Speaking Truth to Racism

Last Friday I received an email in my private email from someone called John Langford with the subject line ‘Attached Image Sir Robert Jones’. The email as below also stated ‘Please acknowledge receipt’. Even though the email signature noted a law firm this kind of subject line always raises issues in terms of the  potential for viruses spread by attachments from unknown and untrusted email accounts. So I left it for some time and then decided to do an online search to see who John Langford is before opening the attachment.

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Once I confirmed that Langford Law actually exists I opened the attachment. I have decided to share the attachment for reasons I will discuss below. So here is the letter from John Langford, a lawyer representing Bob Jones.

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It is noted in both the email and the letter that I need to acknowledge receipt. I am guessing this is some legal habit  as I do not know John Langford, I never asked him to contact me – so why exactly is there some expectation that I would respond? Seems strange to me. I actually get many such emails, some naïve, some entitled, some rude, some racist, some misogynist, some homophobic, some abusive, nearly all by white men and nearly all demand that I must respond. Then there is the general view within the letter that the “matter” is in my hands. That I somehow must take responsibility for resolving the issues that have been created by the statements made by Bob Jones. Interesting, the sense of entitlement that exists within such underpinning assumptions.

So, having reflected on this email for the past few days, and discussing options with friends and whānau I began to read papers and discussions related to what is known internationally as SLAPP: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPP is not new,  it is a process by which wealthy individuals, corporations or organisations use the threat of litigation to silence opposition. The Public Participation Project define SLAPP as follows:

SLAPP = Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.  These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.

SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits.  SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice.  Rather, SLAPPS are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.

SLAPPs are effective because even a meritless lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend.  To end or prevent a SLAPP, those who speak out on issues of public interest frequently agree to muzzle themselves, apologize, or “correct” statements.

Sourcewatch provide an overview of some such cases in Aotearoa on their site.

What we are seeing in Aotearoa is clearly a use of legal threat and actions to silence the calling out of racism, with ‘defamation’ as the legal strategy being used as justification. The key focus in this email is that the term ‘racist’ used as a descriptor for Bob Jones as a result of his long history of racist comments about Māori is defamatory. It seems that for something to be defamatory it must be untrue.  That is clearly not my view. I use the term only when I believe it to be my honest and truthful opinion. A key part of that aligns to the definitions of racism that inform my understandings, for example:

Racism is promulgated on a number of fronts. Definitions of racism include “a mix of prejudice, power, ideology, stereotypes, domination, dis- parities and/or unequal treatment” (Berman & Paradies, 2010, p. 228). Fundamental to racism is an ideology of inferiority, promoted by social norms and institutions. These features constitute what Galtung (1969) has referred to as “structural violence” and provide a substrate upon which relational forms are perpetrated and experienced. Paradies and Williams (2008) suggest that racism operates at overlapping levels that can usefully be delineated as societal, institutional, interpersonal and internalised. Societal racism is constituted in the cultural ambience produced by the entrenched social orders and includes the values, epistemologies, norms and sensibilities that attach to hegemonic power.

Moewaka Barnes, A., Taiapa, K. Borell, B., 
 McCreanor, T, (2013) Māori Experiences And Responses To Racism In Aotearoa New Zealand, MAI Journal, 2(2), 63–77. (http://www.journal.mai.ac.nz/sites/default/files/MAI%20Journal%20Vol.2_2%20pages%2063-77%20Moewaka%20Barnes%20et%20al..pdf)

Racism is a complex system, based on an ideology of inferiority and superiority, that drives the categorization of people by race/ethnicity and structures opportunity according to those categorizations, resulting in the inequitable distribution of power, goods and resources in society (Ahmed, Mohammed, & Williams, 2007; Jones, 2002; Paradies, 2006b). Racism is enacted via discriminatory institutional and individual practices (racial discrimination) and varies in form and type (Krieger, 2000). Its manifestations are embedded in particular social, political and historical contexts. In New Zealand, this context includes colonization, and related processes of dispossession and marginalization for indigenous peoples, which are reflected in entrenched unequal power relations in contemporary New Zealand society (Robson & Harris, 2007).

Harris, R., Cormack, D., Tobias, M. Yeh, L. Talamaivao, N., Minister, J.,Timutimu, R., (2012) The pervasive effects of racism: Experiences of racial discrimination in New Zealand over time and associations with multiple health domains Social Science & Medicine 74 Issue 3. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.11.004)

Racism has many faces. Some of them may be veiled others frankly overt- unmasked. These faces may be grouped into three main forms-personal racism, cultural racism and institutional racism.Personal racism affects individuals or groups. It occurs when people of one group are seen as inferior to another because of skin colour or ethnic origin. It belongs to those situations in which an individual is directly diminished or discriminated against on grounds of race. In our country as in others, it may be manifested in jokes, disparaging comment and prejudiced attitudes. It may occur in rental housing, unequal distribution of opportunity and in our classrooms. Personal racism is the form that cuts most keenly at individual people. It is the variety that diminishes a person in their own eyes. It attacks the fount of personal identity and destroys a sense of self worth, as well as denying the indigenous person access to resources and opportunities in the larger society.Cultural racism is less obvious than the more open areas of prejudice between individuals. It is entrenched philosophy and beliefs. Its most obvious form in New Zealand is in the assumption that Pakeha culture, lifestyle and values are superior to those of other New Zealand cultures, notably those of Maori and Polynesian people.

It is rooted in the 19th century heritage of unshakeable belief in the cultural superiority of Europeans. It is a direct inheritance of colonialism and imperialism, and embodied in the ethos of the dominant group and thence the mind of the individual within the group. Without challenge and change this is transmitted to successive generations in the pre-school stage of development and becomes a recurrent theme in subsequent socialisation. Despite the fact that tenets of Pakeha culture become fractured, eroded or obsolete (for example the nature of family, the role of marriage and the position of women) the assumptions of cultural superiority persist.

One of the most pervasive forms of cultural racism is the assumption that Pakeha values, beliefs and systems are “normal”. This places Maori values, beliefs and systems in the category of “exotic”. Provision for Maori cultural preference thus become an “extra”. That which sees provision for Maoritanga as anything other than a normal ingredient of our national culture is essentially culturally racist. However, the most damaging aspect of cultural racism is the underlying notion of superiority. It is seldom overtly stated in modern New Zealand, but it is constantly implied in advertising, in education and in the marketplace. One of the ways in which this parcel of attitudes impacts on Maori culture is that the power culture, because it has the authority of “superiority”, takes to itself the right to select those aspects of Maoritanga it wants to use or include in general New Zealand culture.

New Zealand. Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare, & Rangihau, John Te Rangi-Aniwaniwa. (2001). Puao-te-ata-tu Day break : The report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori perspective for the Department of Social Welfare. Wellington: Govt. Print. (https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/archive/1988-puaoteatatu.pdf)

Racism describes both ideological beliefs and practices arising from the assumed superiority and inferiority of particular races. It can take many different forms, but the most common are individual and institutional racism. The first refers to the manifestation of negative stereotypes about characteristics of particular races by an individual (Rizvi 1993). Institutional racism brings together prejudice and power, describing a situation where a powerful group enforces beliefs about particular racial characteristics through privileged control over social institutions. These beliefs, in turn, serve to underpin the power of the group in control…

Racism as ideology becomes hegemonic when it supports social relations based on domination and exploitation, enabling people to make sense of their everyday experiences and cultural practices as if they were natural.

Lee, J. ( 2007) Jade Taniwha: Māori-Chinese Identity and Schooling. Auckland: Rautaki, pp29-30).

Within Aotearoa, racism informs and frames those discourses which actively demean, undermine and stereotype Māori and those that articulate views that Māori are socially, physically, culturally, and biologically inferior to Pākehā based on notions of Pākeha cultural, social, physical, and biological superiority. These assertions are, in my opinion, evident within the views of Bob Jones, and the racist demeaning comments made in relation to Māori cultural practices, Māori language, Māori people.  These belief systems and oppressive ideologies also manifest in the institutional, systemic racism that denies our rangatiratanga, marginalises the place of te reo and tikanga Māori in Aotearoa, reproduces inequities in education, creates disparities in access to health care, informs systemic racism in the police and courts which see the over-incarceration of Māori people. The list goes on.

What is clear is that the threat of lawsuits is a tool being used as a means of silencing responses that challenge his views of our people. What is clear is that no matter how many suits he threatens or he files against those who stand up against the vitriolic attacks on our people, we will not stop calling him out, not now not ever. There will always be people who will speak truth back to racism.










Racism + White Privilege + Rich Bully = Bob Jones & a Defamation Suit

In the lead up to Waitangi Day 2018 Bob Jones a Pākehā millionaire with Right Wing Conservative views wrote an opinion piece for the National Business Review which was published on February 2nd. The article was full of racist demeaning statements by Bob Jones. This is not the first time that Jones has published his conservative rantings. The Spinoff blog also highlights previous obnoxious writings by Jones stating;
“Provocations over recent years include dismissing beggars as “mostly fat Māoris”, calling for a ban on women drivers and admonishing women victims of indecent assault as “silly” for walking in a park.”

Bob Jones comments from NBR Opinion Piece February 2018 were as follows;

Responses to the article saw the NBR quickly removing it from their website. The NZ Herald in seeking comment on the removal of the article states “NBR has been approached for comment, but did tweet on February 5 “Sir Bob Jones’ latest column has been removed from NBR’s website, due to inappropriate content”.” https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11989940

The tweet itself appears here:
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In March of this year a petition was presented by Renae Maihi and Professor Pou Temara to parliament with more than 68,000 signatures “calling on MPs to strip Sir Bob Jones of his knighthood over his controversial column about a Maori “Gratitude Day”. As the NZ Herald notes “The petition was prompted by a column Jones wrote in the National Business Review last month, calling for a Māori Gratitude Day instead of Waitangi Day. “I have in mind a public holiday where Maoris bring us breakfast in bed or weed our gardens, wash & polish our cars & so on, out of gratitude for existing,” The petition has now over 72,000 signatures.

As a part of the response to the article a complaint was made by Mel Whaanga to the Press Council that the article breached “the Press Council’s principles notably Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and 5 (opinion).” These principles are defined as:
Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission. In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.
Exceptions may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion and in reportage of proceedings where balance is to be judged on a number of stories, rather than a single report.

Principle 5 Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
Opinion, whether newspaper column or internet blog, must be clearly identified as such unless a column, blog or other expression of opinion is widely understood to consist largely of the writer’s own opinions. Though requirements for a foundation of fact pertain, with comment and opinion balance is not essential. Cartoons are understood to be opinion.
Letters for publication are the prerogative of editors who are to be guided by fairness, balance, and public interest. Abridgement is acceptable but should not distort meaning.

The Press Council did not uphold the complaint with a split decision of 7:4. Central to the Press Council decision was an acceptance of the argument by NBR that the article as 1. An Opinion Piece 2. It was satire and 3. That withdrawal of the article and decision by NBR to not publish further Bob Jones article is an appropriate response. There was however a very powerfully stated Minority Dissent position.

Minority Dissent
Four members, Chris Darlow, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu and John Roughan would have upheld the complaint believing it clearly exceeded a reasonable boundary of free speech on the subject of race. Putting aside the accuracy of the claim there are no “full blooded” Maori alive today, which the complainant contested, the minority found it hard to follow the contention that had it not been for migrants to New Zealand there would no Maori today. The writer appeared to be straining for a reason to suggest Maori should grovel in gratitude to non-Maori for their survival, a suggestion the four members found gratuitously offensive.
They disagreed with the view that this was excusable as “satire”. The important principle of freedom of speech was not served in their view by humour that depends on giving deliberate, gratuitous offence to a racial minority for the amusement of the writer and those who share his racial attitudes. This was an egregious example of free speech being used for no purpose beyond cruel amusement. While the newspaper quickly removed the column from its website when it realised the offence it had caused, the piece should not have been published.
The NBR’s withdrawal of the column underlines a useful principle that free speech on the subject of race ought to stop short of humour that deliberately sets out to hurt. The four members hope all editors will reflect on this case and recognise that gratuitous racial offence is unworthy of responsible journalism.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.


In my view the Press Council gave far too much credibility to the assertion by both Jones and the NBR that the column was satire. I have written previously about this issue.

It seems that the ‘it is satire’ position taken by both the NBR and Jones provided a useful post-publication response to the rapid and significant reaction to the article as yet another Bob Jones racist demeaning rant.

As a result of the high profile of the petition, Jones was quick to threaten Renae Maihi, and by his own admission to TV1 News he would find it “very enjoyable” to take her to court for defamation. In a show of pure arrogance Jones states: “I won’t sue her for a lot because that would seem like I’m bullying her.”

In true narcissistic form Jones turns the issue on its head stating “”You have to be sick to not see (what he wrote) was a p*sstake,

Just to clarify the use of the term narcissistic in relation to Jones behaviour, the general indicators include the following:
• Exaggerates own importance
• Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance
• Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
• Requires constant attention and admiration from others
• Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
• Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals
• Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
• Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her
• Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes


So it is not difficult to see how Bob Jones may fit well into this definition, with the current court proceedings of defamation against Renae Maihi being just one example of the indicators noted above.

And even with over 72,000 signatures on the petition he continues to be of the misguided view that Renae Maihi stands alone. What is that? Stupidity? Arrogance? Racism? Or just straight our white male privilege spouting off? There is ample evidence that gestures to all of these attributes.
1. Evidence of Stupidity: Comments by Jones in response to the NZ Herald asking about the filing of the defamation writ, NZ Herald June 18, 2018:
“That’s a tough one,” he said.
“So no I haven’t [filed papers]. I lied on Whale Oil and the judiciary are trying to wind you up and are lying as well, the bastards. So keep your guard up son. You can’t trust anyone and certainly not the judiciary.”

2. Evidence of Arrogant White Privilege: Comments taken from Jones colum Bob Jones’ full NBR column.
I have in mind a public holiday where maori bring us breakfast in bed or weed our gardens, wash and polish our cars and so on, out of gratitude for existing. And if any maori tries arguing that if he/she didn’t have a slight infection of Irish blood or whatever, they might be the better for it, the answer is no sunshine.

3. Evidence of Racism: Comments taken from Jones colum Bob Jones’ full NBR column. “As there are no full-blooded maoris in existence it indisputably follows that had it not been for migrants, mainly Brits, not a single maori alive today, including Professor William Temaru [sic], would have existed. So excluding individuals who may be miserably suicidal, and instead like 99.999% of us, actually like being alive, it’s long overdue for some appreciation… Maori Appreciation Day in which maori tangibly express their gratitude for existing thanks to European immigration, by a day’s voluntarily labour for non-maori folk, would be an excellent initiative for the new government.

I would put my bet on all of the above. Why? Because each of those characteristics align with both the definition of narcissism and with the position of white male privilege that he asserts.

He is also clearly showing that his thinking and opinions are, to borrow a phrase from Taika Waititi ‘Racist As Fuck’.