In the last few weeks, prejudice seems to have crept out of the dark corners of society again.
Two recent and well-publicised instances have shown the many forms that intolerance and bigotry can take — as well as illustrating the ways in which, even the framing of the debate, can be constrained by history and untested assumptions.
In the first instance, another Pakeha man has voiced the usual tired and racist rants against Maori, with little variation on the old colonising view of our basic inferiority.
In the second case, the noted rugby player Israel Folau reached into the same colonising-sourced rhetoric, and condemned gay people to some mysterious place called “hell”.
The public and social media reaction was swift, and often encouraging, with the racist comments being quickly deleted — banished to the unbidden and embarrassing reaches of colonising disdain.
However, there’s no doubt that similar comments will be made in the future, as long as this country stumbles in the mistaken belief that colonisation (and its racism) is a relic of the past rather than a continuing presence.
The condemnation of LGBT people was similarly and quickly denounced by many people, and, perhaps surprisingly to some, by two All Black halfbacks. TJ Perenara’s rebuke, in particular, has been rightly praised — and his comment, that “Polynesia has been sexually diverse since forever”, was a timely reminder of a cultural and historical truth that is still too often denied in a Once-Were-Missionary type redefining of ancient Pacific realities.
Most of the early missionaries across the Pacific were like those in New Zealand, who the historian Michael Sorrenson once described as being so determined to remove anything they thought was “obnoxious, obscene and inhuman”, that they did not attempt to record “the Maori notions (but) attempted to stamp them out”.
Obnoxiousness was always in the eyes of the colonising beholder, of course, and like the many navigators and anthropologists and politicians who set themselves up as experts on us, they redefined or dismissed what they disliked or saw as threats to their power.
Most often, that meant a redefining of fundamental relationship values, which resulted, for example, in the subordination of Maori women, who were thus caught in both a sexist and racist trap of lesser worth.
At other times, it occurred through equally violent and pious pronouncements about the sin and immorality of those such as LGBT people, who were deemed to be, at best, obnoxious, and at worst, beyond “saving”.
Throughout the Pacific, we are still obviously burdened with that legacy.