Māori academic says ‘white migrants are racist’

On 4th September a story appeared in the Sunday Star Times confirming that a government report (possibly this one) had found “Māori are more likely to express anti-immigration sentiment than Pākehā or any other ethnic group”.

The article also highlighted Margaret Mutu, head of Auckland University’s department of Māori studies, who agreed with the findings.

Controversially Mutu called on the government to restrict the number of white migrants arriving from countries such as South Africa, England and the United States on the basis that they brought attitudes destructive to Māori.

“They do bring with them, as much as they deny it, an attitude of white supremacy, and that is fostered by the country,” she said.

Of course this is a sweeping race based generalisation which does not form any part of the government report.

Without supporting research it would be entirely unprofessional for anyone (especially a trusted academic) to make statements like this as they would be merely expressing personal views dressed as academic fact. Indeed, in an email to one move2nz.com member Mutu states

“It is unfortunate that they [white immigrants who oppose racism against Māori] are in the minority – as the research in this area has shown”.

To find out more on this subject I wrote to Margaret Mutu about her research on 5th September including the following query:

“From a background of having spoken individually to arguably more migrants from the UK, USA and South Africa than anyone else in New Zealand I am surprised by your statements which are in deep contrast to my own experiences.

“My understanding is that your statements are based on research which confirms that the majority of migrants from the UK, USA and South Africa are racist towards Māori. I would be very interested to examine your findings and to find out more about this research.

“If possible please would you direct me to the source of the research used as the basis of your comments. Having viewed the government research which began this discussion I can see that very different conclusions were drawn and I am anxious to compare the two sources.”

Margaret Mutu’s reply, received the following day was a stock reply and did not address my question:

“My research focuses on the activities of those immigrants from England and their descendants who have and continue to advocate and perpetuate racism as the means to justify their on-going theft of Māori land and resources. In saying this I refer you to the well-tested definition of racism of Paul Spoonely which states: Racism is the attitudinal or ideological phenomenon that accepts racial superiority, and, when present in those in power, justifies them using that power to discriminate against and deprive others of what is rightfully theirs on the basis of their race.

“I was careful to tell the Sunday Star Times reporter that most Pākehā immigrants will deny that they hold these attitudes and assumptions and that is probably because do not believe that their attitudes are racist. When Māori, who are on the receiving end of these attitudes, try to point it out, the reaction is invariably denial. Yet there has been extensive research conducted on this and the most comprehensive is that of the Waitangi Tribunal, where the bulk of this research is published. The country has been remiss in not ensuring everyone is better informed about the findings of the Tribunal. I recommend that you read the Tribunal’s reports.

“I have a number of publications in this area, the most recent of which is my book The State of Māori Rights published this year by Huia Publishers in Wellington.

This answer is of course interesting on many points and I don’t see much point writing back until I have viewed the research quoted.

Mutu’s answer presents sweeping generalisations about UK immigrants and their descendants similar in nature to those presented by racist groups like the white supremacists Mutu alleges I and so many other migrants support.

Mutu’s definition of racism is limited, only covering a single perspective of racism when talking about ‘what is rightfully theirs’. Personally I prefer Wikipedia’s definition:

Racism is the belief that there are inherent differences in people’s traits and capacities that are entirely due to their race, however defined, and that, as a consequence, racial discrimination (i.e. different treatment of those people, both socially and legally) is justified.

One comment which I feel holds weight is that Māori issues and culture (especially what is rightfully theirs) is a field almost entirely unknown outside New Zealand. It would extremely difficult for people around the world planning to migrate to hold racist views about a group they have never had contact with and know nothing about.

Of course Mutu may be simply saying (as she appears) that all white people are racist and I expect this is why her comments have been referred to the Race Relations Board for investigation.

Mutu’s definition of racism ignores the many meanings and guises of ‘power’ when using a definition which could easily be applied to her own actions. In fact Mutu stated recently that her comments cannot be racist because she is not in a position of power.

Power is by no means the province of the majority as she implies and this is a ridiculous statement when applied to the universally accepted definitions of ‘racism’.

Unusually for an academic Mutu is blurring and confusing her argument: direction to read Treaty documents and Mutu’s mention of descendants moves away from her comments about recent migrants. I believe it is accepted by all that there were abuses of power by the British and that this is precisely what the Tribunal was set up to account for and set right, however I cannot see how the Tribunal findings could in any way be proof of inherent racism towards Māori in all white migrants any more than this most recent government report could.

This is not the research I was expecting.

Having spent quite a bit of time and effort attempting to get a Māori expert on to move2nz.com to present information to help educate and inform new migrants about Māori issues without success I feel that failure to ensure migrants are fully aware of these issues should be shared between all New Zealanders and is not in any way the sole province of Pākehā like me.

I shall try to read the publication Mutu has mentioned, however the title again does not suggest that the work supports the view she has expressed that all white migrants and their descendants bar a few ‘good ones’ (some of my best friends are Pākehā?) hold racist views towards Māori.

The timing of what appears to be an outrageous and unsupported statement is not surprising as the eye of the world centres on New Zealand. Mutu has publicly confirmed a desire to limit immigration to New Zealand on a racial basis rather than the current system which is based on merit.

Mutu’s call echoes the call of Tariana Turia in 2009 when she accused the government of using immigration to “stop the browning of New Zealand“. From my perspective as a migration commentator I believe it’s past time to conduct research into the significant changes in immigration since Turia and the Māori Party became part of government in 2008. Certainly over recent years immigration to New Zealand (according to government statistics) from the UK has dropped by 50% while there has been no apparent drop in interest or decline of applicants from this source.

In the meantime I think we should look carefully at the government report which started all of this and ask why there is such a fear of migrants. This, and not Mutu’s comments, should be taken seriously and I would be very interested in recruiting an expert to help migrants gain first-hand information on Māori culture, customs and language as part of the migration through move2nz.com.


move2nz architect


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One Response to “Māori academic says ‘white migrants are racist’”

  1. move2nz Says:

    I spoke to the reporter who wrote the original story and was pleased to see she quoted me in her follow up piece today.

    The reason Mutu spoke out was a government report which highlighted a number of Maori respondents were deeply worried by migration.

    This was a small report with only 931 respondents. I am unsure how many of those identified themselves as Maori.

    The report showed that the respondents felt that migrants did not make an important contribution to NZ culture and were felt to actually threaten NZ culture.

    This report is far more important than the personal comments of an academic because this is a clear indication of a problem – either an actual problem or a problem of perception.

    From my own experiences of speaking with thousands of migrants I believe there is a strong case that this is a problem of perception (as the people I have met are very admiring of Maori culture) however this needs to be properly assessed to make sure.

    Mutu’s comments, which appear to be personal views rather than being based on formal research, are getting in the way of that process by distracting people away from the actual research that has been done.

    I’d like to find out how these respondents feel Maori culture is being damaged and why – to get their own personal experiences.

    Whenever racial issues have come up in the past on move2nz it’s interesting that we always start of with strongly held but general views based on assumptions and hearsay. Once we insist only on personal experience and fact we have always found a very different picture.

    Generalisations like Mutu’s get in the way of this process. I’d like to see proper work done to find out the facts and personal experiences underlying this feeling that immigration is hurting New Zealand culture.

    Only then can we tell if it really is a problem and decide what to do about it.


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