Last Saturday I sent the following letter to The Dominion Post. It was written in response to another bizarre article by Joel Maxwell – a talented writer but a man apparently so obsessed with painting the worst possible picture of race relations in New Zealand that many Dom Post readers now recoil at the sight of his byline.
Joel Maxwell (“On being a black-skinned mayor”, May 21) seems determined to frame everything in terms of race. His profile of outgoing Kapiti mayor K Gurunathan is littered with implications that Gurunathan has struggled all his life against racism. But surely the cogent factor here is that the citizens of Kapiti, an overwhelmingly Pakeha city, elected him not once but twice. That must count for something.
I now notice that the online version of Maxwell’s piece is accompanied by video footage from Patu, Merata Mita's documentary about the 1981 Springbok tour, just to drive home the notion that New Zealand’s history is irredeemably stained by racism.
I also note that the headline on the online version of the article has been changed from the original, which incorporated the phrase referred to above (“On being a black-skinned mayor”). Perhaps that was because someone at Stuff realised K Gurunathan actually doesn’t look all that black, though Maxwell does his utmost to highlight his skin colour. (Which leads to the question, who’s being the racist here? I'm not aware that Gurunathan's ethnicity has ever been an issue in Kapiti, so why does Maxwell make so much of it?).
It should also be noted that Gurunathan, while he talks in the article about his past association with anti-racism groups, is silent about the state of race relations in New Zealand generally. This is consistent with his image as a politician who, to my knowledge, hasn’t played the race card. That didn’t stop Maxwell from mining Gurunathan’s story for whatever negative slur he could extract about New Zealanders’ attitudes to ethnic minorities. But remarkably, as my letter noted, Maxwell doesn't acknowledge the inconvenient fact that the predominantly white voters of Kapiti twice elected Gurunathan as their mayor (“inconvenient”, because it rather contradicts Maxwell’s thesis that we’re prejudiced against people of colour).
My letter hasn’t been published and I don’t expect it to be. However, to its credit, the Dom Post published my previous letter responding to an earlier article by Maxwell. You can read that article here.