Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Harvard University Commencement speech

I have a confession to make. Although I have a rather soft spot for our Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, I have not voted for the party she represents since the 1970s, and I feel I’m unlikely to so for the foreseeable future. Our Jacinda has just about the right balance of optimism and pragmatism. She has been criticised by some for being too empathetic and kind and that leaders should be powerful and crush the opposition. But I disagree. Shouldn’t the very values we teach our children also be displayed in our leaders? I believe they should.

Earlier today (NZ time), Jacinda delivered the Harvard University Commencement speech for 2022. I have included two Youtube clips of her speech: the first being highlights selected by Guardian News (4:34), and the second being her entire speech (24:29). But first, here are the closing paragraphs of her speech as transcribed by yours truly:

You are, and will always be, surrounded by bias. You will continue to be exposed to disinformation, and over time the noise you are surrounded up by will probably only get worse. And perhaps that is why when your own constitution was adopted, benjamin franklin was asked what had been created and he replied [quote] “A republic if you can keep it”.

If you can keep it. Yes diversity of voice in mainstream media matters. The responsibility of social media matters. Teaching our kids to deal with disinformation; the role we play as leaders, it all matters. But so do you. How you choose to engage with information, deal with conflict; how you confront, debate; how you choose to address being baited or hated; it all matters. And in the overwhelming challenges that lay in front of us, and our constant efforts to reach into the systems, the structures, the power, don’t overlook the simple acts that are right in front of you: the impact that we each have as individuals to make a choice; to treat difference with empathy and with kindness – those values that exist in the space between difference and division, the very things we teach our children but then view as weakness in our leaders.

The issues we navigate as a society, after all, will only intensify. The disinformation will only increase. The pull into the comfort of our tribes will be magnified, but we have it within us to ensure that that doesn’t mean we fracture. We are richer for our difference, and poorer for our division. Through genuine debate and dialogue, through rebuilding trust in information and one another, through empathy, let us reclaim the space in between. After all, there are some things in this life that make the world feel small and connected. Let kindness be one of them.

Jacinda Ardern – Harvard University Commencement speech 2020
Jacinda Ardern receives standing ovation for Harvard speech on gun control and democracy | Guardian News
In full: Jacinda Ardern delivers Harvard University Commencement speech | nzherald.co.nz


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Autism “awareness”

Ngā kaipānui kia ora

When I tell people about Autistic Pride they say, “how can you be proud of something that you have no control over? That doesn’t make sense? How can you be proud of being Autistic?”

Lyric Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel

April is Autism Awareness month, and today, Saturday 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s a time when many autistic people “go into hiding”. Why? Because autism is still portrayed as a bogeyman – something that is undesirable, that destroys families, causes misery to “sufferers”, that needs to be eliminated. No it’s not. From my perspective, autism describes a way of perceiving and experiencing the world that is different from the way the majority of the population perceives and experiences the world. It’s not so much about deficits and disabilities, it’s about an alternate way of being. The bogeyman, if there is one, is that the non-autistic world writes of the autistic world as something undesirable.

So back to the question “How can you be proud of being Autistic?” I’d answer by saying “In the same way one can be proud of being gay or black or trans or Māori or Native American or…”. It’s a way of saying “Even though society devalues me for being who I am, and puts obstacles in my path that limits my ability to develop to my potential, I deserve to be recognised as a worthy and valuable member of society, and my rights and needs are no less important than the rights and needs of anyone else”.

I object to having an Autism Awareness month for the same reason I’d object to a Gay Awareness month of a Māori Awareness month. Look at it this way: there isn’t anyone who isn’t aware of there being gay people, trans people or people of colour, but that does not prevent the likes of racists, homophobes and transphobes from spreading hate and disinformation about them. It doesn’t prevent normal, intelligent people from failing to appreciate the social barriers that are placed in the way of individuals who are members of minority groups – in other words intentional and unintentional discrimination.

Likewise, I doubt that today there is a single person who isn’t aware of autism. For goodness sake, in some quarters, there’s panic about an “autism epidemic” being accelerated by vaccines or 5G or plastics or the New World Order or GMOs or… something. In fact it’s nothing more that a growing realisation within the health sector of what autism actually is. What is sad is if they had consulted with actually autistic people instead of making lab rats of us, they would have had that “Ah ha” moment long ago.

What we need is not awareness, but acceptance at a minimum. Better yet would be valuing the alternative perspectives that autistics and other other forms of neurodiversity bring to society. Because Autistic people perceive and experience society and the world differently, we express our experiences and understandings differently. Accept that our differences are not deficits, but are a valuable and important part of the diversity that makes the human species what it is.

Embrace diversity!


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Legislative diversity

I started this post way back in November 2020 shortly after the General Election, but never quite got round to completing it. I wanted to make the point that some sections of society are still excluded from decision making processes that affect them, but as often happens for me, it morphed into something no quite as I intended. So it’s been sitting on the shelf until I decided what to do with it. I’m still not sure if it’s worth publishing, but it’s either that or bin it. I’ve chosen the former.


It’s a fact of life that most legislatures around the world are scarcely representative of the population they represent. For example, in most western democracies, wealthy males with sometimes tenuous connections to Christianity are over represented, while women, minority groups of all types and youth are underrepresented.

For some, this is the “natural order” and they see nothing wrong or untoward with this situation. Others keenly feel that in order to have all voices heard, it is necessary that diversity in the makeup of the legislature should approximate that of the community from which it is drawn. I lean towards the latter. But it would seem that most people here have no opinion one way or the other in this matter. Perhaps in this nation it might be understandable, but is it desirable?.

Disability

Aotearoa New Zealand does better than many other nations when it comes to diversity within its legislature, although we still have a long way to go. One example would be that approximately one on four or one in five Kiwis (depending on the measurements chosen) have some form of disability but no MPs (Members of Parliament) have publicly admitted to having a disability.

Neurodiversity

Of special interest to me is that although somewhere between 5% and 12% of the population is neurodiverse (depending on how you define neurodiversity), as far as I can discover, no MP is neurodiverse.

Ethnicity

People of asian ancestry, most of whom are of Chinese or Indian descent are also underrepresented. They make up 12% of the population but only 7% of the Parliament.

In the October Elections, fewer Māori were returned to the Parliament than in the previous two general elections. In the Previous Parliament, 23% of MPs were Māori. This has now dropped to 21%, but remains higher than the 17% of the general population who identify as Māori. Pasifika people (those from Pacific island nations) too, while making up 7% of the general population, make up 9% of MPs.

Gender

Women have almost reached parity with men. In this country females slightly outnumber males (100:97), and now make up 48% of all MPs. When compared to our neighbours (Australia 31%, Pacific nations averaging 6%) we are doing very well. When we look at gender representation by political party, we see that the parties of the left have more female representation than male, while for parties on the right, the opposite is true.

LGBTQI+

Approximately 4% of Kiwis are openly LGBTQI+ although the real number is most likely higher. Parliamentarians are more forthcoming in this regard as 11% of MPs are openly LGBTQI+. This lead to one British tabloid headlining an article with “NZ Parliament Gayest in World”. Although this nation was the first where an openly transgender person was elected to the national legislature, there are currently no openly trans MPs.

Religion and spirituality

I’m not going to attempt to define what religion or spirituality are as even academics in these fields cannot agree. In fact some definitions are mutually exclusive. In the NZ context it can be confusing. Around a third of the population claim a Christian affiliation, and only 45% of the population claim any religious affiliation according to the 2018 census.

Other surveys indicate that 25% have a firm belief in a deity or higher power and a further 45% believe in some form of higher power to some extent for at least some of the time. Within the Christian community the concept of God ranges from an omniscient omnipotent being to metaphor/personification/symbol representing our highest ideals, and the trend is towards greater polarisation of these opposing concepts.

The consensus among both the religious and non-religious alike is that New Zealand is one of the most secular nations on this planet. Whether one is religious or not, or is affiliated to a religious or spiritual group is usually a private matter, and that applies to politicians as much as it does to the general population.

This makes comparing the religion of the legislature and general population somewhat difficult as the religious beliefs of most MPs is not on public record. However, anecdotally it does appear that parties on the right have a slightly higher proportion of “religious” however that might be defined, than parties on the left. Based on the limited amount of information available, it appears that religion and spirituality amongst MPs is not significantly different from the general population.

Youth

While we do have some MPs in their twenties, and in the past a few have been in their late teens, I suspect this is one form of diversity where the “nature of the job” will means that the young and the old will always be underrepresented. There is a small movement calling for the voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16, and if it ever came to a referendum I’d support it, but for the time being only the Greens consider it a topic even worthwhile discussing.

Quotas

I’m not in favour of quotas to ensure all forms of diversity are proportionally represented, and yet our electoral system (MMP) is based on the premise that political parties should be represented in parliament proportionally based on their support in the voting population. Isn’t this a form of quota based on political affiliation? If we demand proportional representation across the political spectrum, why not across other spectrums of society?

I believe that legislatures should reflect the diversity of those who elect them, although not necessarily in exact proportion to the population. For society to be truly inclusive, everyone should feel that their voice can be heard. For those with a disability and for the neurodiverse, there’s clearly a long way to go. We should be proud of our success in achieving the diversity we have in the Parliament, but let’s not rest on our laurels just yet.


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Countdown towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapy — Autistic Collaboration

ABA is perhaps the best known “therapy” for autistic people – especially autistic children, but it’s still conversion therapy, and is just as harmful in the view of many autistic adults. What is less well known is that this form of “treatment” for autistics is the basis of all forms of conversion therapy, and now widely condemned in other fields. Unfortunately people who are autistic can still be subjected to electric shock “therapy” in order to make them appear less autistic (a recent SCOTUS decision means it still continues in America). All conversion therapy is cruel and inhumane, and I don’t care whether it’s in the “treatment” of those in the LGBTQI+ community or the neurodivergent community. It must stop!

Today we have presented our submission to the government’s Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. From today we will will start counting the days until all forms of conversion therapies are banned in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our hope is that this page will only need to be appended a few times with further activities to remind…

Countdown towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapy — Autistic Collaboration


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RIP, John Shelby Spong

John Shelby Spong has often been described as a controversial theologian, and by many conservative and fundamentalists Christians as being a heretic or to have left the faith completely. On the other hand, to many Christians, and myself (although I don’t self identify as <em>Christian</em>), he has had an influential hand in dragging Christianity out of the dark ages.

Bishop Spong died on September 12 at the age of 90. Perhaps he’s best known for promoting a non-literal interpretation of the Bible, for which he has also received the most criticism. But it’s necessary to remember that he has been a strong advocate for LGBTQI+ and women’s rights, including clerical roles within the Episcopal Church. Those that knew him recognised his message was one of love and justice – something that is often absent in the modern world, both secular and religious.

Spong believed that taking a literal interpretation of the bible was to miss the truth behind its teachings. In this he held similar ideas to those of modern theologians such as Don Cupitt and my favourite, Sir Lloyd Geering. However, such thinking is not new and there has been a long tradition of theologians who have argued that taking the Bible literally is to misunderstand the intent of the stories it tells.

The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary stated “What he truly came to understand is doctrine, dogma, doesn’t make us Christian. Doctrine, dogma, doesn’t make us church. What makes us church is respecting the sacredness of every single human being and creating a world that does that and making sure the church is leading the world in doing that.” With regards to doctrine and dogma, and creating a world that respects the sacredness of all people, I concur. Whether it’s the Church or some other social structure that does the leading is unimportant to me.

Bishop John Shelby Spong is survived by his wife Christine, five children and six Grandchildren.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Diocese of Newark, sitting for a portrait photograph.
Source: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0 Created: 1 September 2006


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The case for autistic pride — Yenn Purkis Autism Page

For a great many of us on the spectrum, Autism Awareness day/month in April is less than helpful especially in the form promoted by Autism Speaks – a “support” organisation that definitely does not speak for Autistic people. Instead, Autistic Pride Day (June 18) is the day to show the world we are not inferior but just equal and different. I might have something more to say on the day that is more relevant to my personal experience, but here is a post by Yenn Purkis that I believe most neurodivergent people (not just autistics) can relate to.

Friday June 18 is Autistic Pride Day so I thought I would write a blog post all about autistic pride. Sometimes people say ‘why would you be proud? You can’t help being autistic. It just is.’ I think for members of marginalised groups, like Autistics, pride is a political act and a way of asserting […]

The case for autistic pride — Yenn Purkis Autism Page


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Autism: How to be normal (and why not to be)

This being autism awareness month, you’ll probably see me posting more articles about autism than normal. I make no apologies for doing so.

The following heartfelt Youtube video is from a TEDx presentation by a fellow autistic, Jolene Stockman. Her experiences very much parallel my own, apart from learning to drive (I found it easy and enjoyable) and the age at which being autistic was discovered (60 in my case).


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We deserve better

In the unlikely event that you are unaware, April is Autism Awareness Month. You may see slogans such as “light it up blue” and others promoted by an organisation inappropriately named Autism Speaks. What it doesn’t do is speak for the autistic community, and in the eyes of most adult autistics it does more harm than good.

Below is a video clip created for Autism speaks in (I believe) 2016. While their rhetoric has been toned down in recent years, I see no evidence that their attitude towards autism has shifted one iota. It depicts people such as myself causing irrevocable damage to families and that we as autistics have very few prospects of living a rewarding life unless we are “treated” or unless a “cure” is found.

I’m not bothering with a transcription for this clip as the voices are American and consequently Youtube’s subtitling of the clip is quite accurate. So for those who wish to read read along, please turn on Subtitles/Closed captions.

The “I am autism” video by Austism Speaks that most adult autistics find offensive.

Here are some appalling statistics related to people who are autistic. These are statistics from Australia, but in all “developed” nations you’ll find the situation is similar. It’s important to understand these are not inherent in autism itself, but are entirely due to the way society treats those with autism. If you think racism is harmful, what do these statistics tell you about ableism?

  • About 60% of adult autistics are underemployed or unemployed
  • 87% of autistics have a mental illness
  • autistic people are nine times more likely to die by suicide than the general population
  • autistics have a life expencey of 54 years

We deserve better.

We don’t need to be cured. There’s nothing wrong with us. As suggested in the next video clip, perhaps neurodiversity is important in maintaining a healthy and sustainable cognitive environment in the same way as biodiversity is important in maintaining a healthy and sustainable physical environment. What is very clear to autistics is that current social attitudes towards autism is harmful. It’s not us as individuals that need curing. What is needed is a paradigm shift in how society views neurodiversity

A transcription has been prepared by Theresa Ranft and reviewed by David DeRuwe, so for those who find the Australian accent difficult or for those with hearing difficulties, please turn on Subtitles/Closed captions.

About the speaker Jac den Houting:

Being diagnosed with autism is often seen as a tragedy. But for Jac den Houting, it was the best thing that’s ever happened to them. As an autistic person, concepts like the Neurodiversity paradigm, the Social Model of Disability, and the Double Empathy Problem were life-changing for Jac. In this talk, Jac combines these ideas with their own personal story to explain why we need to rethink the way that we understand autism. Jac den Houting is a research psychologist and Autistic activist in pursuit of social justice. Jac currently holds the role of Postdoctoral Research Associate at Macquarie University in Sydney, working alongside Professor Liz Pellicano. In 2015, Jac was awarded an Autism CRC scholarship to complete their PhD through the Autism Centre of Excellence at Griffith University in Brisbane. Prior to this, they gained almost 10 years’ experience as a psychologist in the criminal justice system, with the Queensland Police Service and Queensland Corrective Services. Jac was identified as Autistic at the age of 25, and is proudly neurodivergent and queer. After participating in the inaugural Future Leaders Program at the 2013 Asia Pacific Autism Conference, Jac quickly became established as a strong advocate for the Autistic community. Jac is a current member of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia and New Zealand (ASAN-AuNZ)’s Executive Committee, the Autism CRC’s Data Access Committee, Aspect’s LGBTQIA+ Autism Advisory Committee, and the Aspect Advisory Council.

source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1AUdaH-EPM
Why everything you know about autism is wrong – a TEDx talk by Jac den Houting


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Changing perspectives

It still comes as a surprise to me to realise my perspective on many aspects of life have changed over the years. I’m also reminded that much of what I comprehend about the society in which I live is viewed differently by others. Some nuances are so subtle that it is only now in hindsight and because they are topics of debate today that I realise I did not understand let alone appreciate some social norms I grew up with.

One of these is gender roles. I completely failed to recognise that society had different expectations of men and women. It even baffled me why certain types of attire were considered appropriate for one gender but not the other. But it was the more subtle expectations for both men and women that I failed to pick up on and was oblivious of their existence.

I grew up in an era where most families could live in moderate comfort on a single income and virtually every household had a stay at home parent while there were children in their care. It never occurred to me that the reason most households had a stay at home mother and not a stay at home father was primarily due to social expectations and not a matter of choice negotiated between the parents.

Prior to my teen years, I adopted whatever behaviour and role I felt suited me, and being unaware of social expectations, I simply took on aspects that today would be viewed as gender nonconforming or nonbinary. Starting in my early teens I had most of this adaptation knocked out of me as I became aware of the negative views many held about me, and especially by acts of violence that I thought I had provoked merely by being different from the norm. I wasn’t fully cognisant of the disapproval being gender biased. Instead I had an understanding that it was not acceptable for me, as an individual, to exhibit such behaviour without understanding why.

It wasn’t until my mid twenties when it dawned on me that there were oh so subtle ways that societies place different expectations on men an women. The first occurred on my honeymoon when my new mate prostrated herself in front of me promising to be a good and obedient wife. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. I was shocked and appalled. I made it very clear that I was expecting an equal partner, not a servant. I later learnt that she was just as shocked at my response, but pleasantly so. Admittedly her culture had (and still has) more clearly defined gender roles, but it’s only a matter of degree, not that it was absent in my own culture.

The second occurred after I grew a beard in the mid 1970s when they were far less common than now, but more often worn by men of privilege. I didn’t grow it as a sign of masculinity or as a fashion statement, but because I loathed shaving and having very wavy hair, ingrown hairs were an all too often painful fact of life. Overnight the way both men and women responded to me changed – especially those who did not know me personally. It was quite an eye opener.

Both genders tended to be more polite to me but in different ways. Men tended to treat me as an equal or as someone slightly more “knowledgeable” than themselves. I was also assumed to be older than I was. Women on the other hand tended to display a sightly more subservient role in my presence as if somehow the beard gave me more authority. I felt even more uncomfortable in the company of others than ever before – both men and women.

The reason I was prompted to write this post was that I heard a song this morning that was a favourite of mine in the late 1960s. It has always brought a lump to my throat and a little water to the eye. It reminded me so much of the relationship between my parents who had so much respect and love for each other, although rarely expressed in the presence of others. I’ve always viewed the words as an expression of love by an equal partner, but when I now hear the answer to “what should I want from life?” in the last verse, the answer makes me somewhat uneasy. There’s an implication that one’s worth as a woman is measured by having a loving spouse. Or am I reading too much into the lyrics?

Allison Durbin – I have loved me a man (1968)
I have loved me a man, like my momma did
I have loved me a man.
Tall and tender, his hands like my daddy's were
With a mind that understands

And the arms that held me when I would cry
The lips that kissed away my tears
They're a part of the man that my momma loved
And I have loved me a man

I have wed me a man, like my momma did
I have wed me a man
I can still feel the warmth of the words he said
He held my heart tied in his hands

And in the morning I would wake by his side
And wonder what I could have done
To be loved by a man like my momma loved
And I have loved me a man

I would bear him a child, like my momma did
I would bear him a child
She'd be gentle and sweet, like my momma was
I'd watch her grow and in a while

She'd ask me momma what should I want from life
And I would tell her with a smile
Just be loved by a man like your momma loved
And I have loved me a man

And I have loved me a man


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Institutional racism?

One of the difficult parts of being part of a minority group is having your group or aspects of your group defined by the majority group. As an autistic person, every time I leave home I am subjected to a world that pays little heed to the needs of neurodivergent folk. At best there is token allowances for which I’m expected to be grateful. For the most part, I’m expected to put on a mask of normalcy no matter what, and hide my true identity. But should I?

Ethnic minorities also face similar hurdles. Yesterday in Parliament an MP (Member of Parliament) was prevented from speaking by the Speaker, and was eventually ordered from the House when trying to raise a point of order over the matter. His crime was that, in the opinion of the Speaker, he was not dressed appropriately. Standing orders require that in Parliament MPs must be appropriately dressed, which is for men to wear a jacket and tie as part of “business attire”.

In an email sent from Speaker Trevor Mallard, to MP Rawiri Waititi, the Speaker said that a review of the Standing Orders supported members dressing in formal wear of the cultures they identify with. This lies at the heart of the matter and I will address this shortly.

Rawiri Waititi was wearing a business shirt and jacket, but instead of a tie he wore a hei-tiki. For many Māori, the wearing of a hei tiki is part of their cultural, spiritual and personal identity. The fact that he was prevented from speaking raises several issues in my mind. I’ll get the least controversial aspect out of the way first.

What is “business attire?

A quick search online revealed a range of “business attire”, including “casual“, “smart casual“, “business casual“, “business informal“, “business professional” and “business formal” just to name a few. And that’s only for Western dress. Whew!

In the New Zealand context, I would argue that typical business wear for men over recent decades is dress shirt, dress trousers, dress shoes, a jacket and for most occasions a tie is optional. Here, I use “typical” to refer to accepted Pākehā dress (around 70% of the population identify as Pākehā or NZ European).

The Speaker is of the view that ties should be optional and last year he sought the opinion of MPs about abandoning the rule on ties. Apparently there was little support for a change, so the standing order remains – a tie is mandatory. Fair enough, you might say. The majority have spoken, so that’s the end of the matter. To me that shouts out tyranny of the majority.

Racism

I’ve titled this article “institutional racism?” simply because it’s a term that will be most familiar to my readers. To my mind, the term race is a very blunt tool when it comes to understanding the oppression of and discrimination against minorities. I see race as being a set of physical characteristics that make one group distinctive from another. It says nothing about culture, cultural expectations or cultural values.

Regretfully, racism (judging a person or group by their physical appearance) does exist in this country. I have witnessed it although it has never been directed at me in Aotearoa New Zealand in a form that I am able to recognise. I have experienced “low level overt racism” while in Japan, especially in the ’70s and ’80s. In recent visits to Japan, it’s mostly limited to assumptions that I would prefer to use a knife and fork instead of chopsticks, or that I would be more comfortable shaking hands than bowing, neither of which are true. I have an intense dislike to shaking hands and avoid doing so as much as possible. My eating utensils of choice are chopsticks, even for some western style meals.

My children did experience overt racism as youngsters, principally from their peers, and if they are subjected to racism as adults it’s more likely to be covert in nature. If racism has been directed at the wife, she has been oblivious to it, although she has described incidents where I suspect racism has been a factor.

However the issue at the heart of the article is not about race but about custom and culture.

Cultural oppression

While in Japan, I knew it was inappropriate to blow my nose into a handkerchief or to eat an ice cream while walking along the street. Japan is very much a monocultural society, and while I attempted to adapt to the subtleties of Japanese culture, many I were oblivious to, and as a Gaijin visitor I was given much more leeway than I would be given if I had had a more permanent residence there.

Aotearoa New Zealand claims to be a “bicultural multi-ethnic” society. Our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, guaranteed Māori as Tangata whenua (literally “people of the land”) equal partnership with the British Crown and specifically protects land, customary rights and traditions. For most of this nation’s subsequent history the treaty has been ignored. Only in the past fifty years have the descendents of those settlers and more recent arrivals begun to recognise the significance of that founding document, and then, often grudgingly.

I don’t believe racial discrimination is a significant issue in this country although it does exist and can deeply affect those subjected to it. On the other hand cultural oppression is vey significant. Any law, regulation, requirement or expectation that diminishes, devalues or denies aspects of cultural identity is effectively cultural oppression. This particularly applies to Māori, given their status as tangata whenua, their rights under the Treaty, and as they constitute a significant minority within this country.

A hundred years ago, the accepted view, including by some Māori leaders was that the best hope for Māori was assimilation – effectively making Māori into brown Pākehā. The practice and teaching of Māori knowledge and wisdom was suppressed as was the use of Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). No room or recognition was given to Māori custom or values. Some Pākehā still hold the same view today.

It didn’t succeed. It created a downtrodden, demoralised subculture that has and continues to have serious repercussion for Māori and to a lesser extent for the rest of society. Thankfully the last fifty has seen an almost miraculous revival of Māori culture, and some of it is rubbing off on sections of the Non-Māori population. This is, in my opinion, healthy for our society.

With that background out of the way, let’s return to MP Rawiri Waititi and his “missing” tie. I believe the Speaker made the wrong call on several grounds. I’ll go through these in the order they come to mind, not in order of importance.

Letter of the law versus spirit of the law.

I’m a firm believer that the spirit/intent/purpose of of a law/regulation/rule is just as important at the letter of the law. Why was the law drafted in the first place? I would argue that the tie rule was not simply an arbitrary rule enforcing a culturally biased dress code, but part of package to maintain the dignity and respect that Parliament deserves as the highest court in the land. The tie rule should be applied in a descriptive manner, not in a prescriptive manner.

Clearly, the wearing into the House of a dirty singlet, a wrinkled pair of stubbies and worn out jandals (thongs to Australians and flip flops to the rest of the English speaking world) would lower the dignity of Parliament. But so too would the wearing of a weather beaten food stained tie and jacket retrieved off an old scarecrow that had been in a cornfield for several years. Yet it would meet the letter of the law as the standing order is currently worded.

Instead, Waititi wore a dress shirt, a business suit and replaced the tie with a culturally significant alternative adornment. I fail to see how this could possibly have negative effect on the dignity of Parliament and in fact I believe it enhances that reputation by not imposing the preferences of one culture onto another culture.

Freedom of expression

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA) guarantees the right to freedom of expression in any form and this should not be restricted. An example of this that NZ law prohibits the desecration of the national flag of any nation. However the courts have have taken the view that the public desecration of a national flag is a legitimate way of expressing an opinion regarding the actions or stance of a country or its representatives and so is protected by the NZBORA. I think it would require that the only motive for the desecration was to cause offence before there was any likelihood of a prosecution being successful.

Waititi feels very strongly that Māori have been subjected to “colonial oppression”, and who can blame him. The evidence is there for anyone who cares to look. Outside Parliament, Waititi stated that his hei-tiki is his tie of choice. It ties him to his tīpuna (ancestors), whenua (the land where his ancestors have lived and where their placenta are buried), and his people. He went on to say that the political party he represents will not be subjugated nor assimilated to dated colonial rules. “I will not be forced to wear a tie.. this is about standing up against subjugation or assimilation”. Is not the wearing of a hei tiki an expression of his identity and also a stance against what he views as cultural oppression by Pākehā.

Who decides what is “culturally appropriate”?

Waititi has described his dress as “Māori business attire”. Is it the place of the (Pākehā) Speaker to determine what is Māori business attire, or is that the domain of Māori? From my observations, a great many Māori businessmen display a hei tiki or other traditional forms such as a hei matau (stylised fish hook) instead of, (or sometimes over) a tie.

Rawiri Waititi listens to the Speaker’s reprimand (photo: ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF)

Being culturally sensitive

Māori culture is going through a renaissance and there is growing sense of pride for their traditions and values and how those are expressed. What right have I as a Pākehā to say how Māori should express their culture? The Speaker suggested that Waititi take the tie issue to the Parliamentary business select committee for adjudication, but as Māori are a distinct minority on that committee, isn’t it still a case of Pākehā deciding whether or not a hei tiki is “appropriate”? I would consider it insulting if I were in Waititi’s position. Surely we’re all adult enough to listen to the aspirations of groups that are not our own.

Recognising the rights of others

We live in a pluralistic society with many cultures, religions, lifestyles, and outlooks. There’s more than enough room for them all. We all deserve to be able to live a life as we best see fit. There is no place however for one group to impose its values and practices on another, be it cultural, religious, political or economic.

Epilogue

I was going to rant on some more, but circumstances have changed. Today Rawiri Waititi returned to Parliament in the same attire as yesterday. When he rose to speak, there was an audible sigh from Speaker Mallard, but he did not prevent Waititi from speaking. I won’t speculate on why the Speaker had a change of heart, even if it appeared to be somewhat reluctantly. But I am pleased that he did. It was the correct decision. He should have made it yesterday.