Dr Liz Gordon – Now let’s eliminate racism (and other isms too, why not?)


So we’ve eliminated the Covid.  We have won the battle, although not, it must be said, the war. With around 120,000 new cases per day worldwide, cases beginning to increase again in the USA (Make America Viral Again), Brazil’s Bolsonaro now issuing edicts that daily numbers will not be released because they are so high (such an indictment on his terrible leadership) and big rises in India and other countries, the danger is not diminishing at all in the world.  The enemy is at the gates.  I fully support all the government’s actions.

Now we have, temporarily or permanently, sent the Covid packing, we now need to look at that other, much older virus, that lives permanently in the human psyche and causes endless damage. That is the virus of dominance, with its side effects of a sense of superiority over ‘others’ (whichever other it is), bullying, the use of force to uphold one’s position and the codification of racial and sexual domination through theory and practice over extended periods.

Despite all humans now alive on earth deriving from the mitochondrial DNA of one woman, who lived around 200,000 years ago in Africa, we are not all treated equally.  Successive waves of colonialism and capitalism have divided us by wealth, region, power, status and position.  The niceties of difference are familial, local, regional, national and international. Each one of us is constrained into roles created for us. We are taught rules as children which pass down prejudices from one generation to another. The sexisms, racisms and other oppressions are not ‘out there’ but happen every day and act to keep people in their (lowly) places.

For my generation, the baby boomers, much of our lives has involved unlearning the lessons of our youth. When I was growing up, colonialism was presented to me as an almost unmitigated good, with a few unfortunate episodes therein.  We, the British Empire, had taken on and civilised the world! We were the cleverest, best, most transformative society there had ever been! The sun never set on us! Go us!

During my education at a so-called good school in the UK, no attention was paid at all to the colonised.  History, we were told, was for the victors.  If you wanted to wallow with the natives, go and study social anthropology (snigger).  This brutalist interpretation of the past itself reflected and perpetrated the distorted ideologies of colonialism, entrenching the values into all the colonised societies.  

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At its extreme there was denial that whole peoples existed (the ‘terra nullus’ of Australia, deemed uninhabited), that treaties had legal status (the Wi Parata case in 1877, NZ) and that indigenous owners had rights to their own lands (innumerable). And don’t even get me started on the role of the church in producing a properly domesticated population for the colonisers.

It is hopeful that in the teaching of NZ history in schools, the truth about colonialism here will be told. The uprisings over George Floyd may be the start (resumption, perhaps, or new battle) internationally against the post-colonial world and its gross inequalities of all kinds. The socially, economically, sexually and racially oppressed must stand together throughout the world and deny the oppressor’s ideology.

This will need to happen a bit at a time. The role of police forces is a fine topic here in Aotearoa, with Māori more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned compared to pakeha in the same situation.  We are not strangers to police brutality, racially or sexually. Do we think that what happened in Minnesota to George could never happen here? We do not.  We know it could.


Another topic already in play is the vexed issue of pay equity. Why do we pay all our women less than and our Māori and Pasifika women even less again? It goes back simply to the under-valuing of women and others. This must be changed.  By changing minds if possible, but also by legislation that clearly outlaws the discriminations from which our businesses profit.

Let’s get organised then, for the next generational fight for change. It is not far away.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Yes to all of that except ‘This will need to happen a bit at a time’, Liz.

    We have run out of time, and change is being thrust upon us, like it or not. And the change is very different from what most people are expecting, i.e. the end of ‘the system’.

    We saw just how detached National is from reality in the interview this morning on ‘Breakfast’, in which Nikki Kaye demonstrated what a bunch of ‘dinosaurs’ they are by presenting worn-out ‘solutions’ that don’t actually work and which deepen our predicament as policy. ‘Build more roads.’

  2. Thankyou for this post Dr Gordon. Though I don’t envy the comments you are going to get; decrying your Identity Politics, as if white cis-male is simply the default, and not itself an identity.

      • Liz your unhealthy admiration for mother England is not the sort of thing shared too widely by young boomer Kiwis.
        Those of Irish, Scots, Maori, Chinese and other non English descent, had different family traditions as their forbears had suffered under the class system of the English, some for hundreds of years.
        Churches should be discussed as their role was crucial in suppressing the defenses of native people against the scourge of white colonialism
        The churches had a bible and the Maori had the land. After conversion the Maori had the bible and the colonials had the land.

        But the education system was an arm of colonial repression.
        Even in the early 1970s when the environmental damage done by colonialism was not only apparent but material was prepared for schools by the curriculum unit to teach critical thinking about the atrocities being done to the country and planet. This was quashed and a much lesser resource put out focusing on litter.
        Critical thinking skills were not encouraged as the young Kiwis may revolt against the system carefully nurtured by Business NZ.

        • John W: “….your unhealthy admiration for mother England….”

          In fairness to the author, this account isn’t an uncritical paean to the former British Empire. Reading the post, it seems to me that she’s well aware of the Empire’s many sins and failings. Even so, she’s entitled to be proud of her country: there is much to admire about its achievements. Even though it didn’t win the war in Europe.

          My relationship with Old Blighty is complicated by the fact that I have Irish, Scottish and English ancestry. It’s down to the Empire that my various ancestors emigrated here. I was born here; my parents and one lot of grandparents were born here. We’re all NZers, for better or for worse.

          I must say, it’s beginning to feel like “for worse”. I’m a pakeha NZer. I had no choice in the matter, the dice in that regard having been rolled a very long time before I was born. Despite my being a NZer, I’m increasingly being made to feel that I am not welcome here. Yet this is my country too, god-forsaken little outpost at the arse-end of nowhere that it is. Thanks for nothing, British Empire.

          “The churches had a bible and the Maori had the land. After conversion the Maori had the bible and the colonials had the land.”

          Are you sure that’s the way it went? Not up north, from what I’ve read. In that part of NZ, it was the missionaries – or some of them – got the land. Shysters that they were.

          “But the education system was an arm of colonial repression.”

          NZ was a colony for a very short time only, until its first government was established. In the very early days, education was concerned with the three “Rs” as my parents’ generation used to say. And Maori – being quick to realise its utility – were early and enthusiastic adopters of literacy.

          Later on, the education system became an arm of Empire, so to speak. Education systems are never neutral. By the time I went to school, though, all that Empire stuff had gone, to be replaced by the promotion of the Commonwealth, of which we were now a part.

          “Critical thinking skills were not encouraged…”

          It wouldn’t have mattered if they had been. We were comprehensively propagandised, and it was next door to impossible to get access to the truth about what was going on in the world. Until the rise of the internet from the mid-90s onward.

          Now, critical thinking skills would be really useful in the young. Sadly, not many seem to have them.

          • D’E
            We share a lot in common with my ancestors coming from sailing ships which left from the South of England in the early 1840s.
            We are to some extent shaped in our perception by our families.
            Liz identifies her transition well and I use “mother England” as a term often heard during my up bringing and scoffed at by many.
            The monied class and “nobility” in Britain had their agents roam the world laying claim to territory at the point of a gun.
            Spain and others were also competitors in this carnage of looting and using humans as means of increasing wealth.
            The British crown used a hierarchy of traders who played their part in taking over a massive maritime based Empire.
            India was annexed by a private company The East India Company, but British tax payers funded the Army to enforce the rule in India and the collection of taxed from the Indian population. These taxes were used to purchase goods that were then sold mainly to Europe. A recent analysis of the taxes and goods extracted from India in today’s money is close to $US73 Trillion.
            The Gold and treasure stolen from Central and South America by the Spanish went to European nobility and the Catholic Church making the latter one of the richest entities in the world today. British ships intercepted the treasure being hauled back to Europe and redirected some of this plunder back to England.
            My English ancestry has a smattering of the literate classes but mostly from cannon fodder commoners rurally based.
            My Irish ancestory comes from family members stolen as children from coastal rural Ireland and taken to work under slave like conditions in the mills of Liverpool. Ireland was under British rule for over 600 years. A shocking legacy of ruthless rule where starvation of the natives meant little but loss of potential profit for the British Peers who collected rent and commandeered crops for the British market. The Catholic church colluded with the British regime.

            I don’t excuse any of the rank human indecency promulgated by Britain on its own and any unfortunates that were convenient pawns in the monied class’s quest for more wealth regardless of negative human consequence.
            So I concur with Liz regarding a change of realisation away from that gained during upbringing.

            Literacy was a means of common folk reading the bible as churches completed for clientele and income streams.

            Similarly the mission schools in NZ taught literacy for the same reason. The bible was translated into Maori so teaching in the vernacular did not give access to wider scripts in English. That came later well after churches were established. Mission or church based schools were the norm for most of NZ. Funding was moved to local community taxation and small numbers of children often attended the church school their family was aligned with.
            One notable example was one town where seven schools were funded, most of which had fewer than 5 children.
            The situation was resolved in 1877 with the passing of an act that made the government responsible for schooling and the state system was to be free, compulsory and secular. That provision in law still stands today.

            The gross indecencies by colonial administration confiscating land and placing title in the name of administrators, then using British forces to drive the Maori off their land. A highly corrupt process even under British law.
            Still Maori survived as an underclass rejected from a growing White society, and today we must acknowledge the history of what has happened.
            To me it is more of a class war and many descendant from Tau Iwi and Maori recognise .
            I grew up with a parent who lived in a Mainly Maori community and I schooled with fellows from many races and back grounds. I am grateful that i had that opportunity to broaden my appreciation of other cultures in this NZ setting.
            While family is where you belong, community can be much wider culturally than family.
            The influence of wealth and power has not changed a lot but today the growing gap of wealth is showing no sign of change and is accepted by most who are “well off”.

            Critical thinkers have been around for many generations but so has propaganda from the wealthy and churches seeking to hold onto their position and have others in servitude to their mantra. It is institutionalised making change very difficult but not impossible.

            The media and particularly TV have flooded the minds of at least two generations, with British then, now mainly American mindwash, cementing compliance with the purpose of Hollywood and MSM to keep many myths alive that help control public thinking.

            I look for political leaders who see through this crap and will speak about it.
            Hone is not eloquent but is the closest I have found but he has been ruthlessly sidelines, by his closest ally Labour.

            All born in NZ have or should have equal rights across some fundamental areas. A child with parentage that goes back tens of generations in NZ is equal to a child from an immigrant.
            You inherit family but your rights as an individual are not inherited.

            • I totally agree. We all of us have conquered the great Pacific Ocean on our way to New Zealand which is no small thing. We maybe from other places but we belong 100% to New Zealand.

              It’s totally ridiculous that any first world nation would have another nations flag hanging in the corner of our own flag. It just says we are immature as a nation and should cut it adrift.

            • John W: Your account of imperial rapaciousness sums it up.

              With regard to India, I recall Simon Schama observing that the initial intention was that the relationship between the two countries would be one of trade. That was in the early days of the East India Company; I don’t now remember what, in Schama’s view, brought about the shift to imperial rule. It may have been the increasing involvement of the British government.

              Where NZ was concerned, the British Crown didn’t want yet another colony, I believe, and agreed to declare it a British possession only to keep Les Froggies out. The Treaty came about because of the influence of the church missionary society. There was a desire not to repeat the mistakes made in Australia with regard to the natives.

              But when officials were sent to far-flung countries a long way from oversight, it isn’t surprising that many of them behaved appallingly. So the treatment of Maori here was not a great deal better than in Australia, sadly.

              However. It’s important to remember that it was early settlers and clergy who helped to convert Maori into a written language. This was a development welcomed by Maori themselves. And the missionaries provided access to education, whatever one may think of its quality.

              The early explorers and settlers brought with them technology unknown to Maori, and which they wished to acquire. Especially muskets (unfortunately, as it turned out). Maori were very keen to trade with the new arrivals: that’s part of the reason why the chiefs signed the Treaty.

              It’s indisputable that western technology and culture was superior to anything the first explorers found in this part of the world. But it by no means follows that westerners themselves were or are superior. They aren’t. We’re all humans. In his book “Guns, Germs and Steel”, Jared Diamond gives a clear explanation of the reasons for the rise of the west.

              When Cook first arrived here, food resources were already under pressure. Maori had eaten the large flightless birds to extinction, and they had very few vegetables that would grow here. When Cook returned, he brought pigs (the famous Captain Cookers), goats and chickens. And early explorers in the southern South Island gave Maori potatoes, cabbage and carrots. Without these extra food sources, there’d have been starvation and a population crash.

              Maori had lost the know-how and probably didn’t have the other resources needed for anybody to sail to the nearest Pacific islands and bring back pigs and chickens to supplement their diets. And growing conditions were mostly too cold here for the cultivars they’d originally brought with them.

              So: early Maori were saved by first contact with Cook and other western explorers. And I don’t doubt that the Maori of the time were well aware of it.

              There were two important concepts (among others) the first settlers brought with them. One was the rule of law, the other was no slavery. When they first arrived, the practice of slavery was well-established here. Slavery was, in the past, pretty much the norm worldwide, Maori society being no exception. It hasn’t yet been entirely eradicated even now. But the British didn’t practise slavery. Elizabeth Rata has pointed out that on this count alone, the slaves themselves had reason to welcome the settlers. And the Treaty, come to that.

              “….it is more of a class war….”

              Class is certainly the issue driving inequalities: it’s always class, never ethnicity or skin colour (which is an extrinsic characteristic only). Middle class Maori do as well in school as everyone else, get access to healthcare and so on. Those of us who went to school and uni with them know this very well.

              The imbroglio at Ihumatao is an illuminating example of a class conflict within the Maori world, as somebody pointed out at the time. It was and is a tussle between the tribal elites and poor, working class, mostly urban Maori. Fletcher as the owner of the land has been caught in the middle.

              Everyone – Maori and pakeha – needs to remember that nobody now alive is responsible for what happened here in the 19c and earlier. None of us can atone for the misdeeds of our own ancestors, let alone for those of somebody else’s. We can’t undo what was done then. The best we can manage now is to strive for a just society.

              This isn’t a colony: hasn’t been one de facto since its first government was established in the mid-1850s, de jure since 1907. Talk of “decolonisation” is meaningless.

              Nor is it a racist society: I roll my eyes at some of what I hear on the media. Bias and prejudice is part of the human condition. Anybody trying to stamp it out is spitting in the wind.

              When I was growing up, we understood clearly that racism was in the purview of governments. Laws and societal arrangements which privilege – or discriminate against – particular groups are racist. Individual prejudice is not. On that definition, NZ isn’t a racist society. The exception to that is the Maori electoral system, with its seats only for Maori, and its enabling legislation. That system is racist. And if by-Maori for-Maori justice or child welfare services are established and backed by enabling legislation, they too will be racist.

              As a society, it seems to me we’re managing at least as well as others worldwide; better than many. Just so long as we don’t succumb to woke leftery, we should be ok.

  3. “…we now need to look at that other, much older virus, that lives permanently in the human psyche and causes endless damage. That is the virus of dominance, with its side effects of a sense of superiority over ‘others’ (whichever other it is)…”
    A perfect description of the mechanisms of speciesism. Speciesism is the next frontier of liberation and the majority of the left have not got it yet. It does not compute. But think about it.
    Capitalist ideologies are so well embedded in our worldviews, that we often don’t even see them as such. We see them as ‘the way things are’, or ‘the natural order of things’. So its easy for people to accept the reduction of human lives to fodder for the capitalist machine. It has been naturalized.
    But capitalism also reduces the environment to a resource, a commodity, a ‘thing’ out there. A ‘thing’ outside of us that is to be harnessed and tamed and brought into line in the service of capitalism.
    And the same for animals. All animals! Pet animals are bred by dodgy breeders in puppy-mills. Wildlife animals are ‘harvested’ or ‘managed’ by hunting groups nurtured by ideologies of domination and capitalist interests. But especially the so-called ‘production’ animals. Under capitalism their lives are hell. Victor Hugo wrote that animals will not go to hell because they are already there. Under capitalism animals become commodities, objects for profit. Their only value is instrumental, their one point of existence is to make profit for the farmers, for the meat companies, the slaughterhouses, the dairy co-operatives, the fast-food outlets, the Big-Ag giants who pay lip-service to animal welfare concerns and lip-service to the havoc animal agriculture plays on the environment, our waterways, our soils, our warming atmosphere.
    This impoverished view of the world and our evolutionary partners, the non-human others, has become so entrenched in our psyches that we don’t pause to critique it.
    And the greatest irony, covid-19, along with many other viruses, came directly from humanity’s profound mistreatment and cruelty towards animals. Yet what kind of discussion have we seen of this? Very little in the mainstream press, very little in the leftist blogs. We have to go to the peer reviewed scientific journals to really see what the scientists are saying about this horror. Or, heaven forbid, the animal rights groups. (Oh no! The fringe!) Will the pandemic expose the raw realities of capitalism and spark a new beginning where people and animals are subjects of their own existences?
    Sign our ‘ban duck-shooting’ petition and prove to me we can change, prove to me we can develop a new empathy;

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