There’s a story in The Dominion Post today about Simone Kaho, who has been named the 2022 Emerging Pasifika Writer in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington.
She’s described as Tongan, though the photos of her on the paper’s website show a woman of distinctly European appearance.
The story says Kaho’s Tongan father came to New Zealand in the 1950s. No mention is made of her mother, whom I would guess is/was white. She seems to have been erased.
A brief, passing reference is made to Kaho’s “Pakeha roots”, but it isn’t allowed to get in the way of the story’s main thrust, which is … well, I can only quote Kaho herself:
“I want to write about belonging in Aotearoa for Pacific diaspora and the relationship it gives us with Maori and non-white migrants, and what it feels like in the body when you’re in the environment,” she’s quoted as saying. (No, I couldn’t quite understand it either.)
Kaho, who’s been given a $15,000 stipend by Creative New Zealand for her three-month residency, goes on to say she wants to look at climate change [sigh], which she views as the “primary challenge to colonial western culture”.
She says her father came to New Zealand as a teenager and experienced a “brutally racist culture”. She wants to articulate things that are “bothersome and painful”.
I’m aware that in highlighting the whiting out (pun not intended, but appropriate) of Kaho’s European background, I’m exposing myself to the tiresome charge that I’m racist.
It’s a label I repudiate. Kaho is entitled to identify with and celebrate her Tongan heritage. That’s commendable. But why must this be done, as is so often the case, in a way that suppresses recognition of the fact that she is also obviously European?
To put it another way, why are people so reluctant to declare that their white forebears were themselves supposedly the beneficiaries, if not the perpetrators, of racism?
The reason is that this would conflict awkwardly with the ideology known as identity politics, which rests on the view that society is immutably divided between privileged whites and disadvantaged “people of colour”.
Proponents of identity politics and critical race theory, its ideological stablemate, hold that all people of Pasifika or Maori descent have experienced subjugation and have needs and interests that are at odds with those of the white oppressors. The aim is to secure political advantage to atone for their mistreatment, but unfortunately this can only come at the expense of social cohesion that benefits us all.
Denial of one’s European heritage is a necessary starting point, because otherwise those claiming to be descendants of the oppressed must confront the fact that they are also descendants of the oppressors. The proponents of identity politics don’t seem to have yet worked out a way to reconcile this dichotomy without weakening their claims, so they ignore it.
Do they, at the same time as they cry out for justice on behalf of their dark-skinned forebears, also experience paroxysms of self-reproach for the behaviour of their pale ones?
I doubt it. Much easier to shut out the problematical half of the equation.