Oh, how Pakeha are op­pressed

Herald on Sunday - - EDITORIAL -

English­man Ed­ward El­gar, a sym­phony the Rus­sian Sergei Prokofiev and — in its pre­miere — a piano con­certo by the Pakeha com­poser Lyell Cress­well which had been com­mis­sioned from him by the emi­nent pian­ist Michael Hous­ton.

Its mu­sic was based on themes by Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach, a well-known Ger­man.

Sit­ting at home await­ing my at­ten­tion was a beau­ti­fully de­signed and lav­ishly pro­duced new two-vol­ume pub­li­ca­tion in a hand­some slip­case, weigh­ing in at 2.8kg.

It honours the poet Allen Curnow, whose fam­ily had Cor­nish roots, with a mon­u­men­tal biog­ra­phy and a col­lected edi­tion of his po­ems, which are among the finest ever writ­ten here.

Honestly, as a Pakeha, I don’t know how much more ne­glect and dis­re­spect of my cul­ture I can be ex­pected to fit into a week.

Look­ing else­where for signs that the “Euro­pean/Pakeha . . . race” is be­ing brown-eyed all over, I noted the re­cent an­nounce­ment of this year’s Kather­ine Mans­field Men­ton Fel­low­ship, which honours one of our most beloved writ­ers — a woman of con­spic­u­ously Euro­pean de­scent — by send­ing a New Zealan­der to re­side and work for a time in an un­am­bigu­ously Euro­pean lo­ca­tion on the French Riviera.

This year it was awarded to Carl Nixon, who may or may not be of part Maori de­scent but doesn’t iden­tify as such on his web­site.

He doesn’t bang on about be­ing Pakeha ei­ther, but I don’t think that would be be­cause he feels his cul­ture is “not re­spected”, cer­tainly not with his sub­stan­tial lit­er­ary achieve­ments and the recog­ni­tion they have re­ceived.

The mis­con­cep­tion be­hind the com­ments ap­plies to any mi­nor­ity.

In her book The Writ­ing or the Sex Aus­tralian aca­demic Dale Spen­der re­ports re­search show­ing women need only con­trib­ute a small per­cent­age of the chat in a mixed-sex con­ver­sa­tion to be seen as dom­i­nat­ing it.

Sim­i­larly, any de­gree of in­creased Maori vis­i­bil­ity will seem to some to be un­rea­son­able favouritism.

We’re not that far from hear­ing the word “up­pity” be­ing ap­plied.

It’s not as sim­ple as two cul­tures each plough­ing its own fur­row and strug­gling for at­ten­tion.

Even the mi­nor space now given to Maori cul­ture on pub­lic oc­ca­sions, in work­place rit­u­als, in sig­nage, on Morn­ing Report and in many other ar­eas is seen as threat­en­ing to Pakeha cul­ture. What a fee­ble cul­ture it must be if it is so eas­ily threat­ened.

Maori cul­ture is what “we” have al­ways used to show our­selves off to the world be­cause it is unique to our shores.

But, far from be­ing “not re­spected”, Pakeha cul­ture is in­creas­ingly be­ing ex­ported.

Only one of the two Booker Prizewin­ning nov­els from here was writ­ten by a self-con­fessed Maori. And a cou­ple of years ago, a North Shore school­girl of Ir­ishCroa­t­ian her­itage made an al­bum of songs about the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a teenager in Devon­port, which res­onated with lis­ten­ers around the world.

It’s not as sim­ple as two cul­tures each plough­ing its own fur­row and strug­gling for at­ten­tion.

There is much cre­ative cross-over in­volv­ing Maori us­ing Euro­pean means of ex­pres­sion or Pakeha deal­ing with bi­cul­tural themes. That’s an on­go­ing process that is pro­duc­ing an ever-more dis­tinct New Zealand cul­ture in which ev­ery­one can take pride.

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