The Ethnic Future for New Zealand Is Unknown. But It Will Be Diverse and Different 

The promise of increased future ethnic diversity is undoubtedly true, but often the statistical projections are both misleading and obscure the real issues.

Each Population Census asks the respondents’ ethnicity. That is not their race, which is a genetic notion. Ethnicity is a social construction, self-assigned and subjective. One politician promised to call himself a Pacific Islander on the basis he was born in the Pacific island of New Zealand. Not all of part-Maori descent describe themselves as of Maori ethnicity. Not all of Maori ethnicity are of part-Maori descent.

Moreover, about half of those that say they are of Maori ethnicity say they are also of another ethnicity – most often European. It is common to ignore this and prioritise. Those who say they are Maori and something else are called ‘Maori’ in the prioritised statistics which is insulting to them because it ignores their specific desire. Of the remainder, those who say they are Pasifika are so classified (unless they also say they are Maori in which case they are classified as Maori) even if they give another ethnicity. Among the remainder, Asian is prioritised over European (or Pakeha).

The last Census was further complicated by those who said they were ‘New Zealanders’, which is not strictly an ethnicity, although exactly what we mean by the term is unclear.

Maori is probably a comprehensive category (although many are keen to mention their iwi too). Neither Pasifika nor Asia is a single ethnicity but groupings of them. Admittedly there may be historic ties between, say, Samoans and Tongans, but Chinese and Indians are very different peoples and the various South-East Asian communities would want to distinguish themselves from the two biggies.

It is foolish to try to predict the evolution of these communities with any precision, especially as individuals may reassign their ethnicities between censuses, while who can tell how the children of inter-ethnic marriages will describe themselves?

I should not be surprised if asked in today’s way, many nineteenth century ‘Europeans’ would have classified themselves as ‘English’, ‘Irish’ or ‘Scots’, a distinction which has largely died.

We cannot rule out new ethnic categories. Those who say they are both Maori and Pakeha may be an evolving one, except they have no ethnic community. Some ethnicities may die out. I shan’t be surprised if in a couple of generations some of the Pacific Islanders from smaller islands are unable to maintain their identity by endogenous marriage and become clans in a wider Pasifika ethnicity.

So our ethnic future is very uncertain. The current projections are misleading, except for saying that things will be very different. While you, like me, may be almost entirely of British descent the likelihood is that among your great-grandchildren and great-great-grand ones there will be those with ancestors from other parts of the world.

Ethnicity is not the only dimension of diversity. The trend has been towards a more secular society, with an increasing proportion of New Zealanders not registering any religion (although that may be no less spiritual). Non-Christian religions are small but increasingly common. In the last census 89,000 described themselves as Hindu, 58,000 as Buddhist and 46,000 as Muslim. They are all up a shade on the previous census, while the numbers who describe themselves as Christian (1.9 million) or Maori Christian (53,000) are down. (There are about 7,000 Jews.)

Because there is a bit of anxiety about terrorism, I add that the vast majority of New Zealand Muslims are as peaceable and socially constructive as the vast majority of Christians. The best defence we have against terrorism is ensuring they are an integral part of New Zealand society, while accepting they are different and not imposing any narrow values on them. (David Farrar provides a thoughtful review of kinds of Muslims.) But it is not solely for Muslims we need to do this. The same challenge applies to every ethnicity, every religion and to other dimensions of diversity too. 

There is another way of looking at our future rather than through mechanical projections. We can, if we wish, make our own ethnic future. To do so we need to be tolerant and responsive to diversity, to celebrate with others’ communities. We are already on the way. The Chinese celebrate their New Year, the Indians Diwali. Those from other ethnic communities who go to these celebrations outnumber the Chinese or Indians. That sort of engagement, together with a comfortable acceptance of intermarriage and the diverse blends it creates, offers a promisingly diverse and uniquely New Zealand ethnic future.

 

Comments (9)

by Raymond A Francis on December 01, 2015
Raymond A Francis

Which is why I put New Zealander.

Because I am a mixture ( like most people ) with splash of Maori, a fair lump of Scot with the rattle of convict chains, Portugese, and English who gave us our family name even though it came from a Great Grandmother 

And then as my mother said "It is a wise child who knows his father"

by Fentex on December 01, 2015
Fentex

That is not their race, which is a genetic notion

Ethnicity is something you inherit from family and location, race is something assigned to you by other people. Take Caucasian for example, a term invented in the eighteenth century to mean "people I like more than those I don't" by Christoph Meiners. It encompasses tall, blond Scandanavians, average dark hairded Germans and short, broad red header Celts - essentially everyone west of the Caucases.

It's purpose is basically to say "Not Asian, African or really dark and odd to me".

Is a person who looks "white" and is one eighth Bantu "Black" or "White" (African or European, Bantu or Caucasian)? It depends on who decides, who assigns you your "Race".

Some citizens of the U.S.A speak of the "American Race" to put a stark example on the matter and are people who would say my one eighth Bantu example is Black.

Race is not about genetics, it's about other peoples classification of you based on your appearance. Genetics are far, far too complex and indeterminate to honestly have such stratified assertions blamed on them.

who said they were ‘New Zealanders’, which is not strictly an ethnicity

Ethnicity is about groups, rarely self selected but usually inherited by custom or location. I think what is essentially a self selected group of protesters hardly counts as one, but it's indicative of a disagreement about what group others are trying to tell you you belong to.

Calling me European in anyway annoys the hell out of me. I've lived and worked in Europe and I know I'm not European.

It's an example of an uncomfortable collision of what is meant by ethnicity and race - confusing appearance with culture, inheritance with loyalty, history with agreement.

by Lee Churchman on December 02, 2015
Lee Churchman

The only reasonable thing to do is to oppose the idea of ethnicity itself. The existentialists were right in that ethnicities aren't rationally respectable concepts, and Rawls was right in that nobody ought to be compelled to recognise ethnicity other than in terms of non-interference rights. 

by Brian Easton on December 02, 2015
Brian Easton

That is helpful, Raymond. You say your responded in terms of your ancestry. Like just about everyone we are all of mixed descent, which makes 'race' such a difficult concept to use.

As I explained, for a social scientist ethnicity is not racial, but some sort of social ascription. 

I only use the term 'New Zealander' for myself when I want to distinguish the country I come from, as (with indignation in the Northern Hemisphere) 'I am not an Australian but a NZer'.

I do not use the term for internal purposes because I want to recognise the cultural diversity that exists here. There is a danger that 'NZer' by itself could exclude those New Zealanders (that is, who live in this country) but are also proud of and responsive to their Maori, Pasifika, Asian or whatever cultural identity as well.

My preferred ethnic identity as a person of European ancestry and largely belonging to that community  is 'Pakeha' (the term used in Te Tiriti o Waitangi). I acknowledge there is an ambiguity here because sometimes it means 'non-Maori' and so could include other ethnic communities. My writing is careful to make the distinction. 



by Alan Johnstone on December 02, 2015
Alan Johnstone

Can someone please explain to me why this information is collated or what it is used for ?

One of the things I've retained from the lapsed socialism of my youth is that we are all citizens with equal rights and responsibilities. I prefer the concept of community to communities. 

 

by Fentex on December 02, 2015
Fentex

Can someone please explain to me why this information is collated or what it is used for ?

This is a thing which bugs me too. Collating information by 'ethnicity' is perpetuating an assumption that's useful.

But I suspect often it's more likely peoples, and their parents, education is relevant to the statistics needed for policy formulation (the targeting of public resources for efficacy and efficiency).

Obviously plenty of people think rac... er, ethnicity is a major factor in peoples situation and outcomes, even though they presumably wish it were not so, and feel compelled to model the reality in data.

Which is a presumption then carried into data, modeling, planning and policy. So if true it's never going to go away, is it?

by Antoine on December 02, 2015
Antoine

The comment that "The best defence we have against terrorism is ensuring [Muslims] are an integral part of New Zealand society, while accepting they are different and not imposing any narrow values on them" is particularly unreassuring.

Are you saying that if we don't ensure that Muslims are an integral part of NZ society, or don't accept that Muslims are different, or impose narrow values on them, they will terrorise us?

A.

by Antoine on December 02, 2015
Antoine

> Obviously plenty of people think rac... er, ethnicity is a major factor in peoples situation and outcomes, even though they presumably wish it were not so, and feel compelled to model the reality in data.

> Which is a presumption then carried into data, modeling, planning and policy. So if true it's never going to go away, is it?

I think one application is to identify problems for which being of a particular ethnicity (ie Maori or 'Pacific Islander') is a risk factor, and target the mitigations for those problems at those ethnicities. The intention presumably being, to lower the incidence of the problem (whatever it is) among that ethnicity, to a level more similar to that among the general population.

Which seems like a reasonable and constructive thing to do.

Stats NZ publishes quite a bit of information on how and why it measures ethnicity, and the problems that arise.

A.

by Antoine on December 02, 2015
Antoine

> Which is why I put New Zealander.

Increasingly frequently, people report their ethnicity as 'New Zealander'. This is a problem for Stats NZ as it does not actually tell them what they want to know.

See http://policyprojects.ac.nz/jarrodcordier/background/ for more on this. I quote: "the census response of ‘New Zealander’ had quietly arisen as an ethnicity response in 1981 and increased from 90,000 to a massive 400,000 between 2001 and 2006.New Zealander currently stands as the third largest ethnic group in New Zealand. Statistics New Zealand currently counts all ‘New Zealanders’ as ‘New Zealand Europeans’.

A.

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