Friday, 19 May 2017

On Paula Morris, Liberal Outrage, and White Guilt

Paula Morris, for those who do not know (and there are many who have demonstrated to me that they don’t) is an accomplished Māori novelist and short story writer. She is a keen advocate for Māori and Pasifika writers. Her stories often feature Māori characters as the protagonists, for example, Emma Paupere in one of her early novels, Hibiscus Coast. She teaches creative writing at the University of Auckland alongside the amazing and influential poet, Selina Tusitala Marsh. She recently launched the Academy of New Zealand Literature alongside Patricia Grace, Alan Duff, Witi Ihimaera, Albert Wendt, and many others Māori and Pasifika writers. Recently she received a substantial grant for the A Thousand and One Nights project, which she is presenting a talk for as part of the Auckland Writers’ Festival. That project involved her visiting high schools throughout South Auckland and talking to youth who were exploring their own worldviews and community stories through the art of writing. Morris, who is an occasional commentator for liberal magazine The Spinoff, decided she would reflect on this experience by way of an article in said magazine. She spent a lot of time away in the United States, and she brought a feeling of ‘alienation’ from New Zealand through in her story. She honestly reflected on her time talking to those students and the things she learned about her city and the generation of school children succeeding hers (and indeed my own).

Think that sounds nice? Did you get the sense Morris was a kind person who wanted to help young people tell their stories? Well, to the many liberals who came out of the woodwork to express their angry faux-outrage, she was secretly a racist who demonstrated her lack of ‘cultural responsivity’ or whatever buzzword they pulled out this time. Oh yes, one by one, the usual race hucksters on Twitter emerged to call her all sorts of mad, bizarrely out-of-tune metaphors and turns of phrase. Funny how it is always, always the same combination of self-appointed Pacific Island ‘community representatives’ policing everyone else and calling detractors out for their betrayal and treason, flanked on all sides by white liberals, only there to gain self-sustaining allyship points to appease their by-now extraordinarily neurotic guilty consciences.

First Paula Morris was diagnosed as a “white voyeur”, which was probably the one comment that actually upset me. Morris is a light-skin woman with Māori ancestry, just as I am a light-skin person with Polynesian ancestry. The culture police always goes for the jugular first; calling you ‘white’ if you dare to disagree with them or fail on their bureaucratic ‘culturally responsive’ balance sheets, and to top it off you don’t match their level of melanin (or maybe even if you do). When they found out she in fact could not be called ‘white’ – it was discursively inappropriate – the focus suspiciously shifted to “poverty tourism”. Apparently, according to the cultural police, Morris was just pimping out the kids she talked to and helped teach by writing about them; it was all for a good story. Next it was that she was “silencing their voices” – whether they were ‘brown’ voices – a bizarre comment – or children’s. (I thought that was part of a teacher’s job, to be proud of the work of their classroom and the learning, independence and progress they have demonstrated?). Then it looped back to her writing being too “white-passing,” because it was now irrelevant (and, of course, inconvenient) that she was Māori. Yes. Never mind the ultimate hypocrisy and racism of this statement; it was her authorial voice that became the new spectre of whiteness.

This level of argument is utterly brain-dead and just goes to show how low liberals are willing to stoop to make their stupid, incoherent points about ‘cultural’ injustice. It need not be said. I felt that at many stages of the angry debate I had to have on Twitter reminding people what we were arguing about – the utterly benign account of a Māori writer detailing her experiences teaching writing and talking to pupils at a school! My goodness! And yet, the level of personal attacks were unprecedented, off-the-scale mismatched with the grade of offences Morris had apparently committed in writing this. In the last twenty-four or so hours she has been ordered to apologise, retract what she said, and/or tell The Spinoff to remove the story. One outragee had the audacity to tell me that this was simply ‘critique’ – but when I objected that this was in fact more than critique, and was actually censorship, Morris’ detractors turned on me and said I was ‘speaking over their critique’. What? How is being anti-censorship ‘speaking over your critique’? Yet this is the utter inanity of today’s New Zealand Twitter liberals. Because they have never had to sustain a coherent argument for a long time, relying on tired clichés of ‘go away whitey’, they simply have forgotten the art. They retreat to type when threatened (and it doesn’t take much to threaten them), which is a truly unconvincing performance of the eternal victim, despite the fact they are mostly all comfortable, middle-class morons. “My voice is being taken away!”, they wail – as if I was physically muffling them by pointing out that Paula Morris is a Māori writer who doesn’t deserve such abuse. The hyperbole and hypocrisy was absolutely unbelievable.

Someone subtweeted me in response to my comment that this was coming from the ‘pseudo-left’, “What the heck is a pseudo-left?” What a wonderful opportunity to explain. The ‘pseudo-left’ is my term for liberals who believe that they have a commitment to ‘leftist’ or ‘progressive’ politics but are actually left-wing in name only. They say they are socialist, but more likely they are weak social democrats who more often talk about diversifying the elite strata of society than they do actually helping the working class, the poor, and the lumpenproletariat from ever escaping their immiseration. They say they are for the working class, but they never miss an opportunity – and this includes self-styled ‘Marxist’ social democrats like Giovanni Tiso – to attack socialists and Marxists of any colour or background. Now this is the most hypocritical gesture of them all. If you are a self-identifying white person on Twitter, you only have to behave like a bootlicker ‘ally’ if you are talking to sassy, straight-talking diversity-liberals. White liberals utter patronising drivel like, “oh, I am so very unable to understand your perspective and your worldview and your culture. It is completely out of place for me to say anything further.” But to Marxists like me, even Polynesian ones, who have no time for liberal beating around the bush and who routinely expose the hypocrisy of the ego wracked by white guilt, they have nothing but scorn and nastiness. This is not only pseudo-leftist disavowal but what I call the “institutional white-guilt ego complex” in action. The guilty white ego only links up in alliance relationships when it suits them to. Dissenters are treated with pity or revulsion. Ironically, this façade of partial allyship ends up being a patronising form of racism – and the self-appointed ‘cultural’ representatives take part in it, fully indulge in it and are quite happy to reinforce it, because it simultaneously boosts their social capital and their invulnerability to criticism.

Now, I had one tiny issue with Paula Morris’ piece, but, funnily enough, it is an issue that I also have with the diversity liberals. Morris claims that Samoan kids living in New Zealand are luckier than their Samoan counterparts who live in cold fale without walls or many possessions (and may I add that it seems interesting that many of the Samoan commentators would want to keep that fact hidden). She adds that they are lucky to live in Otahuhu, one of the poorest suburbs in Auckland and indeed in the whole of New Zealand. I disagree with this kind of reasoning. Kids who live in poverty, no matter how abject, should not feel warm and fuzzy inside when confronted with a worse situation than theirs. This is totally depoliticising. What Morris should have seen is the opportunity for unity here – the Samoan diaspora in New Zealand and the Samoans back home, like every other proletarian, are exploited by capitalism, and this is why Samoans in New Zealand tend to have generally lower socio-economic positions than others. And Samoa itself has been affected by various waves of colonialism which have wounded their people; they now take part in an economy that ultimately works to the disadvantage of the entire Pacific Islands (barring of course Australia and New Zealand). I critique Morris for this, but of course, the diversity liberals would not have seen this problem within their circular, incoherent range of critique. They were criticising her because she was committing a kind of malevolent appropriation we are now used to hearing about, a kind of theft, of children’s ‘voices’ – by using her relatively powerful position to let those voices be heard, she was (somehow) depriving them of that very voice. Not a word from those outraged liberals about what Morris actually said about poverty! Not a word about the writing those children had been working on!

The vitriol advanced against Morris by the culture police and their self-identified white liberal helpers brings into even sharper relief the ultimate fatuousness of their claims. They claim that Morris ‘silences voices’ while doing their best to silence hers – and, as she is representing the children she worked with tomorrow at the Writers’ Festival, this means they are effectively trying to bully her out of sharing those stories her and those children worked on. They are totally unaware of their hypocrisy, yet they speak with total authority and sincerity when they utter meaningless dross like “Morris used a voice that was white-passing”. Indeed, what are the responses we can expect from this blog post you are currently reading? Alex Birchall is a white liberal racist (sorry to disappoint, but I am not any of those terms). When that moment of gleeful enjoyment in insulting me is denied them, I expect we will see some monumentally awful take like “Alex Birchall exploits the working class”, because, of course, I write about it so obsessively, just as Morris has written about her experiences in poverty-stricken communities. Or, to demonstrate their true racist colours, they might say Alex Birchall is ‘culturally irresponsible’ or ‘illiterate’. To top it all off, when they have nothing left, they may just finish with the zinger that Alex Birchall is ‘white-passing’. Note that the string connecting all of these remarks is that they are all personal attacks, some of which have very rotten implications indeed. Simple, naïve ad hominem to divert attention from the fact that their comments are mistaken and they have no acceptable response. Humbly admitting one is wrong is the worst thing one can do on social media. Because it means giving up the social capital that comes with being a self-appointed authoritative representative on ‘culture’.