Immigrants and the colour bar: why Margaret Mutu is incapable of making racist remarks

You’ve got to love Maggie Mutu’s gall.

She has proclaimed herself (a) to be powerless, which (b) magically makes her immune from being a racist.

This, of course, is a fascinating paradox. There is a potent force in powerlessness.

But her claim is recorded in black and white – to coin a phrase – in the newspapers today.

Margaret Mutu, the head of the University of Auckland’s Maori studies department, had fronted up to callers on talkback radio show Radio Live yesterday.

She defended her comments to the Sunday Star-Times about the majority of white migrants bringing “white supremacist” attitudes to New Zealand.

More fascinating, according to an account of her performance at Stuff, she said Maori cannot be racist against Pakeha in New Zealand if you considered the definition of racism.

“Racism is definitely associated with power and using power to deprive another group,” she said.

“Maori are not in a position of power in this country and therefore cannot deprive Pakeha.”

This is disputable.

Oxford Dictionariers, on-line, give this definition of racism.

noun
[mass noun]

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race , especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races:theories of racism

prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:a programme to combat racism

So where does the power thing come in?

Oxford Dictionaries is a very English outfit, of course, and accordingly is open to the accusation from Margaret Mutu that their definition of racism might have been crafted by a racist.

So what’s Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres got to say?

It seems he said there was no justification for anybody to discriminate on the basis of colour, race or national origin.

He dismissed the idea that the ability to be racist depended on a person’s position of power.

“Racial prejudice is the same whether it come from a Maori or Pakeha.”

David Rankin, a bloke who is referred to as a Ngapuhi leader, has called for Maggie’s sacking and yesterday lodged a formal race relations complaint against Mutu and the University of Auckland.

He said he considered Mutu’s comments “highly offensive and plainly racist”.

“This time, Margaret has gone too far.”

“The advice I have is that she has breached the Race Relations Act and needs to be held accountable for it.”

Rankin’s call for Mutu’s head is consistent with the howls that inevitably are triggered when broadcasters or celebrities say something tinged with racism.

They must apologise and they must be sacked…

But that’s when they are white people.

Te Wharepora Hou spokeswoman Mera Penehira said the call to have Mutu dismissed was ludicrous.

The university is standing by Mutu.

Vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon says academics had a right to free speech, even when their comments may be controversial.

Alf endorses that position.

Actually, he goes further and says we all have a right to free speech.

ACT leader Don Brash is in the same camp.

He is happy with Mutu being allowed to express her opinions even if those opinions are highly objectionable.

“Nobody could disagree with Margaret Mutu’s views more strongly than I do, as will be very clear in a speech I’m giving tomorrow,” says Dr Brash.

“But it’s the Bill of Rights by which we should be guided in matters like this.

“It says, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.’

“I have no problem with Margaret Mutu or any other academic expressing controversial opinions, as long as they respect the right of those who disagree with them to express their opinions also.

“It’s a classic case of, ‘I disagree with what you say but defend to the death your right to say it,” Dr Brash concludes.

But Don – Alf suspects – would not be quite so happy with Mutu’s claim that powerless people can not be accused of racism.

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