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May 14, 2018 | by  | in Ngāi Tauira Opinion |
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NT: Te Ara Tauira

At the start of 2018, New Zealand’s political climate has seen a Māori man, Simon Bridges, become the very first Māori person to become leader of the National political party. Throughout Simon Bridges’ career as a politician, his Māori identity has been challenged numerous times, with conversations about his identity being reduced to a conversation about blood quantum, and what percentage Māori he is.

Simon Bridges has said his identity is “fundamentally simple”, explaining that he has whakapapa Māori (Māori ancestry) and that should be where the conversation ends. However, academics such as Chris Weedon argue that how someone is seen visually is not for the individual to define, rather it is determined by the history of how we perceive people, especially people of colour.

This ability for another to define an individual is not something that is new to the 21st century — it has its roots in the development of Western culture. It comes from the idea that a white person is the exemplary human, and others are defined against their unmarked norm. This idea of white supremacy has reached New Zealand society through colonial expansion. Because of this prejudice within Western societies, people of colour seeking to reclaim their identity create what French philosopher Foucault labels as “reverse discourses”, which are discourses constructed against the dominant discourse.

For Simon Bridges, this reverse discourse allows him to claim his identity as a Māori and not let himself be defined as strictly his blood quantum. His identity is something for him, not white subjectivity, to define.

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