Get Real

People think politics is a game.  It’s not a game.  There is an idea I think that it’s all a bit of a joke and that it doesn’t really matter.  Out goes one bunch of clowns and in comes another.  What happens in the end is a sort of bumbling through the middle, no harm no foul, approach to the great game of politics.  Unfortunately that is not true.  In fact the opposite is true.  How human beings live in each part of the earth is determined to an enormous extent by government.  How human beings live on this little piece of earth is going to decided again very soon, and it doesn’t look that good.

Occasionally there are major changes in the ideological framework and politics and how people live goes in a new direction.  There was the time of the first Labour government and the move towards socialism, and there was the time of the fourth Labour government and the move towards neo-Liberalism.  We are living in the throes of another time of change where the concerns of many seem to be against neo-Liberalism’s consequences on community, and capitalism’s impact on the environment.  Although we are in the throes of it we are not at the point of revolution, and I dearly hope we do not reach that point.

The point where we reach revolution is the point at which inequality becomes so egregious and unjust there is revolt in the streets with all the violence that entails.  The points at which we reach revolution is the point at which the environment’s adaptations to the climate become threatening to human life enmasse with all the violence that entails.

With respect to Jacinda Adern and the Labour Party they have no plan to respond to these challenges.  They have policies that sound nice, and will make things marginally better within the parameters of a failing system.  It goes without saying that National offer nothing whatsoever.  The National party offers a cosy arrangement with the notion that everything is fine.  It isn’t.  The Labour party offers the idea that we should be a bit nicer about stuff and smile more.  While maintaining the status quo.  Labour will not stop water being exported from Aotearoa they will just charge more for it (and not charge Coca Cola anything).  That metaphor about rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic is apt.  Shall we put out more blue deckchairs or more red deckchairs?  Which ones do you want to die sitting on?

I like Jacinda Adern.  A lot.  But I will not vote for Labour.  Voting for Labour is, I believe, a mistake.  The underlying basis of all life is the life of our planet and our planet is in meltdown.  Just because it’s not in the headlines today doesn’t mean that it is not true.  The climate scientist reports remain true.  The underlying environmental principles that human beings have adapted so well to are changing and they are changing in a way that will make the places where we can live fewer, the resources we need scarcer and, as a result, conflict and migration greater.  What are we going to do about that?  What are we going to do to reduce the impacts, correct our course, and make our communities more robust and caring?

Put in light rail in Auckland?  Introduce a water tax?  No.  Not good enough.  The centre of politics in Aotearoa remains blue-red.  The next great movement will come either from the more radical right or the more radical left.  The more radical right is entrenchment behind barricades and accumulation of rhetoric and weapons.  That is not the way.  The better way is the left.  Look left in Aotearoa and you will see the Green Party.

Should we continue to stumble through the middle?  Rearrange the deck chairs?

I am angry.  Angry about the abandonment of the Greens.  Angry about the 4% in the latest poll.  Angry about all the oxygen given to Jacinda Adern.  Angry about the hypocrisy surrounding Metiria Turei.  All of this is the political game.  All of this plays to the idea that politics is a version of Celebrity Apprentice or Survivor: Aotearoa.  It isn’t.  The next government might change the direction of this country.  It might hugely boost the funding to the Department of Conservation, drive us towards a predator free Aotearoa by 2050, and bring back the countless species in our country that are heading to extinction.  This is meaningful.  Important.  Much, much more important than a light rail in Auckland.

We are talking in that policy, the Thriving Nature Policy, about a healthy country.  A country of diverse flora and fauna that restores and nourishes all life on this bit of dirt.  We can’t play games with this.  It’s not a side issue.  We, here in this country, have a responsibility to ALL life here.  A responsibility to each other, to the water in a rivers, that crest the beaches of our shorelines, to the mountains, and forests, and wetlands.  To each bird, and worm, and fish, and bat.  Some will no doubt regard this as absurd, but I regard the notion that we, the human we, are separate and above all other life as pure idiocy.

I’ve been sitting on the fence.  I’ve been dissatisfied with the Green campaign.  I’ve been quibbling and rolling my eyes.  I need to stop.  I need to make the campaign I want.  I’m not having the Green Party in Aotearoa die on me on my watch.  The Green Party is vital to us as a country.  I need to get up off myself and start talking.  Here and anywhere that will have me.  The Green Party is not done.

The Green Party hasn’t even started yet.

42

If a white man shrugs in the media does anyone resign?

***

Caucus is a RNZ show.  I listened to it because it was about the Greens and Metiria.  During it Lisa Owen referred to the fact that some people have criticised the media for not reporting the Bill English scandal of 2009 where he claimed an accommodation allowance he wasn’t entitled to as fiercely as they did the Metiria story.  To this she said:

“if you Google, and I did this as an exercise, “Bill English” and “double dipping”, you will be swamped in a tidal wave of stories, like in the hundreds of thousands…”

So I went and typed the search into Google.

Bill

Which only slightly tallies with what Lisa Owen said, but not really, and completely fails to note the key factor that really differentiates the story of Metiria and the story of Bill:

the white man shrug.*

People – white people – like to think Aotearoa isn’t racist.  In fact, Pākehā don’t like the word race at all.  At best you might be allowed to use the word bias.  “The system is biased”, you might hear a liberal say that.  It’s not biased.  It’s racist.

adjective
  1. 1.
    showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another.

You don’t need to think “bloody Māori” when you look at Metiria to be racist.  Let’s be clear about that.  It’s not about overt racism.  Those displays of overt racism are easy to spot, and easy to tut-tut and police.  No, it’s about what happens when a media storm breaks.  All those white men can deploy the shrug.  It doesn’t have to be a literal shrug, it can be a “I’m comfortable with that”, or a “it’s a bad look”, but its meaning is: “I am a white man in a suit and you have been conditioned to accept authority from white men in suits and you will therefore accept it when I say something along the lines of ‘oh well’ and just trot gaily along with my life because if I say ‘oh well’ it must be ok.”  It’s a subliminal mind trick along the lines of what a hypnotist might deploy.

The crime of Bill English was far worse on every front than Metiria’s.  It’s almost like he was trying to write a dictionary example for the phrase “white privilege”.

white privilege – a system of advantage based on race

e.g. being a really, really rich white guy and still thinking you should knowingly claim heaps of money you don’t need or deserve and aren’t entitled to and then trying to defend it when you are found out then giving it back (because you can because you’re really fucking rich) but not saying it was wrong just that it was a “bad look” and then carrying on with your life as if nothing happened and getting a promotion.

No one else has access to the white man shrug.  Judith Collins tried to use it but it wasn’t ultimately successful because she didn’t have a penis.  In fact, when you look down the list of MPs and scandals and political consequences it’s quite clear that if you can’t use the white man shrug then you’re in trouble.  Metiria Turei committed electoral “fraud” in her twenties to vote for a joke political party.  Some people find this appalling.  John Key was entering parliament and enrolled in an electorate where he had a house he never lived in.  You’ve gotta feel sorry for the rich sometimes: all those houses and having to remember which electorate to enroll in.

Bill and John got legal advice in both cases that advised them what they were doing could be defended.  Poor people don’t get legal advice.  Legal advice in this situation, anyway, just means that white men are used to the idea that the law can work for them.  Brown people know that’s not true for them.

Which leads us into a complicated area for the white media.  They might say: “What should we do?  Apply a different standard to Metiria?  That’s not fair!”  Which would be true if they didn’t already participate in a system of different standards that they are perpetuating and that is unfair.  Not consciously, of course, but I expect these very bright people to be a bit reflective, and a bit meta sometimes.  Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t really appropriate to start digging around in the life of Metiria’s daughter, and ex-partner, and grandparents.

The coverage, for those clinging to the idea of a non-racial Aoteraoa, splits down racial lines.  Not entirely of course.  That would be weird.  But the general trends are racial.  If you look at Mihirangi Forbes interviewing people in Manurewa, or Māori and Pasifika women talking about Metiria on RNZ, or Māori TV coverage you get quite a different tone from the chortling on Caucus about Metiria being politically naive.  What that means, when you think about it, is horrible.  Politically naive means, in that case, not conforming to acceptable power tropes.

And so democracy falls down.  It becomes a mirror chamber where the media reflects what the majority in society believe about systems they construct and maintain daily to their own benefit.  When outsiders point this out they are pilloried, and any suggestion of broadening what is acceptable is met with cries of a double standard from people who live on the benefits of centuries of double standards in their own favour.

Read what Metiria said on 16 July, 2017:

I have talked to you before about my time on the DPB. I was a single mum, raising my beautiful girl Piupiu while doing my law degree, and I was on the benefit.

I had a great case worker at what we now call WINZ, who treated me with respect.

I had the training incentive allowance as a grant to help me pay my fees and childcare. I had great support from my family and my baby’s dad, and his family too.

Like most people who receive a benefit, I was so careful about managing my money.

I’d go to the bank every fortnight on dole day. I’d withdraw all my money, in cash, then split it up into small amounts, wrapped up in rubber bands with little notes about what it was for.

I knew exactly how much I had for our bills, our rent, our food. But whatever way I split it, I still didn’t have enough to get by at the end of the week.

What I have never told you before is the lie I had to tell to keep my financial life under control.

I was one of those women, who you hear people complain about on talkback radio.

Because despite all the help I was getting, I could not afford to live, study and keep my baby well without keeping a secret from WINZ.

Like many families who rely on a benefit, Piu and I moved around a lot when she was little.

We lived in five different flats with various people.

In three of those flats, I had extra flatmates, who paid rent, but I didn’t tell WINZ. I didn’t dare.

I knew that if I told the truth about how many people were living in the house my benefit would be cut.

And I knew that my baby and I could not get by on what was left.

This is what being on the benefit did to me – it made me poor and it made me lie.

It was a stressful, terrifying experience.

At any moment, WINZ could have caught me and cut off my benefit.

They could have charged me with fraud and made me a criminal as well.

I got through it, of course, as you can see.

Not everyone does.

That is what she said.  It’s interesting to go back and read it because it is honest, and direct, and sounds very real.  It also acknowledges that her situation was not as bad as it could have been, and gives respect to her WINZ case worker, and her family.  That this speech is what has ended her career disgusts me.  Disgusts me.

When the white man shrugs no one will resign.

When the white man points the finger?  You better watch out.

 

*white man shrug means white straight man.  It doesn’t apply to gay white men.

45

I had a meeting with some students recently and one of them cried.  She cried because there was so much she wanted to say about what was happening that she couldn’t say it.  Instead of being able to say what she wanted to say she found that tears came instead and she became choked off.

It’s hard to be that way in the world, but it’s to the benefit of the world.  It’s a benefit that the systems and institutions don’t like, and reject.  They prefer silence or for you to kick back.  If you kick back you can be punished.  Tears are complicated.

When I started teaching in 2006 I started my own education.  Working in Japan from 1998 to 2003 taught me some things about life but I think it mainly opened me up to one big idea, the idea that “normal” is cultural, and shifts and changes across time and place.

My first teaching job was in a decile three school and it was the first time I had ever met people from that socio-economic class.  About three years into that process the day-to-day walking alongside them had changed me.  Permanently, I think.  I came to have some insight into what it was like to be poor and brown in New Zealand and it disturbed me.  It was the beginning for me of seeing New Zealand in a whole new way.  It was the beginning of my alienation from myself: the typical perspective of my race and gender in the country.

I can’t possibly capture in a paragraph all the things I learned at that time.  I learned from the students, and from their parents, and from my fellow teachers.  I saw self harm up close, I was sworn at, physically threatened, and swirled into a mass of fighting bodies at lunchtime.  I saw my students cry, and hang their heads, and laugh, and take the piss out of me.  I shook hands with them, and hid from them.  It was too hard, it was the only challenge I wanted.  I was, in the end, overmatched.

The students I saw most often were not straightforward.  They were articulate, funny and smart, on the whole, and bitter, angry, and afraid too.  Most of them couldn’t really read, write or do much maths.  Their parents weren’t around.  They moved house a lot.  Sometimes suddenly.  Sometimes to different towns or Australia.  There were drugs and alcohol and cigarettes at home.  Violence.  Gangs.  Indifference.  All that, mixed in with fierce, desperate, exasperated love.  Damaged family looking after damaged kids.  Welfare.  Odd jobs.  Chronic unemployment.  A loss of language and culture.  For some a real fury at charity, and the voice of the pakeha teacher offering help.   Fuck help and fuck you.  Pride.  That’s what that was.  Someone trying to hold on to some dignity in an undignified world.

***

I’m angry about Metiria.  I’m angry at all the white men who lined up to tut tut and wag their fingers whichever card they played: she’s a liar, she’s immoral, she was politically naive.  Different notes in the same melody.  It’s the song about what is ok and what is not ok.  Whatever we like to think of as ok, and normal, is just a construct, remember, and we need to pay attention to who is saying it.  Pay attention to the hierarchy of crime that people have to account for when it is matched to their skin colour and genitals.

The questions I have heard about her circumstances and who she was or wasn’t living with seem ridiculous to anyone with any idea about how family structure can work in different cultures, or in impoverished circumstances.  Accommodation and living circumstances are far more likely to be fluid.  All those questions are based on the premise of middle-class white “normality” and “stability”; things that poor people often don’t have in their lives.  Housing changes.  Phone numbers change.  Sometimes the kids are at an aunts, sometimes a friend, sometimes nana.  It’s complicated, right?

It reminded me how elitist our parliament is.  How unrepresentative.  How alienating and pompous all the ceremony and rigmarole of it appears.  How white, male and affluent.  Just last week, the indignation that a female PM might go on maternity leave.  Are we a representative democracy or not?  What that sounded like was a way to keep women under 40 out of the top jobs in parliament.  Now we have people sniffing around the benefit history of Metiria and Paula.  Women, of course, being the ones who overwhelming claim the DPB and so another way to question women in power.   Not to question where all the fathers are, but to question women on their benefit history when raising children by themselves.

If you have find yourself outside the narrative of normal that has been written by white men for centuries, be prepared to be scrutinised and attacked as an outsider.  It is normal for a man in a suit to be in parliament.  It is normal that his wife is raising the family.  It is normal that he was university educated and worked in some kind of acceptable field (without requiring a benefit) until he decided to get into politics.  It was a “natural” progression except natural just means: the norms we are conditioned to accept.  Like it is normal for the affluent to write off their taxes and contribute nothing to the very society that privileged them.  Like it is normal for the privileged class in parliament to be tough on crime which means: tough on poor people, tough on brown people.  Like it is normal for the political class to be tough on benefits and tough on ACC and tough on who gets on a waiting list.  These colour-blind policies that ignore the reality of race and poverty are exactly how colonisation continues to maintain power for the coloniser in the 21st century.

But all we hear is from the gatekeepers of privilege: on almost every TV channel, every radio station, every internet site – white, male commentators telling us she was either dodgy or naive.  The system is preserved, the anomaly is expelled, and I feel the rising urge not to vote at all.