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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Act's race card a vile play

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Jamie Whyte's speech was an absurdity. Photo / Natalie Slade
Jamie Whyte's speech was an absurdity. Photo / Natalie Slade

During the two-and-a-half years that it will feel like between now and the general election on September 20, we will be treated to all manner of absurdity. As a philosophy lecturer, Act leader Jamie Whyte should be something of an expert in this field.

But, unusually for his profession, his key competence appears to be in perpetrating it, which he did this week with a speech on race that should be in the textbooks on absurdity under the heading: "Woah — here's a doozy!"

While the real politicians spent the week playing Political Blind Date — "Oh yeah, Winston, nah, I could definitely see myself with him." "Colin Craig? Ewwwww!" — Whyte played the race card.

Not the least absurd thing about his speech was that it recycled the tactic that failed so spectacularly for Don Brash. Of course, Brash did it to get some political notice when his party was in the doldrums. It succeeded in the short term but helped finish him off in the long term.

If Whyte were a historian rather than a philosopher, he might have noticed that.

His theme was the canard that New Zealand has a race-based legal system that is unjust. If this misinterpretation is deliberate it's heinous. If it's not, it's naive.

To give his ramblings any attention is to walk into his attention-seeking trap, but statements such as this from someone who would lead the country cannot be let lie, because there is still a significant number of people who will believe them.


Did you know that 'many Maori are
better off, better educated and in
better health than many Pakeha'?
Well, how dare they be!

Whyte derided David Cunliffe's "sorry for being a man" as an example of Labour's appalling acceptance of the principle of collective responsibility, as opposed to Act's belief in personal responsibility.

These are not mutually exclusive concepts. A white male can "personally" go out of his way not to perpetrate racism or sexism, but he will "collectively" share in the benefits of racism and sexism in our society when it comes to renting a house or getting a job ahead of that woman or that Maori. You don't need a philosophy degree to work that out.

The speech was a colourful tapestry of innuendo and hyperbole. For fans of absurdity, there were rich pickings but we have space to enjoy only a few. Did you know that "many Maori are better off, better educated and in better health than many Pakeha"? Well, how dare they be! The answer to the question "how many?" might be illuminating.

To illustrate his argument about race-based privilege, Whyte asked us to consider the notion that Japanese women are allowed to erect barriers on roads and charge for them to be used.

This, he says, is what the RMA does for Maori and is unfair.

And the analogy would be bang-on if the Japanese women were a colonised minority.

Then there was the reference to the view that healthy cultures are dynamic and evolve.

"Evolve" is a bit of a loaded word when it comes to race, as I'm sure Whyte knows.

What a shame that Maori, being stuck in the Stone Age, won't be able to read his speech and buck up their act.

To be fair, that wasn't absurd, strictly speaking. It was just vile.

But let's be constructive in our criticism and offer one piece of advice: even though I'm sure it's true, when you're putting the boot into Maori, never, ever use the phrase: "I have Maori friends."

According to his Wikipedia biography, Whyte's specialties at Cambridge included the nature of truth and belief.

With his speech to the Waikato Conference, he stretched one and beggared the other.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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