Saturday 31 December 2011

all inequality matters, mr hazeldine

so, it's new years eve and i'm having a quiet night at home, totally not bothering to reflect on the year past or make any kind of resolutions i'll never keep, or even looking forward to the year ahead. just not even interested really. i have been following up the links on maia's awesome post just below and finding the discussions very interesting.

i have also been looking at various stuff people have been linking to, one of which is this piece in the herald by tim hazeldine about growing inequality. as a lefty, i'd say it's a much needed piece and i'm glad to see it's being run in a major newspaper. very happy that we are talking about this stuff, and heartened by the initial comments (i haven't read all of them though).

but then there is this bit:

So who should care about this? You'd think those on the political left would care, and they do complain, but it was their preoccupation with identity politics and the beneficiary society that left the gates open and undefended when the warriors of privilege roared in and purloined the booty.

what the F**K? i am so incredibly tired of this narrative, and we are seeing it thrown into so many pieces of writing lately. these little snide comments about identity politics and more snide comments about beneficiaries. and guess who are the types of people making these comments? it's not hard. it's the people who tend to be the most privileged in society, the people for whom identity has never been an issue, who haven't had to face marginalisation which often leads to poverty, simply because of their identity.

i don't even know what this "preoccupation with ... the beneficiary society" is supposed to mean. that we're trying to keep people on benefits? because, you know, the actions of every government over the last 2 decades has been to make it harder to get on a benefit, to make it harder to survive on a benefit, and to push people back into work as hard as they can. some did it in a softer way by creating employment programmes and investing in training and education. others have done by creating a culture whereby people have been denied information about their legal entitlements. yet others cut the basic benefit amount. there have been moves to prevent beneficiaries from moving to small towns. if there has been any "preoccupation" with the beneficiary society, it has been a constant attempt to punish beneficiaries for being on a benefit.

if that's what the writer means by this statement ie that we have wasted time trying to punish beneficiaries instead of putting more energy into dealing with inequality, then yes, that's a point i can agree with. but it's not clear from the way he has worded this sentence as to what exactly it does mean.

and the reason i'm suspicious about his meaning is the whole "preoccupation with identity politics". again, we are presented with a zero-sum argument: that you can either do identity politics or you can do class/inequality politics, but you can't do both. and that the latter has been ignored because of the former. which is such complete and utter bullsh*t. where is his evidence for the this statement?

because the evidence i've seen is quite the opposite. at the same time as we had paid parental leave, we also got working for families. the latter being an attempt to deal with income inequality. maybe not a sterling attempt, maybe a flawed attempt, but it was done and has had a huge impact. some of WFF applied to beneficiaries with children, though not all. i'm really glad that one of the labour party policies in the last election dealt specifically with the inequality there, by phasing in the full entitlement to all families regardless of employment status.

could more have been done by the 5th labour government regarding inequality? of course. i would have liked to see a lot more structural change, strengthening of labour laws and so on. but there was plenty done.

and what this writer fails to even acknowledge is that some the so-called identity politics is actually a means to reducing income inequality. i remember being present at some of the policy discussions in 2004 & 2005, particularly around women's issues. one of the major barriers faced by working women in lower socio-economic groups was access to childcare. the high costs of childcare were a barrier for women to get into employment and thereby improve the financial well-being of themselves and their families.

the ECE subsidies and greater investment into childcare was a way to reduce inequality - both for women as part of their identity as carers of children (and the majority of carers still tend to be women, though that is starting to change), but also as part of a class/inequality issue whereby poor women were kept from improving their situation because of a significant barrier.

similarly, the investment in settlement support for migrants and refugees is as much an issue about class/inequality as it is about identity. for this group, a lack of nz work experience and, for some, problems with language were (and continue to be) a barrier to employment. by investing in ESOL programmes, by having induction programmes and other courses that help settlement, the government was solving both an identity issue and a poverty/inequality issue.

it is not an effing either/or situation. and i'm frankly quite sick of privileged men (and a few women) telling those of us who have issues related to identity that our issues don't matter, or that they get in the way of some greater progress. it. is. cr*p. progress for us means progress for everyone. the whole country benefits when identity issues are resolved, and particularly resolved in a way that deals with income inequality as well.

so mr hazeldine, you have grossly missed the point here, and made an invalid assertion without any kind of proof. and i expect better. moreover, i think it's really important that everyone challenges this kind of increasingly prevalent narrative, which i sincerely hope doesn't infiltrate the labour party. it's the kind of narrative that pits groups of people against each other in a divisive, that is extremely productive for those who currently hold the majority of wealth and power in this country.


LudditeJourno said...

Awesome stargazer, awesome. There is a growing rumbling about this everywhere I've been looking lately - the last Listener editorial I read ridiculed Labour for having a Rainbow policy which aimed to reduce bullying of queer kids in schools because "all kids shouldn't be bullied". Identity politics criticisms are code for what about the white straight men? in my opinion.

Deborah said...

Great post, stargazer. Prof Hazeldine has made an interesting point about top labour capturing management, but good grief... has he ever heard the term, "intersectionality"?

Anonymous said...

Just Saying:

Thanks for this.

It's an issue that continues to rile me, as it continues to go largely unchallenged.

And I'm glad you were equally incensed by that particular reference in the Listener too LJ.

It's a completely illogical argument. If Labour came out with a policy for kids with cancer, people wouldn't immediately get up in arms on behalf of say, kids with kidney disease, or indeed those with no particular health problems at all.

The torment experienced by queer kids, even the horrendous suicide rate, is clearly not important enough to be attended in any kind of a targetted way.

And so-called intelligent people propagating the idea that helping an 'identity group' with bullying, somehow deprives non-identity kids of, umm, anything (except possibly being able to insist that everything is honky-dory the way it is). Such sloppy, lazy, thinking.

And yet this bullshit that "class politics" and "identity politics" (god I hate that phrase) are mutally exclusive, one inevitably coming at the expense of the other, is being presented as fact by the media and the commentariat.

Show me the evidence, or stfu

stargazer said...

thanx for the comments everyone, and i agree with everything you say.

i'm just going to put in another plea that we start being more vocal in calling this sh*t out, where ever and when ever we can. knowing that many of you are already very actively doing so, and acknowledging that it often takes a lot of energy which we don't always have.

Psycho Milt said...

Actually, that Listener comment acts as an illustration of what I presume Hazeldine meant by "preoccupation with identity politics." At the level of govt policy, the qualitative difference between bullying gay kids and bullying fat/ugly/bad at sports/smart kids that justifies a whole separate policy for them isn't obvious. In terms of jumping on someone's policy hobby horse, it's right up there with Labour making removal of GST from fruit and veg its flagship policy for dealing with income inequality. It just makes the left look obsessed with trivia.

LudditeJourno said...

No Psycho Milt, it makes people who care about queer young people (because they were or are one themselves, because they have siblings who are queer, because they have children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews or cousins or friends or kids they teach or coach who are queer, or because they have empathy) look like they are naming a particular kind of experience you're more likely to have if you're queer.
Empirical evidence? Go read the Youth 2000 and Youth 2007 reports, and their companion documents. if you're a queer kid you're more likely to be afraid of bullying, more likely to be hit or physically harmed, more likely to have not come to school because you're being bullied. In short, of the 10,0000 kids sampled, queer kids were five times more likely to be bullied.
Comments like yours are part of the problem this post is about - do the research to understand the area of discrimination you're calling "identity politics."

Psycho Milt said...

People with empathy don't like bullying and expect the govt to require schools to act against it. Who's being bullied and for what reason is irrelevant from the policymaker's point of view, or should be. I don't see that pointing this out is some kind of problem that needs to be fixed.

LudditeJourno said...

But how do you address bullying without understanding the driving factors? ie in this case, fear and hatred of people with same-sex or both-sex attractions, or with a gender identity which doesn't fit "mainstream" NZ ideas of "normal". You can't, because you don't know what you're addressing. That's why policymakers need to understand this stuff, Psycho - it's like trying to deal with domestic and sexual violence while pretending it's gender neutral because "everyone can experience dv or sv."
Unless the school understands homophobia, biphobia and transhatred, they will not respond to this kind of bullying. Which is why we have a problem now.

Psycho Milt said...

As is clear from your comment, the driving factors behind this particular form of bullying are known, straightforward and similar to the driving factors behind other forms of bullying - ie, some people take pleasure in making miserable anyone who's in some way out of the ordinary. Not standing for it looks to me to be the only policy need involved.

Carolyn Corrin said...

it's the kind of narrative that .

Too late... we have already seen the divisiveness of this narrative happening by "those who hold the the majority of wealth and power in this country". Terms such as the underclass and mum and dad investers. And woe and behold;dare not you the "underclass" challenge them, else Paula will reveal and undermine.