If Paul Henry’s implication that the Governor General didn’t look like a New Zealander was abhorrent, what do we think of the official view that only Maori or Pakeha/European New Zealanders are Kiwis?
An online survey I completed recently asked respondents to indicate their ethnicity. The options were:
New Zealand Maori, New Zealand Euorpean, Other European (including Australian), Cook Island Maori, Samoan, Fijian, Other Pacific Island, Chinese, Indian, Other Asian, Niuean, Tongan, Other ethnic group.
This notion that you’re only a New Zealander if you’re of Maori or European descent is common in surveys and official forms. Some don’t even consider Maori as New Zealanders. Anyone who put New Zealander as their ethnic group on a census was counted as European until 2006.
Before the last census was carried out it was announced that one of the options for ethnicity would be New Zealander and there it was -right at the end after European, Maori, Asian, Other including MELLA (Middle Eastern, Latin American and African – Other (including New Zealander).
The notes on the census data explain:
New Zealander was introduced as a new response for the 2006 Census . . . for 2001 and previous Censuses “New Zealander” was counted with the “European” category.
That was the official view – only those of European descent could be New Zealanders. The new category is an improvement on that, but only just – New Zealander comes last.
So what is ethnicity? The 2006 census definition is:
‘Ethnicity’ is the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to. Ethnicity is a measure of cultural affiliation, as opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship. Ethnicity is self-perceived and people can belong to more than one ethnic group.
“As opposed to race, ancestry, nationality or citizenship .” That’s pretty clear, so why is New Zealander, not the first option?
My cultural affiliation has nothing at all to do with my race – that’s just a genetic lottery which gives me blondish hair, fair skin and blue eyes. It does have a lot to do with my nationality but it’s much more than that. It’s not how I look and only partly where I was born. It’s much more about what makes me who I am and how I feel.
If the census wanted race then I’d answer European. But it’s not asking for race, it wants the ethnic group or groups that people identify with or feel they belong to and my first answer for that is New Zealander. If pushed to be more specific I might add of Scottish descent but I’d never answer European.
Preparations are underway for next year’s census – which is going to give us the option of an on-line response – but the government statistician has decided there will be no change to the ethnicity question:
A review of the official ethnicity statistical standard was initiated by Statistics NZ in 2008, after ‘New Zealander’ responses in the last census rose to 11.1 percent, from 2.4 percent in 2001. The scope of the review was wider than census but was used in conjunction with the census cognitive testing and research programme in decision-making for the 2011 Census. For more information about the research completed by the review and what this involved, see the Final Report of a Review of the Official Ethnicity Statistical Standard 2009.
In the review, most key users of census data stated that the format of the census ethnicity question should remain unchanged. They emphasised the importance of consistency in statistics across the Official Statistics System and the comparability of the ethnicity measure over time. These views reflect concerns that even a minor change in a questionnaire’s format can have unintended but significant impacts on responses and subsequent statistical outputs.
Some submissions to the review expressed a desire for greater visibility for ‘New Zealander’ responses. As with outputs from the 2006 Census, this will be done by having ‘New Zealander’ as a separate category (under ‘Other’) in several of the 2011 Census outputs. For an example of how ‘New Zealander’ responses in the 2006 Census were output, see QuickStats About a Place on the Statistics NZ website.
Statistics NZ will not be adding a ‘national identity’ question or related measure to the 2011 Census. Results from cognitive and other question testing for the 2011 Census indicates that the inclusion of a national identity question as a filter to the ethnicity question would have no notable effect on respondents’ approach to the latter, and would add little value in terms of producing output data that is fit-for-use.
I understand the need for consistency of categories so that people who use the stats collected can make comparisons, follow trends and make plans. But there is no point in consistency if it’s based on the false assumption that race dictates ethnicity, especially when the official explanation says:
An ethnic group is made up of people who have some or all of the following characteristics:
- a common proper name
- one or more elements of common culture which need not be specified, but may include religion, customs, or language
- unique community of interests, feelings, and actions
- a shared sense of common origins or ancestry
- a common geographic origin.
I doubt if European covers any of those.
Being a New Zealanders means those of us of many different races share elements of common culture, unique communities of interest, feelings and actions and a common geographic origin. Some of us will also have a shared sense of common origins or ancestry and proper name. All those things we share depend on where and how we live now not where our ancestors happened to come from. It’s not about how we look but how we feel.
The race-based bias to options for ethnicity, contradicts the the explanations of what it is. Problems because of that will only get worse as our country becomes more multi-cultural and those born here identify more with New Zealand than the countries and cultures of their parents, grand parents or great-grandparents.
How would you feel if you think you’re a New Zealander but official forms keep telling you you’re not?
It’s too late to change the options for next year’s census but we can encourage people to opt for New Zealander and campaign to ensure that New Zealander becomes the first choice on forms in the future.
The United States might not be a model for race relations but they have got one thing right – they may be a variety of Americans (Native, Afro, Jewish, Irish . . . ) but they are Americans. Australia also counts people as Australians while also acknowledging there may be different categories within that broad classification.
We are and should be counted as New Zealanders. If counting what we have in common doesn’t work for the statiticians and planners, let them then filter for differences and determine if we’re Maori, Pakeha/European, Pacific, Asian . . . New Zealanders but let New Zealander count.