‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori and is generally insulting

More on Simon Bridges and the ‘Māoriness’ debate at Stuff: Debating Simon Bridges’ ‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori

Is it a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, for Simon Bridges?

He’s the first Māori leader of the National Party, and that is no small thing.

Māori culture appears to be on the cusp of a much-needed renaissance in New Zealand – it will require a country-wide effort and recently it feels like more of the country is getting on board.

But Māori is still an incredibly intimidating culture to dive into, as proven by the at-times rabid response of some commentators and opponents in relation to Bridges’ “Māoriness”.

In part the ‘rabid responses’ were racial, but in parts they were more petty political – some people involved in politics jump to atack those they see as political opponents without caring about double standards.

Bridges has never tried to trade off his Māori heritage. It’s others who have made it a controversy, though if asked about it he has to provide a response.

He can earnestly say that he hopes it would inspire more Māori to reach for higher education, higher office, to vote National, or to simply think that whatever it is they want to do, they can achieve it.

That sounds like a good thing to me. Inspiring non-Māori is not ruled out either.

Some commentators have effectively already said: “Why would they? Are you even that Māori.”

Or Bridges could say ‘look, I’ve never grown up on or near a marae so I’m not going to be pushing it’.

To which those same pundits would respond: “You’re not proud of your heritage, you’re just pulling the ladder up behind you.”

While it might seem like a lose-lose argument for Bridges, it could also work in his favour.

A cynic might argue it raises his profile in a similar way to what Ardern had to endure by being asked about future baby plans, shortly after she became Prime Minister.

Possibly. Time may tell how much Bridges keeps being bashed over his ‘Māoriness’, or claimed lack of.

There’s a tinge of racism (either overt or unintentional) in every society but New Zealanders on the whole are fair.

On the whole that’s probably a fair comment but there is quite a bit of racism in New Zealand. And there is also quite a bit of political intolerance and politically motivated reactive attacking. When combined it can look quite ugly.

And any fair-minded New Zealander is bound to see that the blood ratio of any leader makes no difference to the policies they stand for or the seriousness with which they approach Māori issues of deprivation, health and education.

But to distil that debate into the strength of Bridges’ bloodline is reductive and insulting to Māori of any fraction, whatever part of New Zealand they live in.

It could be reductive and insulting to any fair-minded New Zealander. I have no fraction of Māori genes, but I thought it was reductive and insulting – however it wasn’t surprising in a political environment where ignorant insults are common.

I deliberately left the identification of the author of this until the end. It was political journalist Stacey Kirk, who, similar to Bridges, would be classed as ‘urban Māori’ disconnected from their roots:

I say that as a Māori of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi descent. And one, like many in New Zealand, who had a very average Kiwi-European upbringing.

I’m very fair skinned, whereas my sister is very dark. We look alike, it’s just that one of us has mum’s (German/Scottish) colouring and one of us has dad’s (Māori). And no one ever questions her Māori heritage – in fact, it’s assumed.

When people find out I’m Māori – and after we clear up that yes, we’re full sisters, same parents, neither of us are adopted – invariably the very next question is ‘what percentage are you?’ Putting aside the racial undertones of that, it’s just an incredibly thick question.

It is a thick question, and an insulting one. I’ve never been asked what percentage of any cultural or ethnic mix I might be. It shouldn’t matter.

Leave a comment


  1. San Zani e Paolo

     /  March 4, 2018

    I’ve noticed the simplistic and gratuitously offensive nature of many comments on NZ blogs around this theme.

    Not just Mr Whale, but in more surprisingly middleground media. It has moved me to add some of my own comments, mainly on the basis of increasing the humility percentage of [us] pākehā.

    Maybe it would be sensible to recognise that “the measure of a society is how it treats its weakest [numerically]” and for pākehā to exhibit a more generous spirit to your geographic predecessors.


    • robertguyton

       /  March 4, 2018

      Excellent comment, San Zani e Paolo.

    • sorethumb

       /  March 4, 2018

      But Maoriness is a choice for anyone with one ancestor so cynicism is justified here?

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  March 4, 2018

        I find it very patronising that if someone with a teaspoonful of Maori blood achieves something it is feted as this was not to be expected of a Maori.. The idea that they might inspire others is also patronising, as if people can’t achieve things without a ‘role model’.

  2. sorethumb

     /  March 4, 2018

  3. sorethumb

     /  March 4, 2018

    Professional Maori go to work in Canada as indigenous representatives , courtesy of a Maori left toe (or leg). It’s a great job if you would want it (think to a script)?

  4. sorethumb

     /  March 4, 2018

    When people find out I’m Māori – and after we clear up that yes, we’re full sisters, same parents, neither of us are adopted – invariably the very next question is ‘what percentage are you?’ Putting aside the racial undertones of that, it’s just an incredibly thick question.
    She applies that to Bridges ability to do a job but the Maoriness debate applies to a group identity as manufactured under an official bicultural framework. I heard RNZ a change in tone : ” for the Maori people” being an example of how the Maori official identity sees the (whatever it was).
    Thick question claim refuted = she is thick.

  1. ‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori and is generally insulting — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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