Why can’t we all just call ourselves New Zealanders?

Oh God this question is annoying. As a Pakeha New Zealander it’s also a bit embarrassing.

Partly it’s annoying because I use Census ethnicity data a lot. But this is not the reason why I think the question, in itself, is wrong.

So here we go:

  1. ‘New Zealander’ is a nationality. It’s not an ethnicity. Nationality is about citizenship. Yes! We can all call ourselves New Zealanders. Whoop-de-doo! But the term says nothing at all about an individual’s ethnicity. If you answer ‘New Zealander’ to a question about ethnicity, then you are not answering the actual question asked of you.
  2. Now, ethnicity is not about citizenship. Ethnicity is about social identity. To say you are a member of an ethnic group is to say you share something in common with that group of people, such as language, cultural practices, customs, worldviews, and religious or spiritual belief.
  3. Saying ‘we should all just call ourselves New Zealanders’ in place of identifying with an ethnic group, is saying to people whose ethnic identity may be at the core of their existence – “Give up your ties to your heritage, your culture, your ancestors, and so much more, so I can believe we live in a harmonious society, where we all just ‘get along'”

And you know why this is embarrassing? It’s embarrassing because most of those who identify as New Zealander are Pakeha!

Let’s take Maori just as one example of an ethnic group whose identity is suppressed by this question. European settlers confiscated Maori lands, te reo was almost wiped out, Maori were even denied benefit and pension payments equal to Pakeha! (I really can’t begin to do this list justice.)

Why, why, would you now want to deny Maori their very identity?

We are not one culture. We are many cultures. I am very proud to tick NZ European / Pakeha on my Census form.

Edit: Corrected a few typos and grammatical errors.


7 thoughts on “Why can’t we all just call ourselves New Zealanders?

  1. I think you make an excellent point here. However, my only critique is that there is no reason that NZer can not *also* be an ethnicity. I in no way want anyone to feel any obligation to ascribe to this ethnicity – as you said, ethnicity is a social identity. But I wouldn’t want to suggest that people can’t see NZer as their ethnicity…

  2. Thanks for your comment Mark. What, in your view, do people in this ‘New Zealander’ ethnic group have in common that makes the group distinct from other ethnic groups in New Zealand?

    That is, if you accept that to say you are a member of an ethnic groups is to say you share something in common with others in that group.

  3. Mark, I understand ‘Chinese New Zealander’ and ‘Samoan Australian’ but ‘New Zealander New Zealander’ seems a bit odd don’t you think? I’m proud to be a Pakeha New Zealander. Not European, not anything else.

  4. Why is it that New Zealander is only a nationality, and not an ethnicity, but we treat Chinese (a nationality) as an ethnicity, when we may mean Han (or Han Chinese), which is not co-incident with Chinese?

    Stats NZ considers Australian an ethnicity. If them, why not New Zealanders? etc. The vast majority of basic level ethnicities recognised in New Zealand are also nationalities.

  5. Would New Zealander be considered an ethnicity or a nationality in Australia or America? Genuine question. I’m unsure.

    As an aside, I don’t tend to defer to Statistics New Zealand’s classification decisions as quickly as some others might do, especially those decisions that define social identity. The ethnic classification only goes down four levels (for good reason) – but really couldn’t the levels be almost endless?

  6. Something else that’s interesting…

    I’m not sure if this paper was finalised, but this draft version from Statistics NZ suggests grouping those who tick ‘New Zealander’ with ‘European’ for official statistics. So if someone does write ‘New Zealander’, they are counted as European New Zealanders (as 9 in 10 of them actually are).

    See Section 2.7.4.

    “Another proposed change is to include ‘New Zealander’ responses in the ‘European’ branch of the classification that is used to report the statistics. This would ensure that the statistics remain consistent over time, and would address the growing inconsistency between the ‘European’ and ‘Other Ethnicity’ categories in the census and other sources of ethnicity statistics (such as birth registrations).”

    There is also an interesting discussion about nationality and ethnicity in that paper.

    I was just looking again at the Stats NZ ethnicity classification. It seems that Stats NZ classify the response ‘Australian’ as an (non-NZ) European ethnic group, and Australian Aboriginal as a Pacific ethnic group. Similar in some ways to how they address the ‘New Zealander’ response.

  7. “I am very proud to tick NZ European / Pakeha on my Census form.”
    You’d probably classify me as “NZ European / Pakeha”, too, if you met me. But I can think of friends who share my “language, cultural practices, customs, worldviews, and religious or spiritual belief” to a very great degree, but who have no ancestors from Europe at all (unless, perhaps, you trace their ancestry back to the time of Alexander the Great, or something). What are they meant to put on the census form? And why should they be classified differently from me, when they share all those things with me?

    I thought too much about the way Stats NZ described “ethnicity”, and ended up putting “Protestant” as one of my ethnicities, because it seemed to fit the definition as well as anything else.

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