Saturday, March 04, 2006


I'm getting a little anxious that I haven't received my census form yet. I'm enough of a historian to think it's really important to leave my part of the record. I'd encourage everyone to tick the 'yes I will let my form be kept'. It's such a loss that historians don't have acces to forms from earlier periods.

The whole ethnicity question is beginning to bother me though. The people who want to write "New Zealander" are bugging the shit out of me. Ethnicity and nationality are different. Maori, Samoan, Chinese, Vietnames, Thai, Tongan, Fijian, even dumb Palangi are all New Zealanders. As Tze Ming points out - it's hardly a coincidence that the e-mail has only been circulated among White people.

But it's made me think about the whole question and I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Given a choice I'd choose Pakeha, but that isn't a tick box option, you have to write it in, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. I wasn't even born in New Zealand. But by insisting on the term Pakeha over New Zealand European it seems to me to be claiming some sort of indigenous status for myself. Why should I get to do that when a fifth generation Chinese person wouldn't be able to?

Yes I'm over-thinking this - so I think I'll just tick the New Zealand European box.


  1. From Tze Ming's article: "I guess people who have a burning need to deny their ethnicity are predominantly white, and they know it."

    Absolutely correct, but imagine asking us to tick a box marked "White" on the census form! Too many connotations hanging off that one, mate! My ethnic group basically is "White" (on the assumption that Pakeha is a Maori word for non-Maori NZers that would also include Tze Ming - no doubt plenty would disagree with that definition) but we're all too horrified to admit it. Er, yes we are directly descended from those slavery/genocide/worldwide-empire guys, but please don't be so gauche as to point it out to us. Which leaves us with the option of writing one of various euphemisms down on the census form, all of which are ludicrous in their own way. And no doubt it's better that way - if I was to tick "Other" and write in "White", most likely whoever reads the census form would be thinking, "Whoa, fascist nutjob alert!"

  2. > Ethnicity and nationality are different.

    here comes a rant....

    First you seem to be confusing race with ethnicity - ethnicity is "culture" I could declare my culture is basically independant of any particular race (and I do). So how do I answer? new zealander is about as good an answer as you get then.
    For example if they want to decide whether to build more asian shops more KFC or more burger joints in my region. What a stupid question then - I would be likely to give them totally the wrong answer because I don't identify with my race at all or share more than the nominal new zealand level of culture with it.

    Two questions
    1) why do they need to know my ethnicity?
    2) are people answering based on ethnicity anyway?

    (1) centers around how the statistics are presumably going to be used for things like "there are twice as many maori now as before - threfore we must 'support/discriminate against' them." I believe my ethnicity should not count at all in this regard.

    (2) if you are maori and european do you say "maori and european"? do you just tick the one you identify with? do you tick the one that makes up most of your genetic material? are you really measuring ethnicity?

    I find pakeha to be a silly word, it is using a foreign word to name a group - and it isn't entirely clear what that group is (is it white people? does it include russians? how about chinese? iranians?)
    Anyway - fundimentally
    A) the group should be named by it's own word.
    B) if we are talking about ethnicity, the group should have a consistant name around the world - ie if white people are white in america they must be white in NZ (if they share the same ethnicity).(BTW I don't really like the word white either because it is not an ethnicity or a race it is a colour - and basically no one is white anyway).

  3. Graham Watson12:07 am

    Self identification and definition rather than being categorised by the state has something to be said for it - regardless of the semantics surrounding race and ethnicity.

  4. The American census uses "white" in its ethnicity question. Not that I'm saying we should too, just that it's not an idea that's universally considered freakish.

    For anyone who's confused, Pakeha isn't an insult (though for reasons best known to themselves, some people choose to take it as such). For what it's worth, English has plenty of names for other peoples that those peoples don't use themselves, but we don't expect to see "Nederlander" or "Francais" on our census forms.

  5. I find this all a bit odd because to me Pakeha is a very clear ethnicity - it is those who are descended from Europeans who have settled in NZ. Most of us are now fifth, sixth or even seventh generation Pakeha - and most of our ancestors came from the UK rather than other parts of Europe. For eg I am probably 80% English, but also have a smattering of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Italian and French blood (that I know about). I have no problem with being Pakeha, and I think it is an important part of facing up to the history of my country, New Zealand, that I am honest about where I come from.

    Any ethnic group has individuals within it who have ancestors from other ethnic groups, and ultimately you do self-identify your ethnicity, so it doesn't really matter.

    In terms of the name of your ethnicity having to be identified overseas, I find that a bit bizarre - here in NZ we tend to label anyone from India and Pakistan to Indonesia, to China to Japan, to Korea "Asian", and certainly don't recognise all the myriad different ethnicities within say India itself.

  6. PS My census forms just arrived! I love filling our forms :-)

  7. I agree with you span - which is why I won't be ticking other and writing Pakeha in (although I would tick Pakeha if it was an option), because I'm not even first generation New Zealander.

  8. > But we don't expect to see "Nederlander" or "Francais" on our census forms.

    1) We SHOULD expect that. After all the foreigners and the census markers are the only people who absolutely need to understand the term. Besides if you have issues identifying the proper name for your ethnicity one could have serious doubts regarding it actually being your ethnicity or whether the individual is answering the question being asked.
    2) French is just the english attempt to say Francais, Pakeha is actually distinct it is also very poorly defined - people aren’t even sure if it includes Asians let alone Arabs or whoever else.

    > To me Pakeha is a very clear ethnicity

    What are the behavioral traits of a pakeha? What exactly does "I am clearly a pakeha" mean? As far as I can tell it is a term defined by two things
    1) Not being Maori (having a negative definition bugs me a bit)
    2) Being in NZ when asked
    A slightly more refined definition I found on the web states "dominant group members who are of European descent but whose values and practices are a product of their New Zealand location."
    in a sense then it would be "white new Zealander" as distinct from "brown new Zealander" that is better but still a very impoverished ethnic distinction - i.e. it contains almost no information.

    > That I am honest about where I come from.

    Do you mean because your ancestors did bad things? Your grandfather slaughtered innocent people in WWI, or your father drank too much?
    What on earth would one use that information for? Or are you saying that the census is about reminding people of their genetic ancestry (race)? Surely not. I still don’t see the point of the implied keeping exact records of how many "pakeha" there are and how many "others" really helps here unless you want to get a really inefficient measure how many white people will support a certain sort of political movement.

    > In terms of the name of your ethnicity having to be identified overseas, I find that a bit bizarre - here in NZ we tend to label anyone from India and Pakistan to Indonesia, to China to Japan, to Korea "Asian", and certainly don't recognize all the myriad different ethnicities within say India itself.

    Asians recognize themselves to be Asian so I fail to see your point (although you could always dispute it being a useful classification of ethnicity). Besides - what is the pressing need to use a term like pakeha that somehow outweighs anything else?

  9. grahamwatson7:53 am

    Asians are definitely pakeha, as are Pacific Islanders and Africans. I don't know where this narrow definition claiming white New Zealanders only are pakeha, its certainly at odds with the meaning of this maori word.

    While I accept this is how some may want to incorrectly use the word, it is not something I identify with.

    While this is clearly not a 'race', it is certainly a racial classification to which I am opposed.

  10. I think you are confusing Pakeha and tau iwi Graham.

    Genius' unnecessary high horse nastiness just clarifies for me why I am taking a break from blogging and should have continued to take a break from commenting.

  11. I think people should remember that the census is done to improve knowledge about the make-up of a nation - it's not a forum for political gestures about nationalism or whatever.

    I think future censuses should remove the ethnicity question and instead ask for mothers maiden name and birthplaces of grandparents - I'd reckon you could get a 90% accurate estimation of ethnicity from that.

  12. Graham Watson3:17 pm

    Thats not how 'pakeha' was explained to me in the stage one te ao paper Span, but I accept I may have been instructed incorrectly.

  13. Span, dont take it personally.

  14. Speaking of which, maybe the problem is cultural/ethnic differences....