White privilege is invisible to white people, just like water is invisible to fish. The case of some friends of mine is instructive. They are white as you like, Kiwi through and through (though whether Pakeha or plain vanilla Tauiwi I am seldom sure – I have an ‘English’ immigrant friend who did all his schooling in NZ, yet still does not have citizenship)1 when one has to attach labels race is complicated).
These friends are kindly folk, so decades ago they fostered ‘difficult’ children. Treated them as part of the family, I don’t know if they adopted them… Now, being difficult children one grew up to be a complicated adult. So CYPHS intervened to take their children from them. Being ‘part of the family’ my friends adopted the CYPHS children. Because they ‘adopted’ them rather than (like sensible white folks) simply ‘long-term fostering’ them they get little or no support from CYPHS and now beyond retirement age seek to give the kids as good a life as they can. Their problem is that our government and society are organised by and for white folks. The default assumptions are the capitalist individualist assumptions of white folk, not those brown folk make. Brown folk (almost all of them and of whatever race know the importance of whanaungatanga. My friends’ mistake was to learn this virtue too well. The system assumes that if you adopt chilkdren it is because they bring you satisfaction and pleasure, they help you flourish and feel good about yourself – so, of course, you should bear the cost each individual (or couple) is responsible for themselves and their own decisions. Whanaungatanga says those kids are family, we can’t leave them to be fostered and cared for by strangers, let’s adopt them and give them security and stability.
The system is organised by and for white folks – or at least people who think like white folks!
It’s nice that CYPHS has got a nice Māori name now, but when will they learn whanaungatanga?
- I put ‘English’ in scare quotes because though, I suppose faut de mieux his nationality is English his culture and speech are pure Pakeha. [↩]