Perhaps it’s my white fragility. Or maybe I just can’t stomach hypocrisy. Because the recent Stuff column in which Jane Bowron celebrated the triumph of inclusiveness in our election certainly had my “sickly white” stomach turning.
Bowron noted glowingly how the new Labour Government was full of female, Māori, and LGBT representatives. This is New Zealand in all its diversity, apparently. However in Bowron’s New Zealand there is one group who don’t qualify for inclusion. They cannot even be afforded the respect of being people with a different viewpoint. Instead they must be vilified as “old hat, sickly white and risibly irrelevant”. Such is Bowron’s description of the National Party. Two of its longest serving MPs were singled out for particular disdain. The words arrogance, institutionalised, and “muppets” all made an appearance.
I had to check myself – had I inadvertently switched to reading some ranting social media post? Sadly not. Yes this was a real mainstream media outlet, seemingly doing its best to channel an offensive and immature comment on a facebook post. I’m all for robust debate, but has Stuff really lowered itself to this level?
Of even more concern, is it now acceptable in our mainstream media to describe a group as “sickly white”? Swap out the term white, for the term brown, black, or Asian, and there would be outrage. And rightly so. Gratuitous public insults against any racial or ethnic groups are despicable. So why is it okay to casually cast such a racially charged epithet as “sickly white” into the public square? Are some groups are fair game?
And for those itching to tell me this is why we need new hate speech laws, go scratch somewhere else. It may come as a surprise, but New Zealand already has laws which adequately deal with this. Section 61 of the Human Rights Act addresses racial disharmony. It makes it unlawful to publish written matter which is abusive or insulting, and likely “to bring into contempt any group of persons on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons.” Publicly describing a group of persons as “sickly white” would certainly seem to fall within the orb of what Section 61 deems unlawful. So will anyone lay a complaint with the Human Rights Commission?
I doubt it. And that’s probably no bad thing. The existing law is necessary. No reasonable New Zealander thinks we should have absolutely unfettered free speech in our country. However most would agree that the provisions of the Human Rights Act noted above are best reserved to deal with extremist nonsense. The type spouted by the Christchurch mosque shooter. Not the errant musings of a news media columnist.
Calling out the risible double-standards of a liberal media columnist is best dealt with by other means. Rebuttal and exposure of such blatant hypocrisy to the public opprobrium it deserves is the appropriate way forward here. Far better sunlight and open debate, than legal threats and closed door proceedings with a bureaucratic tribunal.
Of course such an approach only works if the mainstream media have the integrity to allow self-criticism. This response to the Bowron column was submitted to Stuff a week ago. It remains unpublished. It would appear that Stuff thinks describing some New Zealanders as “sickly white” is okay. We have a problem…