The editorial in the Weekend Herald this morning makes the common and fundamental error that there are degrees of racism.
“Racial discrimination does real harm when it is practised by members of a race with power, usually a democratic majority. When discrimination favours a minority, to preserve its identity perhaps, or boost its educational enrolments, it does no real harm and probably some good.”
The editor advocates that Joris de Bres should explain his attitude to Harawira’s outburst thus. To summarise: Majority racism bad; minority racism good. What tripe.
How, then, do we apply that to apartheid where the minority whites were accused of racism against the majority blacks? Is that now somehow ok? And how do we apply that to a group of muslim youths beating a gay guy? Or does that not count because gays aren’t a “race”, just a minority group? Perhaps the editor and Mr de Bres would like to take a walk through Harlem and experience “preservation of identity” first hand?
This attempt to make one form of racism acceptable over another stems from a misunderstanding of the term racist:
“They are fragile in large part because the word racism is widely, and perhaps wilfully, misunderstood. To those of the politically dominant race, it simply means a racial slur. To those of a minority, it means that and much more. It covers the discrimination, exclusion and deprivations they can suffer unless the law takes care to protect them.”
This is just nonsense. Racism is the pre-judgement of a person or group based solely on their race or colour. Nothing more, nothing less. While it is true that minority races often suffer the consequences of racism more than the majority, racism is still racism, even when it is done by a minority race, oppressed or otherwise. It is not acceptable, not because it is offensive, but because racism is antithetical to a cohesive society. Put simply, it destroys nations. There will never be a new Zealand, or an Aotearoa, while we allow people to be racist, Maori or Pakeha.
Nelson Mandela understood this very well. His very first speech following his release from prison was a speech of reconciliation. Much of the emphasis in his presidency was the fostering of that reconciliation. The movie Invictus due out in December is about Mandela’s attempt to use the Rugby World cup to forge bonds between whites and blacks in an attempt to overcome ingrained racial hatred. The trauma of the Truth and Reconciliation commission was an attempt at catharsis and forgiveness which had some success.
Gandhi understood racism as well. Having experience prejudice in his youth, he was determined not to return the prejudice or allow his followers to be racially motivated. He understood the lessons of the French revolution very well. When hatred is the main impetus for revolution, the result is always tyranny and chaos. Gandhi was determined that that would not be the fate of India, and he largely succeeded.
For a modern example of what happens when you use racial hatred to try to form a new nation, we need to look no further than Zimbabwe. The white racist regime was merely substituted for a black racist regime, a regime that relied on continuing the hatred and fear in order to cement itself in power. The result is a nation thoroughly destroyed.
So to the editor of the Weekend Herald and to Joris de Bres, the lesson is simple. You cannot allow Hone Harawira to practice his own brand of racism unchecked. Such a cancer corrodes society. Racism is always a blight on a nation, no matter who the racist is.
History is clear on this: You cannot use racial hatred to build a nation. No one ever has and no one ever will.