Who am I?

Who am I?

That is a fundamental question of identity and ethnicity plays a big part in the answer.

But when we are asked to give our ethnicity, this is typical of the choices we are given:

New Zealander/New Zealander of European Descent
Maori/ New Zealander of Maori descent
Pacific Islander
Middle Eastern
Eastern European
Other Asian
Or another ethnicity (please type in)

If the form had only New Zealander it would be inclusive.

As it is, it excludes anyone who isn’t of European or Maori descent.

Why does being descended from Scots allow me to claim New Zealander as my ethnicity but deny that to someone who identifies just as strongly as a New Zealander but whose ancestors happened to come from somewhere else?

Someone of Pacific, Asian, African or Latin American descent could be just as much an ethnic New Zealander as those of us whose antecedents were Maori or European.

Ethnicity is much more than race but having European as an option is reducing it to that.

I doubt anyone from the many and diverse countries and cultures in Europe would put European as their ethnicity.

The ancestors of most of us who are of European descent would have come not from the continent but the islands west of it. I don’t think anyone from England, either of the Irelands, Scotland or Wales would put Eorpean as their ethnicity. They probably wouldn’t put British either or even claim to be British unless perhaps an individual or team from one of the other countries but theirs had done something noteworthy and they wanted to share the reflected glory.

European isn’t who we are, it’s shorthand for who we aren’t – Maori and any other people whose skin isn’t white which excludes a whole lot of New Zealanders.

Officialdom needs to move into the 21st century, start recognizing New Zealanders of any descent and counting all Kiwis as Kiwis regardless of the colour or creed of our ancestors.



14 Responses to Who am I?

  1. Deborah says:

    Simple. Tick “Other” and write in Pakeha. That’s an ethnicity that is formed here, in these islands.

  2. Will says:

    I just write New Zealander.

  3. JC says:

    The ethnic question has one great saving grace that makes us almost unique and that is it enables (say) the health profession to target groups for health measures. More widely this unique question make NZ a very valuable place for the rest of the world to “test” the effects of disease on a whole population with its known ethnic diversity, eg, if there’s a health problem endemic in Middle Eastern nations you can test whether the problem persists in NZ and determine if there’s an environmental effect.

    Add to that our very small population and we can in fact test an entire population for an effect, trait, health issue.. we’ve actually done this for multiple sclerosis in a study of world importance.

    You can’t do these sorts of screenings elsewhere because of privacy concerns written into legislation and large populations.. we aren’t as hung up on race as other places.


  4. Dave Kennedy says:

    Well said, JC. Diversity should also be celebrated. According to Mai Chen’s Super Diversity Stocktake by 2038 Pakeha will be in the minority in NZ. In Auckland 44% of the population were not born here, there are over 200 different ethnicities and 160 different languages are spoken. We share the same country but a “one size fits all” approach to meeting needs and recognising difference will discriminate against many. There are also economic advantages in having such a diverse population.


  5. Richard says:

    Genes are the most important, particularly for health research
    The TV1 series “Why Am I?” (on demand), is fascinating.
    Agree with DK that diversity has advantages.

  6. Teletext says:

    I have 11 year old twin daughters who are 1/2 Korean (Mum), 1/4 Irish (Grandfather) 1/8 Portugese (Great Grandfather) 1/8 English (Grandmother) but as far as they are concerned they are and always will be New Zealanders

  7. Dave Kennedy says:

    Teletext, I consider myself a fifth generation Pakeha New Zealander but we also have Chinese New Zealanders and Samoan New Zealanders etc… I think it is fine to recognise cultural differences within our country and celebrate those differences. In Invercargill we celebrate our Scottish heritage with Piping Hot (an annual concert featuring bagpipes), our Irish heritage on St Patrick’s Day (at our local Irish bar), we have an annual Pasifika celebration and celebrate Matariki too. It’s great!

  8. Andrei says:

    Actually all Nations are “diverse” and New Zealand in the scheme of things is not particularly diverse because it is small and has only very recently become inhabited by human beings

    In truth what you put down on the form is how you identify yourself

    We might see the Haka performed before an All Blacks game and feel proud – even those not born here will often feel that affinity – perhaps even more strongly than a native

    Language and religion make ethnicity more than genetic legacy and these might be the questions to ask if you are interested in examining diversity

    What you don’t see is that New Zealand is tribal. the ethnicity question does not tease that out at all or barely – and that is a case of not seeing the woods for the trees

  9. Dave Kennedy says:

    Good points, Andre. However I think that you will find that most countries are not as diverse as ours is now. Scandinavian, Asian, African and South American countries are probably not as diverse as us regarding the percentages of ethnic difference. I agree that ethnicity is a pretty inaccurate tool for describing difference as there is even great diversity within ethnic groups.

  10. homepaddock says:

    Deborah – I sometimes say I’m pakeha, but could I do that if I was of eg Asian or Pacific descent?

    Richard – genes are important, particularly in health, but that’s race not ethnicity.

    I think that’s the nub of the problem, ethnicity is used as a euphemism for race. But ethnicity is defined as “the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition.” That is the things which unite us, rather than race which can divide.

    If statisticians and those who use the stats need to know about race, that’s what they should ask about.

    New Zealander of whatever descent could encompass both race and ethnicity. What I don’t like is that only Maori or “European” get to be New Zealanders on most forms.

  11. Dave Kennedy says:

    Perhaps it would be more useful if people could state what ethnic group they most identify with, within NZ? But as you say, Ele, a lot depends on who is asking for the information and what they want to use it for. Ethnicity and culture does have a bearing on educational engagement (because of differences in learning styles) and health (where different ethnic groups have identifiable differences in health needs and respond better to different approaches).

  12. Andrei says:

    However I think that you will find that most countries are not as diverse as ours is now. Scandinavian, Asian, African and South American countries are probably not as diverse as us regarding the percentages of ethnic difference.

    You can only say that because those are places are far away and unfamiliar to you

    Take Finland (Scandinavia) – as well as Finns there are the Sami of course and the Swedes, there are still some Russians (not new arrivals but whose families have been living there for many generations), Romani and a few Tartars and the more recent arrivals of course

    Brazil (South America) is diverse as can be and so is Kenya (Africa) both far more so than here. In fact the peoples of the African continent are the most linguistically and genetically diverse of any continent

    Even England is diverse without taking into account recent arrivals – there are multiple native languages in GB – Cornish, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and even the majority English as spoken has dialects which are mutually unintelligible – Someone speaking in a broad Somerset dialect is literally speaking a different language than someone speaking in broad Glaswegian both of which are difficult if not impossible for us to fully comprehend if spoken in their true glory

    Most Pakeha New Zealanders are of British stock and those that are not are predominantly Germanic

    Pacific Islanders are predominantly Polynesian but they also could be Melanesian or something else and still fit that box

    Language and religion are what count IMHO – as Ele said ethnicity is used as a placeholder for race but the options given are not actually races and is there any point in collecting this data in this form

  13. Dave Kennedy says:

    Andrei, i was very careful to mention the percentages of ethnic diversity. Scandinavia is experiencing an influx of immigrants but it will be some time before the dominant ethnic group end up as a minority like NZ. Also I was referring to the individual countries within the continents. I stand by my claims and you would have to provide convincing evidence otherwise 😉

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