptions in government statistics such as "pagans & heathens". they didn't have the same ability to have family members migrate and join them as british migrants. their experiences were not the same and they shouldn't be equalised.

nor were they part of the colonising group - they pretty much weren't allowed to be because of that social exclusion thing. and even if they were allowed to be, there's no evidence that they would have wanted to be. so that statement equalising us all as migrants or descendants of migrants loses all of these distinctions and distorts our history in a way that is patently unfair.

migrants of colour shouldn't be discriminated against. but the reason for that isn't that we are all just a country of migrants. if what you really mean is that people should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character, then say that. if you mean that people shouldn't be discriminated against merely because they migrated to this country instead of being born here, then say that. stop hiding some pretty big injustices and equalising in ways that are totally inappropriate.

we aren't all migrants in this country. there's nothing wrong with being a migrant. all migrants aren't treated with equal welcome into this country, and migrants of colour face hurdles that other migrants often don't have to face. we have a history that is problematic. that is our reality. be open and honest about it and you'll get more respect. from me at least.

31 comments:

Pala ann said...

Well written agin.... Wondering how many versions will it take to finally hit home,,,,

Psycho Milt said...

Well, we are a nation of migrants so it's a perfectly reasonable statement. NZ was settled by humans fairly recently in historical terms, and it's likely the first migrants to settle here did so for similar reasons to the later ones. The fact that the first settlers were forcibly dispossessed by a later wave of migrants is a separate issue. Likewise, whether some later migrants got a better deal than others.

stargazer said...

well at least this comment was less assholish than your last one. but no, the children of migrants are not migrants. so we aren't. if we're going to take your definition of migrant, then all but a small portion of the middle east are a nation of migrants. the recentness or otherwise of that migration is totally irrelevant.

Hugh said...

@stargazer: Don't you mean all but a small portion of Africa? I think that's where humans originally came from.

Personally I find the idea that all human beings are migrants actually quite a nice one...

stargazer said...

so you can call yourself one hugh. but it means that once again you've missed the whole point of the post.

anthea said...

The thing is, Psycho Milt, yes, it's technically true that we're all descended from migrants. But if you're going to say that there's some reason for saying it, some point you want to make, otherwise you may as well say "eggs have shells" or "kittens are fluffy", both of which are also true. Stargazer had made clear some of the reasons why saying it is problematic. I'm not sure why someone would choose to insist on making this point having been made aware of those problematic implications.

Hugh said...

"so you can call yourself one hugh"

Oh, I do, believe me.

When I lived in the UK I made a lot of people uncomfortable by calling myself an "immigrant" after they'd spent ten minutes complaining about how immigrants were Ruining The Country (TM). The unspoken subtext was "You're not a real immigrant, you're a white English speaker! That's not what an immigrant is!"

Psycho Milt said...

I'm not sure why someone would choose to insist on making this point having been made aware of those problematic implications.

The reason someone would choose to insist on the point is that the post declares this mundane, well-meant and, you'd think, uncontroversial statement to be not merely wrong but offensive and an attempt to hide injustice. The statement's implication, that anyone wanting to look down on immigrants to NZ needs to consider their own ancestry, isn't "problematic" - it's fair comment.

Moz said...

no, the children of migrants are not migrants. so we aren't.

Thanks stargazer, got it in one.

I'm an immigrant, my partner is not - she was born here, I moved here as an adult. The fact that one of us is "asian" and one "anglo" means people usually guess wrong about which of us is the immigrant (she's at least been to asia, I've never been to england).

I kinda get what the "we're all immigrants" is trying to suggest as a positive, melting-pot way, but it's not being used like that. If someone was genuinely standing up and saying "let's work together on this issue" then yes, by all means, we're all (descended from) migrants. But when it's a dog-whistle from someone too gutless to say "whites only", no.

Hugh said...

"I kinda get what the "we're all immigrants" is trying to suggest as a positive, melting-pot way, but it's not being used like that."

I dunno, I feel like I have heard it used that way predominantly, but perhaps that's part of the tone deafness on my part.

Annanonymous said...

I agree, stargazer. The migrant phrase is very seldom used in an ill-intentioned way, like 'we are all New Zealanders' can be, but it can be depoliticising as well as a bit patronising. As a bit of an aside, I read an article a week or two ago about NZers of Asian origin (immigrants, or children of immigrants) being unable to get job interviews because their names show their heritage. The contrast between that and my/my dad's experience (he's white and from the UK) couldn't be more stark - we've never faced any suggestion that we're not bona fide kiwis.

stargazer said...

"I dunno, I feel like I have heard it used that way predominantly, but perhaps that's part of the tone deafness on my part."

i'd have to agree with that, because you're not hearing anything i've said in my post, or if you heard it you don't care about the implications it has. i don't agree with the whole melting pot thing anyway, as it's just another way to erase identities, promote conformity as some kind of desireable objective, and reduce the effort people have to make to get to know, understand and appreciate difference. but that's not the topic here anyway.

the whole "desecendants of migrants" thing totally negates the notion of tangata whenua, of the connection people have to a land. and it negates the notion of indigeneity. i find that pretty nasty. as well as ignoring the impacts of colonisation as opposed to migration - which are two quite seprate things. funny how nobody wants to define themselves as "descendents of colonisers", when that is a completely accurate description. that's what you hide when you just call yourself a descendant of migrants instead. i find that pretty nasty as well.

@ moz: thanx for sharing your experience, and it's hardly surprising. it shows quite clearly the difference between invisible and visible migrants.

Psycho Milt said...

The tangata whenua turned up here as migrants, and probably for the same reasons any migrants have ever arrived anywhere. Their indigenous status arises from the fact that they migrated here before anyone else did, rather than from anything inherent in them that would render the term 'migration' inapplicable - ie, they're indigenous regardless of the fact they're migrants like the rest of us. The fact they were overrun by later waves of migrants, like countless other ethnic groups in other parts of the world, is something that the current occupants of NZ, however recently they arrived, have to deal with as best they can. But anyone who thinks migrants, colonisers, call it what you like, have no place here should do the right thing and leave, because like it or not, you are one.

Psycho Milt said...

But when it's a dog-whistle from someone too gutless to say "whites only", no.

I'm curious as to how anyone could interpret "we are a nation of migrants, whether we or our ancestors came here by waka, boat or plane" as a dog-whistle for "Whites only" - can you explain how a racist message could be inferred from it?

stargazer said...

"they're migrants like the rest of us"

again, no. if you're born here, you aren't a migrant. i didn't think that was a difficult concept.

"migrants, colonisers, call it what you like"

and nice way to try to erase the vast difference between these two things, both in intent and impact.

stargazer said...

PM: as for your second comment, try reading the post again. you quite clearly didn't (or don't want to) understand it the first time.

Hugh said...

"funny how nobody wants to define themselves as "descendents of colonisers", when that is a completely accurate description. that's what you hide when you just call yourself a descendant of migrants instead."

In my view, being a migrant doesn't preclude being a colonist. In fact in most cases it's a precondition. I'd define myself as a descendant of both (and a lot of other things too).

Psycho Milt said...

if you're born here, you aren't a migrant. i didn't think that was a difficult concept.

The statement we're discussing reminds NZers that we're all either migrants or descendents of migrants - that also isn't a difficult concept. And if you want "problematic" statements, have a think about "if you're born here, you aren't a migrant." It's a popular idea among thickos spouting on about how they're an nth generation NZer so Maori have no more right than them to call themselves indigenous. It's also very popular among NZ-First-style anti-immigration enthusiasts.

As to the difference between migrants and colonisers, meh. Anyone who thinks ToW grievances aren't their responsibility to deal with because they're a migrant really should have picked a different country to move to. Pakeha are part of the colonisation of NZ regardless of what ethnic group they originated from, and ought to face up to the fact.

Chris Trotter said...

The best archaeological guess as to the arrival of Polynesian settlers in New Zealand is sometime around the middle of the 14th Century. Carbon-dating has been unable to confirm any earlier settlement date.

This suggests a period of human settlement of less than 800 - not 1,000 years.

Compare this, by world standards, extremely short history of human habitation with that of Australia, whose indigenous peoples have lived there for approximately 50,000 years.

All of us: Maori, Pakeha, and the more recent immigrant communities, have been New Zealanders for a mere blink of the historical eye.

It's the history we must now make together that counts.

stargazer said...

"As to the difference between migrants and colonisers, meh"

this to me is the heart of the matter. that difference is one that must be recognised - as you go on to do in the rest of that paragraph - and which the statement i started my post with clearly doesn't recognise. it's why many people of colour, especially by not exclusively maori, really find it offensive. with one broad brush, you sweep aside the oppressive impacts of the latter, and act as if it's equivalent to the migration of people of colour, who as i've taken some time to point out, have had a very different experience. that's why, as a statement, it's problematic, and as someone who migrated here as a small child, i'm not comfortable with people using it to somehow defend my right to be here or to be as much of a nz'er as anyone else.

"It's a popular idea among thickos spouting on about how they're an nth generation NZer so Maori have no more right than them to call themselves indigenous. It's also very popular among NZ-First-style anti-immigration enthusiasts. "

but to, using the argument that we're all descendants of migrants really buys into their framing. it's better to say "it's wrong to discriminate against people because of the length of time that they or their anscestors have been here, because it's irrelevant to their being a part of this country" rather than saying "well you're just a descendant of migrants too", because it just buys into that notion that migrating or not migrating has any relevance to being a "real" nz'er.

@chris, thanx for your comment. i've mentioned in an earlier comment and implied it above: the length of time our indigenous people have been here is really not relevant to anything. it doesn't reduce their rights or enhance, it doesn't diminsh the wrongs that were done to them or the need to address the impacts of those wrongs.

"It's the history we must now make together that counts"

agreed. part of making that history a meaningful and positive one is to be able to recognise and name our past clearly and honestly; to reconise and respect our different experiences in the present, and to acknowlege that active discrimination is a very large part of the experience of people living here. we can't begin to make any kind of positive history without that. instead we just keep perpetuating what has been happening all along without anything ever getting better.

Psycho Milt said...

If some bigwig did get up in front of a crowd of immigrants and locals and tried to get them to focus on what they have in common, rather than what separates them, by telling them that the length of time their ancestors have been here is irrelevant to their being a part of this country, I think the Maori woman who spoke to you would be way, way more offended by that than by the statement your post is about.

stargazer said...

"and tried to get them to focus on what they have in common"

well that would their first stupid mistake right there. the "focus on what you have in common" is about on par with the "melting pot". if that's the best your hypothetical bigwig can do, then they're best to sit down and shut up. how about the bigwig talk about the fact that nz'ers have some differences and some things in common. both of these require our attention - we need to work through our differences and think of how we might accommodate different points of view, rather than shoving them to one side, conveniently forgetting they exist, and pretend how we're are like one big happy-clappy family. that latter conveniently works really well for those that have power and privilege in society.

as an aside, i can't remember who i heard saying that instead of talking about a melting pot, we should be talking about a stew: where each component retains it's individual identity and flavour, but put together makes something yummy.

"by telling them that the length of time their ancestors have been here is irrelevant to their being a part of this country"

well yes, if you simplify it to that, of course it won't work. taking one sentence out of a full discussion of various complex issues is also not a good idea. and i know it's all the fashion to speak in simple slogans now and appeal to the emotions (based on all that right brain/left brain stuff). but that works for the right because they don't want people to be deeply thinking about issues or questioning the status quo. i don't see why we have to buy into that, i don't think we have to treat people as stupid, i think we can have more detailed, more honest and clearer messaging. especially when you have the luxury of, say, a 10-minute speech.

Brett Dale said...

I personally believe that we are all humans and the only reason we live in different places or are different races is continental drift.

I dont for one second believe that someone saying "we are all migrants" are doing it to keep Maori down, you have to be paranoid to think that.

stargazer said...

ah brett dale, i've been wondering when you'd chime in. your response is completely as expected.

"I dont for one second believe that someone saying "we are all migrants" are doing it to keep Maori down, you have to be paranoid to think that."

well then, it's a good thing no-one has said that, either in the post or in comments, isn't it?

Brett Dale said...

Huh, you suggested it in a passive aggressive way, IMHO.

I stand by my point, we are all one race the human race, and not a bunch of different races.

stargazer said...

"Huh, you suggested it in a passive aggressive way, IMHO"

no, i don't believe i did.

"we are all one race the human race, and not a bunch of different races."

i'd suggest you study science, sociology, anthropology, and basically get out a bit more.

Brett Dale said...

I suggest I dont, we all humans, we may speak differently, look differently, but we all humans, no one is better, no one is worse.

Race is just a word.

I will get out more once the hoverboard is invented.

Maia said...

Hi Stargazer

I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this post. I think it was really important to say. Sorry I haven't been around for the comments.

Psycho Milt said...

Having sat through one of those speeches at my citizenship conferral ceremony, I'm confident that one thing nobody in the room (including the locals present) needed to have explained to them was that there was a range of ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds in the room. The differences between us were glaringly obvious and didn't need pointing out - what did need mentioning was that we now all had something in common.

And in terms of how a public speaker does that, reminding the locals present that they're descendents of migrants themselves is quite a good line to take, as it might prompt them to think about whether they really do have a superior position. It's certainly a better approach to take than giving them a lecture on how it's wrong to discriminate against others on the basis of ethnicity, because what discriminater on ethnic grounds believes that's what they do? Even if Paul Henry's sitting in the audience, he's not going to see it as having a message for him in it.

stargazer said...

thanx maia. and also to ann, with the first comment & annanonymous. i'm going to shut off comments on the post now because i'm really tired of the white dude domination and deliberate misinterpretation of what i'm saying. a classic example:

"I'm confident that one thing nobody in the room (including the locals present) needed to have explained to them was that there was a range of ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds in the room."

where the fuck i said any such thing, i fail to see.

"giving them a lecture on how it's wrong to discriminate against others on the basis of ethnicity"

similarly, this such a stupid reduction of some very complex arguments that i just can't be bothered. if your typed words were speech, i'd say you're just talking because you love the sound of your own voice. you certainly don't care to take on board anyone else's point of view. you can't even be bothered trying to understand the argument.

and as for you brett, nice little fantasy world you have there, and if you are able to treat people that way, good for you. given the way you comment here though, i seriously doubt it. but the reality for some of us is that many, many people don't act that way either, and just once it would have been nice to see you acknowledge that, instead of peddling the line that there is no such thing as racism. especially when it's not something you live with.

i feel like i've totally wasted my time and energy here, for no good reason.

stargazer said...

PM has a post over at his blog, which you can find here. i've left the comment below over there, and won't be going back. if anyone else wants to carry on the discussion, they're free to carry on over there.

**********************************
yes, you have the right to disagree with me, but as you acknowledge, i have the right to my own space and to shut down a conversation when i’ve just had enough. it’s not like i owe anyone else a platform.

and my problem is more than you just disagreeing. after all the arguments i put forward, you interpret them to say:

I'm confident that one thing nobody in the room (including the locals present) needed to have explained to them was that there was a range of ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds in the room.

and

giving them a lecture on how it's wrong to discriminate

both of which are quite clearly and blatantly stupid things to be doing. i fail to see any comment where i said anything of the sort. if you had bothered to really try to engage or try to understand what i was saying, you could have come up with a speech to a citizenship ceremony by your hypothetical bigwig like this:

“i’d like to congratulate you all for becoming nz citizens. i acknowledge that the experience some of you will have as migrants won’t be as positive and welcoming as some others of you will have. in fact, i’m sure that some of you have already faced marginalising experiences, and i’m sorry that this is the reality of nz life today. however, despite any such experiences, you have chosen to become a citizen of this country and i thank you for that. i hope that together we can work towards building a better society for everyone in nz, so that all our new citizens feel equally welcome and feel that they are a part of nz society.”

no lecturing, no stupidities about how they are of different ethnicities, just an acknowledgement of the realities of people’s lives without the insufferable & insulting need to pretend that we are all just equally migrants together. i don’t know what kind of mindset it takes to come up with your interpretation of my arguments in the way you did above, i’m just really glad i don’t suffer from it.

and given the way you've dealt with the points i was trying to make in my post and related comments, it’s surely a waste of time to even begin to talk about the domination of white male voices in the political blogosphere in nz, and the way those voices silence other groups.

i’ll open up my post just to put a link to yours for people who are interested in engaging with you, and to put a copy of this comment in, but it’ll be closed again after that.

yes, i am unwilling to continue on with arguments when i’ve run out of energy, and when it’s so damn draining to be explaining stuff and just not being heard. i don’t owe anyone my time either.

as you say, you have your own blog to keep talking, and if you really have trouble the way i run mine, then you can do me the same courtesy i do you: just don’t read it.