Maori Bashing

from an article in the online New Zealand Herald

"Doctor decries staggering level of child abuse"

The Herald reports on recent statistics involving child abuse.

"New Zealand's national diagnosed rate for head injuries to infants under the age of 2 caused by child abuse is 22 per 100,000 - which is comparable to the rest of the world.

However, for Maori children the figure is the highest in the world. Between 50 and 60 Maori infants per 100,000 suffer head injuries as a result of child abuse."

Let's have a look at some of the ripples heading across the pond toward us.

New Zealand's figures are staggering? More evidence of New Zealand as a violent, predatory, anti-child society?

Nice try but no cigar. The headline doesn't last more than a few seconds before it gets shot down by its own article. New Zealand rates are comparable to the rest of the world. Bloody subeditors just cannot read for meaning any more.

The biggest fattest one, though, is this: Maori have the highest rate in the world when it comes to head injuries to small children as a result of violence.

Can you see the saliva starting to flow already in the race debate? The talk show hosts starting to wind up? Move in on them! Just like Howard did to the abos in Australia......

Reality check. Of 10,000 New Zealand kids under two years old, 9998 are not going to wind up in Starship as victims of child abuse, and of 10,000 Maori kids, 9995 are not going to wind up there either.

We are not saying for a moment that such violence is acceptable at any level or in any culture. It's clearly not.

But, just as clearly, the vast majority of children, Maori and European, do not encounter it at this level, and to characterise Maori as a child-bashing culture on the basis of figures like these is quite simply racist, and even more simply, wrong.

Highlighting Maori status as the leading child-bashing social group in the world implies that we should look at "Maoriness" for the clearest evidence of the origins of the problem.

Acting on "Maori", expecting "Maori" to clean up their act, funding more "Maori" research projects, is simple bullshit. The vast majority of Maori parents, like the vast majority of Pacific Island parents, of pakeha parents, of Asian parents, of Muslim parents, of Christian parents are outside of these statistics.

To apply a solution to "Maori" as a group, or to look at "Maoriness" for the origin of the problem would be totally inappropriate. Most social workers, freed of political considerations, would be able to identify at-risk parents, at risk families or family groups, quite easily. They would be likely to feature one or more of

    • sole parenthood, (primarily female...)
    • teenage parenthood,
    • low educational attainment,
    • benefit dependency,
    • chronic alcohol and drug abuse,
    • violence,
    • blended families,
    • co-habitation,
    • and a few others. 

None of these is an exclusively Maori - or pakeha - characteristic.

None of these requires that one be Maori - or pakeha. None of these derives from being Maori - or pakeha - or even predicts being Maori - or pakeha.

It may be more complex that this.  I would imagine that if we looked at co-habiting families, blended families, benefit dependent families, solo parent families, low educational attainment families, even teenage parents, as statistical groups, we would also find that the great majority do not have children admitted to Starship with injuries resulting from child abuse, though all of these structures contribute their own kind of stress to a family environment.

If I was part of a new government looking at this question, I would be inclined to study the families in each of these categories that met this kind of stress and dealt with it without being violent towards one another or their children.  They have already solved whatever problem exists.  They already have successful strategies operating.  Study the solutions, not the problems. Study the winners, not the losers.

Footnote. In a field that should be ripe for the "family" violence treatment, a la Simon Collins or Geoff Cummings, it's strangely quiet - apart from the hysterical (and inaccurate) headline, which fits the political model: New Zealand is a violent society.

Nobody is asking - or saying - who is doing the bashing in these cases. Could it be that we are dealing with "family" violence that cannot be accompanied with "he-dunnit" stats.





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Who wrote the questions?


Before we go any further, let me make it quite clear where I stand on violence: I don't believe it is OK for men to hit women. I don't believe it is OK for women to hit men.

Nor do I believe that the common combination of intimidation, verbal harassment, putdown, windup, and so forth that often accompanies, precedes, or serves instead of, physical violence is OK, from either sex.

I believe it is sometimes appropriate for parents to use physical means to discipline children, but certainly not to the extent that physical injury occurs. We are not talking in this case about conflict resolution between adults, we are talking about appropriate limits being established and maintained for children whose upbringing is our concern and responsibility.

If you can't tell the difference between a child and an adult, I'm not sure you should be looking after children.