Verity Johnson: PC or not PC, that is the question for this Kiwi

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Winston Peters. Photo / Richard Robinson
Winston Peters. Photo / Richard Robinson

Politics is like sex; everyone likes to think they're good at it.

Everyone thinks they alone understand how to sort out school performance, milk powder exports and how much Mrs Perkins should catch the midtown bus for.

So when a politician makes an inflammatory remark - thanks Winston - your workplace, local cafe and your living room tears into rabid factions. Was it offensive? Was it good politics? Did you see what they were wearing?!

At school, because I believed in Maori seats I was a communist. At uni, because I think Rihanna should occasionally wear knickers, I'm a feminist. At home, because I like composting orange peel, I'm a hippie. People love to label others.

But above all, I am called PC.

The situation goes something like this. I say: "Did you hear (racially dubious thing) that (morally dubious person) said on TV? I think that's kinda inappropriate."

Then half the group will say: "God, you're so PC! They're just not afraid to tell it like it is!"

If there is a contentious issue, you can guarantee "PC" will be lobbed at the person who had the gall to be offended.

PC is a potent phrase. It implies the person is too weak to be honest about the situation. They don't have the courage to "tell it like it is". They're cowards. No, they're dishonest cowards. No, they're weak, easily manipulated, dishonest cowards.

This is not a light insult. Everyone hates thinking they're weak-minded or timid. But it's not just that, it's that honesty, straight-talking and strength are integral parts of the New Zealand character. We pride ourselves on our tough, reliable honest Kiwiness.

So labelling someone PC implies on a subconscious level that we're not really part of Team NZ. Team NZ tells it like it is, bro.

But in my mind, the strongest "Kiwi" cultural trait is egalitarianism. We're a country that stands up for the individual. We don't like people picking on each other, and we certainly don't like fellow Kiwis being picked on.

So back to the PC insult. In my experience people who call others PC are often Pakeha.

When Paul Henry said that the Governor-General didn't really look like a Kiwi, absolutely none of my Indian-Kiwi friends thought it was PC to be offended. If you check the blogosphere after Winston's "two Wongs" comment, you'll find Chinese-Kiwis who don't think their offence is just political correctness.

New Zealand is a multicultural country - 1 in 4 New Zealanders were born overseas. One of the biggest growing demographics are new Kiwis, second- or 1.5-generation migrants who were born here, or have lived here since they were the size of a bag of potatoes.

The Chinese-Kiwis, Indian-Kiwis, Filipino-Kiwis ... they're the new face of New Zealand.

I don't think it's smart politics to alienate the face of the future New Zealand. But I would say that, wouldn't I? I'm an immigrant. And a knit-your-own quinoa leftie.

But it's not even a question of being politically savvy. I read an excellent piece, on the excellently titled Mashed Calculus and Differential Potatoes blog, by the excellent Andrew Chen. He was talking about how race-based policy, and Winston Peters' remarks, made him feel uncomfortable as a Taiwanese-Kiwi.

And he's not alone in feeling this way. Act deputy leader Kenneth Wang said the comments weren't funny to the Chinese New Zealand community.

Andrew is part of new New Zealand. He is just as much a Kiwi as you are, your parents are, and your grandparents are. He's probably more Kiwi than I am - I moved at 13, he was born here.

The Chinese-Kiwi community are clearly upset. Of course other groups are too, but let's just focus on this one for now. If these guys are upset, that means fellow Kiwis are being picked on. We're supposed to be an egalitarian country. Why are we even questioning whether this is acceptable?

This brings me back to being PC. Because it looks to me like being PC means standing up for fellow Kiwis when they feel hurt. Being PC isn't betraying Kiwi identity; it's embodying it.

Being called PC means you are standing up for someone. It means you're not afraid to be called names for what's right. It means you aren't afraid of the truth.

Never be ashamed of being called PC. We should be PC and proud.

- NZ Herald

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