Pākehā not broad enough

March 7, 2018

Another complaint about this year’s census is the stir over the options for ethnicity:

An Auckland man is pushing for the term Pākehā to be included as an ethnicity option in the census form.

Piha resident Peter Hosking was part of a Call me Pākehā online campaign, calling for the return of the term Pākehā in the census.

It was last featured in the 1996 census when it was bracketed next to New Zealand European, but was removed from the next census. . .

I don’t have a problem with calling myself a Pākehā but I won’t accept the ethnic category European New Zealander.

Ethnicity has several definitions including the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition; a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like; shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another.

By none of those definitions would I claim to be European which is defined as relating to or characteristic of Europe or its inhabitants.

It can also be someone of European descent and that could indicate the colour of my skin but it doesn’t apply to a common national or cultural tradition to which I have any connection.

All of the antecedents I can trace were Scottish or New Zealanders of Scottish descent. All those born there all either died, or left, Scotland long before it became part of the European Union. I am sure none of them would claim European ethnicity.

It is possible that many centuries ago the ancestors of those ancestors I know about came from a European country, but Europe is a group of  different countries with different languages and cultures and I doubt if anyone from any of those many and varied countries would put European as their ethnicity.

Why then is is applied to people on the other side of the world, almost as far away as it’s possible to get from the European continent?

To add to the absurdity in the other category on the census form, Dutch is given as an example of ethnicity. If people from the Netherlands are Dutch rather than European surely New Zealanders should be New Zealanders rather than European.

That takes me back to Pākehā. While I don’t mind being classified as one, if I understand its meaning correctly I couldn’t categorise myself as one if my ancestors weren’t Scottish but were, for example Indian, Japanese, Iranian or Kenyan.

Or what if I was of Maori descent? The census allows you to tick more than one ethnicity box but would anyone who ticks Maori also tick Pākehā which can mean foreigner or not Maori?

We might well have lots of these people who consider themselves to be of New Zealand ethnicity but wouldn’t be comfortable claiming to be Pākehā.

If we were in Australia those of us who shared the cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set us apart as New Zealanders could tick New Zealander as our ethnicity.

It is high time we could do it at home.


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