The cancer of racism is bad for all of us


I often get caught by surprise at the depth of racism in our society.

At the same time we see so many generous acts of solidarity and support regardless of race.

As a young man I was somewhat infected by a belief that things would always get better. That seemed true for living standards and democratic rights for the 1960s and 1970s and continued into the 1980s. Racism appeared to be challenged, women’s rights being advanced, gay rights would inevitably follow.

The Springbok Tour and its aftermath appeared to shatter the crusty old colonial racism of the then Muldoon led National Government.

Maori in particular seemed on the march. The Land march in 1975, Bastion Point and Raglan occupations, the Hikoi to Waitangi.

But that progress has been reversed in many real respects or given a conservative twist as the establishment opened the doors to some Maori while excluding the vast majority from the fruits of its “civilisation”.

In the last few decades working people as a whole have been pushed backwards. Levels of poverty have doubled from 10-20% of the population using a consistent measure. Child poverty rates are nearer 25% of all children. Unemployment rates of 5% are considered a “success” when the rate was virtually zero for most of the half century from 1935-85.

At the same time Maori and Pacific unemployment rates are more than double those of workers who are Pakeha.

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Paying a miserly billion dollars over a 20 year period to “settle” all outstanding claims is a joke. The loss by Maori in real terms is many hundreds of times that figure. $1 billion is a little over 1% of this years government expenditure. Over the 20 year period since it began it would equal 0.1% or less.

Maori were victims of a colonial holocaust that sought to extinguish them as a people with their own land, language and culture. But Maori refused to go away.

The system that was established by the colonial settler state also found it useful to have Maori as a cheap, reserve agricultural labour force. After world war two Maori and Pacific workers joined the new factories of South Auckland and Porirua – before those factories and jobs were destroyed again in the 1990s. Out of exploitation and oppression a new resurgence of Maori emerged.

But racism remains real and pervasive. A small but telling example was provided on Campbell Live recently when they got a Maori male and a Pakeha male to try and buy petrol from 5 pre-pay petrol stations. Same clothes and car. The result was infuriating but we knew it was coming. The Maori was asked to pre-pay in 4 of the 5 stations. The Pakeha was allowed to fill their car at all 5 without pre-paying.

The daily humiliations and indignities like the petrol station episode are bad enough.

But then there is the institutionalised racism that sees Maori make up 50% of the prison population but only 15% of the general population. Maori know why.

You are much more likely to be stopped on the street by a cop if you are Maori. Once stopped you are then much more likely to be arrested for some reason. You are then more likely to be charged and go to court (rather than a warning or diversion). You are then more likely to be convicted. You are then more likely to be given a custodial sentence rather than a fine or home detention.

The cumulative impact is obvious.

The same (but opposite) is true for the health system. Rather than more attention you get less. For example – Maori males are much more likely to suffer heart disease but get treated at a rate that is far less than the prevalence of the disease would indicate.

Capitalism has an extraordinary ability to use each and every difference between people to justify unequal treatment (and of course pay).

Insofar as working people accept the prejudices used to justify this inequality they do themselves a disservice.

I do not mean that workers who are white don’t get a “better” deal than workers who are brown. That is a fact in life. I have a “better” chance of getting a job. I have a “better” chance of being given a flat. But if I start thanking my boss or my landlord for my good fortune in life I will end up on the wrong side of history. But more than that even in the more short to medium term I believe we damage our own economic and social interests by thinking the privileges are worth “protecting” by siding with our masters against our fellow workers who are struggling against inequality.

It is not by sucking up to our “betters” that we move society forward. It is only by unity and struggle by ordinary people against all reactionary ruling classes – including our modern-day capitalist ones that social progress has been made. Only struggle progressively brought the working day down from 12 to 10 and then eight hours. And it is our failure to struggle that has seen the working day put back to 12 or more for many workers while many others can’t even get 8 hours work. Only struggle forced a welfare state to be established. Only struggle gave the right to vote to women.

The reason we are going backwards today is because the union movement (and the broader labour movement) was housebroken. Our party (Labour in the 1990s) even became an instrument for our enemies. Demoralised and disoriented we often fell into the trap of blaming someone easily at hand for the trouble we faced rather than the system.

We are not taught to think in class terms by our education system and never will be. It has to be learn’t through struggle. If we can’t see who is profiting from unemployment, recession, slashing wages, and cutting welfare – the ruling rich- then we will fall for what seems “common sense.”

It seems “common sense” that if I don’t have a job it was taken by an immigrant. It seems “common sense” that If my kid can’t get into University it is because someone else (maybe a Maori on a Ngai Tahu scholarship) who got there ahead of my child. Why does the Maori kid have “more rights” than my kid I am encouraged to ask.

While I am blaming someone else for my problem I am treating it as a personal failure that I don’t have a job or my kid has missed the education he deserves. It may be because someone else has a “unfair” advantage but it is still personal problem. I aren’t blaming “the system”.

Where this leads is demonstrated by the position of working people who are white in the southern United States and occupied Northern Ireland.

The poorest sections of the working class of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is that situated in the North of Ireland. One section is Catholic and is marginally poorer than the other section which is Protestant. They are both in that abysmal situation because the working class which is Protestant thanks that defending its “privileges” over it Papist enemy means it must support the British imperial order and its state rather than fight together with the even poorer Catholic neighbours against the rotten system that is condemning them both. Imperialism’s ability to cut off this northern enclave also held back progress for the liberated southern part of the island.

The same has been true in the Unites States. A hotel housekeeper in New York state gets $20 an hour under a union contract. A worker in Mississippi and other “right to work” states in the southern USA is lucky to get $5 an hour and no union representation.

The reason for the difference was a system of racial separation and terror that was allowed to be established in the South after the defeat of the slave holders in the civil war. In the process chances of interracial unity and struggle was set back for generations.

With adult male suffrage after the Civil War hundreds of thousands of blacks and a similar number of poor whites registered for the elections. Prior to the Civil War, landowners were the only social group who had the privilege to vote, excluding the majority of poor, landless whites from active political participation. Freed slaves and poor whites cooperated in establishing radical regimes in the South that began to pass laws in favour of labour rights, free public education, hospitals, roads and modest welfare measures. These regimes were eventually overthrown by force once federal troops were withdrawn and the Klu Klux Klan established as a terrorist militia to enforce racial segregation. It is this legacy that still lives in the continuing inability of the US trade union movement to ever establish itself as a serious presence in the former slaveholding states in the South.

The overthrow of radical reconstruction was a gigantic defeat for Black people in the USA but it was also the biggest defeat suffered by the US workers movement and has crippled or restricted its progress ever since.

The left has to take these prejudiced views seriously. They are wrong. They can be refuted with facts. Genetics has confirmed we are all essentially the same. Ignoring prejudices however will not make them go away.

But we can only really defeat them when we are struggling together. It’s hard to hold a grudge against the Maori, Islander, Immigrant or “welfare cheat”: who is holding a placard beside you on the picket line and getting battened by the same copper who is battening you. But if we don’t struggle then the cancer will keep eating away at what I believe is our more fundamental human character – solidarity.

It is solidarity that will lead us out of this dog eat dog system that is capitalism. It is solidarity that will bring an end to the shallow, mean, selfish morality that goes with capitalism. It is solidarity that will recreate a value system that sees everyone as a human being of worth and value that should be treasured until they have met their full potential.

But if the human and social organism is not nourished by solidarity then cancerous mutations – fascism being the worst historical example – can emerge victorious.


  1. Excellent article, Mike.

    Divide and conquer. Keep the masses fighting amongst themselves and they won’t notice us exploiting all of them. Very clever. The cleverest part is to retain labels for political parties that are the opposite of what they actually stand for: thus National is a party that stands for a divided nation in which the proceeds of effort go to the few at the top, whilst Labour stands for the exploitation of labour and transfer of the proceeds of effort to the few at the top (it once did stand for the betterment of the lives of the laboring classes). Both stand for more-or-less unrestrained capitalism and for control and exploitation by international money lenders. A few more breadcrumbs fall off the ‘elites’ table and into the mouths of the proles under Labour.

    Trump’s lurch from covert fascism to overt fascism is stirring the pot in ways he did not anticipate.

    ‘After mounted police, flash-bang explosives, rubber bullets and tear gas had cleared a path for him, President Trump preened and strutted to his Dear Leader photo op like a wannabe Pinochet, trailed by his wannabe junta — Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Attorney General William P. Barr, daughter Ivanka Trump and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was, absurdly, wearing camouflage fatigues as though he were in Baghdad or Kabul, not downtown Washington.

    Trump stood in front of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church and held aloft a Bible as though it were some new-and-improved gadget he was hawking in an infomercial. Trump cuts a ridiculous figure, so yes, we can laugh at him. But his authoritarian, call-in-the-troops response to the protests over George Floyd’s killing shows — as if more evidence were needed — how dangerous he is to the very idea of America.
    The Lafayette Square atrocity moved Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, to finally speak out. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis wrote in a statement published by the Atlantic. “Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort.”—-against-him/ar-BB155ofq?li=BBqdg4K

    It worked for such a long time, and is still working.

  2. You can’t talk of a Maori holocaust; you demean the word. Where are the 6 million dead Maori, exterminated purely on the basis of race? If you feel so strongly about racism, why do you contribute to a website that condones virulent antisemitic posts so often?

    • “You demean the word”
      Middle English: from Old French holocauste, via late Latin from Greek holokauston, from holos ‘whole’ + kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘burn’).
      When did you come on duty?
      He talks of a colonial holocaust and not ‘The Holocaust’. You actually demean the word. MT is not diminishing in any way the horrors of ‘The Holocaust’ as far as I can see or do you want to start talking about numbers or have you just decided you have a monopoly on the word? (It’s a gay old world eh?)

      • The term The Holocaust refers exclusively to the Jewish genocide, translated from the Hebrew word Shoah. I’d be embarrassed if I paraded my ignorance as you just have.

        • We New Zealanders don’t try and seperate Jews from blacks from Māori in order to divide and conquer. People like us just lump all the crimes into one big holocaust.

        • You still are parading your ignorance, for a start the use of upper or lower case letters at the start of the word is a major instruction about the context in which the word is used. I can accept that you feel strongly about protecting the word (something along the line that we need to remember the past to avoid repeating it) but all the people I know can see the difference in word use.

        • More Zonist spewing points Gaby hahaha. And the anti-semitic canard is losing its true meaning because of Hasbara troupes trolling the web making up stories. True that the european Jews suffered at the hands of other europeans and if the holocaust is exclusively a Jewish thing then that can only be seen as a bad thing because it implies that european Jews are the only that deserve recognition of such horrendous acts and the Holodomor genocide aswell as the Armenian genocide both perpetrated in the 20th century are barely mentioned because the european jews genocide has a monopoly on the word Holocaust.

        • I realise memories of The Holocaust must be as painful for you as it is for members of my family and ancestors. Seeing someone write ‘colonial holocaust’ in an attempt to describe horrific events doesn’t minimise what took place during ‘The Holocaust’. In fact for me it serves as a reminder of it all (just as the coopting of certain symbols do) and there are a lot of events I hope will never be forgotten. It seems they have been though because history is starting to rhyme.

        • Gaby you must be embarrassed.

          It can also refer to a fire that consumes and appears unstoppable.
          Jews have no claim on this word as their own in either Hebrew nor Yiddish.
          The Irish Holocaust affected more descendants in NZ those from the WWII Jewish claims.

          The word in both cases is loaded with highly charged emotional suggestion as in either case fire did not significantly feature. The word was not used in reference to WWII until the 1950 and now has become commercialised.
          Maori have every bit as much right to use the word.

        • @ Gaby. Until you, your mates and sundry other zionist scum leave Palestine to go to who cares where, so long as not here, then your opinion is of not much more than that of a war crimes apologist weaving lies together for a disaster capitalist autocracy master who calls itself the united states of america and I can safely say that because racism is a scab on capitalism which, when picked off oozes money.

      • Why just the 6 million Gaby? There were over 10 million others slaughtered by Nazis; Soviets, Slavs, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people, homosexuals etc.. In fact, the more specific term; “Shoah”, is right there if you want to unambiguously refer to that particular jewish holocaust.

    • The term ‘holocaust’ is not owned by Jews, Communists, homsexuals, disabled and gypsies annihilated by the Nazis in WW2. Gaby, what you claim is against the spirit of solidarity which Mike Treen sees as our weapon to fight oppression. Are you fighting against others who are oppressed to say you are more oppressed? If so, you are piteous and diminish the outrage of the WW2 holocaust.

      • Janio is absolutely.

        I am on this site regularly and have never ever seen any anti-semitic articles. The problem is that Gaby can’t differentiate between criticism of the State of Israel and the of Zionists. This is what Zionists do.

        There are plenty of Jews around the world including in Israel who are appalled by the government of Israel and its actions against the Palestinian people.

  3. We should remember that we all come from Africa.
    But wait? There’s more…
    Our human DNA can be traced back to one single matriarch.
    ( At least that’s the current understanding. )
    That’s right. We all have the same gene mother or ‘Mitochondrial Eve’.
    So, being racist simply translates to being ignorant as fuck from being poorly read.
    And there’s nothing quite so embarrassing as a moron projecting their moronessess.

    • No not at all Zack. When you go for an interview do you show signs that you smoke dope occasionally. Anyone could hide this at an interview, tick the right boxes and you are in.

  4. Yep as long as you have troops in countries patrolling people who never harmed you- you are worse then a racist. Justify that please.

  5. Thanks for this piece Mr Treen, I read it earlier today but didn’t have any words at the time. But watching this Kat Blaque video brought it back to mind – particularly this line (around the 14 minute mark):

    “…I felt, somehow, more safe around my rapist than I did around my own father…”

    I guess I am agreeing with AFKTT, about “Divide and conquer”, but I’d more say; within themselves, than “amongst themselves”. For one thing, there is the racism of Maori against other Pasifika; it is not that uncommon, especially in the older generations, to hear Islanders called “coconuts” (or worse). Or Marai vs urban Maori. Community vs individualism.

    Solidarity requires seeing common cause with another, but; who then is the other that defines us? Love of an ingroup implies hatred of its opponents. Instincts that served us well when homo sapiens first evolved in southern africa, may be counterproductive in our present societies. But we remain more rationalising than rational.

    But then again, you can’t let the; apparent hopelessness of it all, bring you down. There are plenty of people all too willing to do that for you anyway. Sometimes all you can do is chip away at the tasks in front of you and trust that the cumulative effect is positive.

    • Marc what are you on. I want to live in a better, egalitarian, caring society. That means I acknowledge that we have appalling racism in this country and I work to change that.

  6. You’re more than a great man, Treen-a-ji , you speak and do the truth. And you get 9 comments!
    But just by itself the truth is magnificent. Some accuse us of being ultra radicals by speaking our truth, yet they follow the margerine sun of what — they think — can go instead.

    Freedom comes from democracy. The long lesson of the decades after the rallying call of the second world war.

    Pragmatic Helen Clark, seeing there wasn’t a force behind her — the people formed into a solid fist — surrendered to the strong.

    The immense depoliticisation and individualisation of modern society is a certainty for our too soon end, unlike if we’d kept the solidarity of the Welfare State, if that was possible, which I doubt.

    Much regard.

  7. Mike, I meant to say, as I say on Facebook to my own, fairly severely idiotic, people, the 1991 benefit cuts, let alone Rogernomics, were a war on Maori. A political point surely?

    Rather disgusted at my fellow NZers, the numbnuts and those who just want to get on.

    Isn’t truth and fighting for it beautiful shade in a desert. By way of being the only.

    Seeking the sun of machiavellianism reduces you to nothing-ish.

  8. At the same time Maori and Pacific unemployment rates are more than double those of workers who are Pakeha….

    Not sure that the current unions efforts to bring in cheaper workers from around the world and give them NZ benefits is helping wage growth, housing or any benefit for Maori and Pacific Islanders in NZ.

    The statistics are saying the opposite, NZ’s neoliberal labour market based on cheaper bums on seats is making their plight worse…

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