If there’s one thing we Pākehā feel smug about its culture. Not the culture we have, but the culture we think we haven’t. We look with mixture of curiosity, bemusement, not to mention a dash of pity, on all those people of the world who take part in ‘culture’ or are regimented by ‘culture’. How strange to conform like that. How strange to let a ritual dictate one’s life. How strange to think the same as those around you.
We Pākehā aren’t like that. We don’t conform to a stereotype. We are free thinkers, free doers. We are simply ourselves.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In our smugness we have deluded ourselves. We Pākehā do conform to a stereotype. We do think like others. And we are just as regimented by a culture as anyone else.
The difference is, we just don’t see it. Our culture is so normal to us that we simply don’t see that it’s not normal for others. In fact, one could describe culture as whatever is normal for a group in question. Chinese culture is what is normal for Chinese; Indian culture is what is normal for Indians; Māori culture is what is normal for Māori (hence the term ‘māori’ in the first place, which actually means ‘normal’); and Pākehā culture is what is normal for Pākehā. Every group of people has their normality, their normal ways of operating. In fact, group ‘norms’ are necessary for any group to function as a group in the first place—to understand one another, to work together, to share common goals and aspirations—in short, to do everything that makes a group ‘a group’. This means that every group has a culture.
This fundamental point lies at the heart of all inter-group conflict. What I do is normal. What ‘they’ do is culture. Why can’t ‘they’ just be normal? What can’t ‘they’ stop being so strange and do things the normal way? Once we have thought these things, it’s only a small step from there before we declare, “I am right and ‘they’ are wrong.”
Inter-group conflict will never be solved until we can begin to see normality as ‘our’ normality, i.e. that normality is no more (and no less!) than ‘our’ culture. Until ‘our’ normality is on a level playing field with ‘their’ normality’, we will never get anywhere. In order to address the concerns of the ‘other’, we must first address our own ignorance.
In other words, the only road to racial harmony in New Zealand is that we Pākehā confront our cultural attitude of smugness and superiority towards Māori culture. We Pākehā hold the key to racial harmony in New Zealand in our own hands—we just need the humility to look at ourselves and see it.
(For further discussion of this topic, see Section 5.2 in Guilty as Charged?. This appears in the free sample chapters available by signing up at the top right of this page).