This blog is about institutional (structural) racism within New Zealand social work. If you are not asking yourself, your organisations and speaking platforms about how you contribute to the power structures that marginalise Māori, then I will. To spotlight this, I talk about my experience as the newest Board member of Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). I would like to make it clear that this blog is not a one-person “campaign” to bring down social work. Nor is it written to bring any single person or indeed, ANZASW into disrepute. I write it because from my perspective there is a TRUTH to be told that the whole of social work is not owning enough. It is that institutional racism in Aotearoa is thriving and is a key instrument of colonial rule, oppression and genocide through the prolific uplift of Māori children into the care of the state.
Racism is not always about the obvious (overt) kinds like apartheid, slavery, and assimilation. It is also the more subtle (covert) kind, as in a Pākehā unaware of their own racism behaves in racist ways and blames it on the Māori. Or negatively judges a Māori who does not behave like a Pākehā. Racism is also the subtle indicators that show a lack of respect for you as part of a rōpu, such as dismissing a point of view, eye rolling, voice tones, not being given all the information, ignored or Pākehā feeling they have a right to finger wave at you when you question their power. Who attack you, your professionalism and your korero because you are deemed a threat to them. It is also when others in the group sit back in silence and allow this behaviour to happen.
In order to get to the heart of this blog, I want to share some of my background to give you (the reader) to get a sense of why I put racism on the table. It may well come across as personalised and it is because that is the unique ‘insider’ lens that I bring to the table. I have been a social work practitioner for 25 years. I also had 14 years of experience as a child in the care of the state. I grew up in a very Pākehā and abusive system where it was rare to come across a child who had not been harmed, in some way, by adults charged with their care. I never stopped trying to whistle blow about the constant sexual and physical violence on kids from these so-called caregivers. That all too familiar feeling of cold creeping fingers that slide across your mouth and lock onto a small jaw, stifling the cry, the voice, the breath and efforts to protect the little ones. The finger waving and stabbing at the air in front of you, and the words uttered through gritted teeth “you’re a little shit stirrer, a liar, a naughty girl who just wants to hurt good people” or when trying to be heard,“it might help if you say it nicely” or “be more polite you rude little inbred.” I remember thinking about how these adults seemed to have no mind about their bullying like it was normal and their right to treat us that way. I can tell you, it did not make any difference if I was sweet or polite. These adults were always hard because it was not about correcting the child, but silencing her.
I still experience this today when I speak up about racism. A familiar story particularly for Māori women who frequently start out being polite, only to be shut down until we demand to be heard. Often, if you are both Maori and a woman your marginalisation is layered like stacks on the mill. We often hear that Pākehā would listen to our message if we’d just change the words and the tone we use to talk about racism. Called tone policing, this is when marginalised people (Māori/women) speak up about our struggles and people from more dominant groups (Pākehā) focus not on what we said, but how we said it. As if the way a person talks about the racism they experience is much more important than the actual racism (or sexism) they experience. In the case of many Pākehā, it makes them uncomfortable and they want to deflect the attention away from their racist actions and refocus on the Maori and how they are wrong for pointing out racism. It feels like victim blaming, much the same as when a rape victim is blamed for drinking too much or dressing provocatively. Indeed many Pākehā are uncomfortable with the word ‘Pākehā’ because they incorrectly think it is a derogatory term. If this is the case for you and you are working with our people, then be seriously concerned about your competence to do so. But I will talk a bit more about tone policing later. First, I will tell you a bit more about me as a lead up to central point of this blog.
I realised about six years ago that all the social work I did barely made any impression in the lives of whānau I worked alongside. I saw all the ways that our voices are silenced through Pākehā speaking on our behalf, defining who we are as a people, being problemised and pathologised until the cows come home! Consistently measuring us and all other ethnicities against Pākehā as the norm. I also saw how much power academics had in terms of the negative impact their research had on our people. So I thought I would try to bring some counter-balance by joining academia. I applied to study at Massey University and my focus was on child protection and critiquing how Pākehā policies, practice and procedures, perpetuated the marginalisation of our people. I earned a Master of Social Work with first class honours and I am now doing a PHD in Social Work.
My work in research showed me that Māori experiences of child protection processes in Aotearoa were being overlooked through generalising Māori into the mainstream mix of academic research and ministerial reports. Heaps of academic research on our people but hardly any of it actually asking whanau what their lived-experience was. Māori are 15% of the population, half of the total families who participate in child protection processes and two thirds of children in the care of the state. Only the individual factors of social need are being focused on for Māori because they are measurable, whilst the drivers such as colonisation, structural discrimination and cultural genocide of our people are ignored (Moyle, 2013).
Pākehā paralysis has a lot to do with marginalising the Indigenous voice. This is where Māori are deliberately excluded from Pakeha researchers general population research samples on the basis of not having the cultural competence to research Māori. Tiloch (2002)  talked about this and how tertiary ethics guidelines and universities are now teaching exclusion of Māori and thus failing to fulfill te Tiriti o Waitangi responsibilities. And may I remind people (Social Work 101) that there were two parties to te Tiriti, Tauiwi (all other iwi) and Tangata Whenua; Māori are not another ethnic group. From my perspective Pākehā paralysis is a case of, “I can’t fulfill the ethical considerations of consultation and tikanga so I’ll get around it by ignoring Māori altogether.” At the very least, I think research that impacts Māori in any way shape or form has to have Māori researchers at the table, from inception to completion. Excluding Māori and ignoring te Tiriti is racism in action and pleading unconscious bias is a cop-out!
My intention was to share what I was learning about how institutional racism impacted Māori and how it was largely ignored in New Zealand social work. So, I started a Facebook page about my research and produced series of short video-blogs (easier for whānau involved in the research to get the main points rather than read screeds of boring documents). The videos became very popular with whānau being transacted through care and protection and also with social work students and frontline practitioners. A most popular one was korero around Puao-te-ata-tu (daybreak) and why it was that this ‘blueprint for social welfare’ and its recommendations never got to see the light of day.
The document Puao-te-ata-tu clearly stated that unless you address institutional racism and deprivation in the first instance, then everything you do will be ineffectual. So are we just creating jobs for ourselves, running round in circles looking very busy, feeding the brown school to prison pipeline, shifting deck chairs and drinking at the trough? How do we know that we are not doing this? Why can’t Pākehā research issues related to their racism in it various guises? “It is a critical part of social work – we do it to other families every day, but when Pākehā do it to their own the barriers are so big they cannot even hear each other for the distress and trauma that it causes. Why? Pākehā need to grow through active discussion and respectful listening with Māori. If they cannot do it for each other, then how can they act responsibly in the community? Why not RISE to this challenge instead of denial, blame and justifying one’s actions” (WMR).
What are the Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association (TWSWA) and the Tangata Whenua Voices in Social Work (TWVSW), and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) doing to challenge the systems of power that create the marginalisation of Māori? Are they encouraging Pākehā to ask uncomfortable questions about their own role in supporting these systems of power? What are they doing to challenge the need for research in this country to be de-colonised? Or for social workers to no longer be approved as culturally competent or the new term, culturally fluent? We could refer to all of this as white supremacy in the same way sexism is about male supremacy. I like this term because it makes it crystal clear who is on top and who is at the bottom (Molisa, 2015). Not least, are we checking our Ivory Towers where governance is influenced by white middle class academic/life members and also comfortable Māori who uphold the status of Pākehā; the ones who work in the Master’s house whilst their kin work in the field? Too strong? Well sometimes naming it for what it is makes people pay heed.
The vid-blogs I did for whānau and students proved popular and led to being featured on the Re-Imagining Social Work in Aotearoa (R-SW) forum. I was particularly intrigued with R-SW’s personal statement, “We propose to resist the silencing of our voice by creating a space to discuss, debate and deliberate on the future of modern and progressive social work services in Aotearoa New Zealand.” This being their response to the ‘CYF Review Panel of Experts’ who had no social workers at the table, yet the R-SW team have NO Māori at the table. (I also heard one of them state at a conference that it is unlikely that they would ever have Māori on their collective). This is the epitome of hypocrisy because almost every article featured on the R-SW platform excluded any analysis of the over-representation of Māori in social systems and indeed how continued colonisation, structural racism and historical trauma contributed to this. This R-SW forum (in my opinion) is one example of Pākehā speaking on behalf of Maori through absorbing them into the mainstream mix. (Despite their statement above I experienced their moderator denying my comments to the site). However, R-SW helped spread the popularity of my vid-blogs and for me to have an albeit modest international following. I was cool when I was R-SW’s token Maori activist but as soon as I turned the light on them, they didnt want to know me.
A couple of the R-SW collective and members from TWSWA and TWVSW had suggested I put my name forward for the ANZASW’s Board. I did so and I was voted onto the Board by a significant margin  which possibly pointed to the wider TW members wanted to hear what I had to say. It also confirmed for me that my video-blogs, presenting to groups and social media presence made a difference. My initial impression of ANZASW was that biculturalism was a tino-rangatiratanga sticker in the front window or a hand-flag waved when required. I saw that there was work to do to bring tangata whenua into alignment with ANZASW’s espoused commitment to te Tiriti. Being new to a group is a privileged position and one that can affords one with a fresh set of eyes. Almost immediately I experienced a clip from a Pākehā member to mold me into place. For example, I was talking about the importance of ANZASW being seen (by the wider membership and the public) to be in touch with the current critical issues impacting Māori. I was told that ANZASW, “is not a vehicle for all or our political aspiration and concerns.” This clip inspired my next blog in a bid to help the Board hear what I was trying to say and to draw attention to the subtle ways I felt tangata whenua visibility and expression was being curbed. My focus at this point was lobbying for equal TW representation at the table because for me this is where everything started. Maori must be at the table!
Now comes the twister in this account. I wrote another blog in response to a research project titled EnhanceR2P. The blog called into question the right of the four Pākehā researchers to do research that impacted Māori without Māori being at the table from inception to conclusion. It was not an ANZASW initiative, however the four researchers also happened to be ANZASW members and two of them were on the Board (what I term ‘multiple platforming’).
I first learned of the EnhaneR2P project when it was announced via Facebook. This is important research that has the potential to change how and what we teach social workers in Aotearoa. It could also speak to how culturally ill-qualified many social workers are to work with whānau. I wanted to find out more, so I asked a series of questions via the Facebook page but the team ignored the questions. Other Māori asked questions and they too were ignored. I was told later by one of the researchers that the project was not up for discussion yet. And I wondered why the big announcement on Facebook and why not say ‘why’ it is not up for discussion. So I wrote the blog to ask questions and raise my concerns about Māori not being at the project’s table and I submitted it to the ANZASW’s newsletter which went out to all members. The challenge to the EnhanceR2P in the newsletter was enjoyed by many members but not those who supported the research.
At my second ever ANZASW Board meeting I was treated with contempt by the two Board members who were also researchers of the EnhanceR2P project. During the confidential (non-recorded) part of the hui I was ‘taken to task’ by these two and it was very clear from their level of emotion and anger that they were pissed off with me (I’d had no warning of this). They told me that, “I had caused irreversible damage to ANZASWs reputation which included their relationship with the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), that I had rubbished their project work, and I had turned on my colleagues and did so with fury.” Also,“You’re right Paora, just because some Māori agree to something, does not mean that all do…but then you don’t speak on behalf of all Māori.” These two had a grievance but this hui was NOT a grievance procedure. Nothing should ever be on a Board’s agenda that comes as a surprise to one of its members and is a non-Board issue. These two took advantage of their privileged positioning (on both the Board and the research team) and used Board protocol to ‘take me to task’ inside confidential time so that their behaviour was protected. To them this was “ethical.”
Why am I explaining this experience in detail? “Because we all have to be subject to accountability for our actions. If you hold a governance position you better be ready to check your own practice and put it up for scrutiny. One can not be sitting there not declaring your ecology of thinking and what has shaped and formed it” (RTBR). And this also, “No Māori should be subjected to Pākehā justification for Pākehā doing research on Māori. This is Social Work 101. It is NOT ok that colonisation plays out in this way in this day and age and in our profession” (Anne-Marie Stapp). When the conversation becomes about Pākehā hurt feelings and not the racism that Māori are ‘calling out’ you are derailing our voices and our emancipation. It becomes a manipulative bargaining tool when Māori have to offer sweetness in order for Pākehā to care about our daily struggles. All of this is tantamount to white neoliberalism and racism; under which is fascism and individualism verses collectivism. It is time to call on the ANZASW tangata whenua membership nation wide and ask them to caucus about what the membership issues are for them so that their perspectives can be conveyed.
Creating space/platforms for Māori to speak from instead of shutting us down, with an explanation that you’ve got our backs would be a great way to show us that you’ve actually got our backs! To build platforms upon which we can stand and speak up about our lived-experiences of oppression and in the case of tangata whenua, colonisation and genocide. To resist the relentless attacks upon our collective Indigenous soul. What I am not happy with are those who appear to be creating these platforms for the advancement of ‘privileged Pakeha’ agendas whilst simultaneously silencing the voices of ‘platformless’ tangata whenua. Take for example the repetative member make-up of the following platforms, ANZASW Board members, the ANZASW editorial committee, the Re-imagining Social Work collective, and the EnhanceR2P research team.
I spoke to my whānau about my experience of being ‘taken to task’ on my personal FB page. Unfortunately, one of the two who had berated me inside the Board hui took screenshots of this and shared it with the rest of the Board. They also posted the shots of my conversation with whānau on a social work page where I was not a member and so I could not post my side of the story up. There was hype about how my blogs incited inaccuracies about the EnhanceR2P project. I also got emails and comments telling me off about breaching Board confidentiality: about being unethical, dangerous, about defamation and expulsion from social work, te me te mea. Even people (Māori and Pākehā) who follow my work defending me were taken to task on social media pages, called “mischief and stirrers.”
For months now I’ve been taking hits from well positioned and respected people in social work via emails and commentary on social media that I am disrespecting my colleagues and defaming them. I’ve been labeled unethical, divisive and seen as a threat. Well my silence does not belong to you. It cannot be bought and sold with anger, threats and shaking your finger at me. I will not be silent so that you can be comfortable. I will not participate in your silencing of our voices. I’ve been ‘hit’ many times both as a child and as an adult. There is nothing more you can do to me that I have not already experienced. You have no right to keep me from protecting myself, my whānau and future generations of our people.
P.S. For an update on ‘calling out of racism in social work’see a further blog at: https://pmoyle.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/duplicitous-or-ethical-social-work/
“Institutional racism is the manifestation of racism within all social systems and institutions and the social economic, educational and political forces or policies that operate to foster discriminatory outcomes. It is a combination of policies, practices or procedures imbedded in bureaucratic structures that systematically leads to unequal outcomes for groups of people.” See, Institutional racism and the social work profession: A call to action (2007). https://www.socialworkers.org/diversity/institutionalracism.pdf
 An all Pākehā collective that was, “formed in response to the New Zealand Government’s announcement, in April 2015, of plans to review and ‘modernise’ Child, Youth and Family…The review is to be led by an ‘independent’ panel of ‘experts’…who do not include a single child protection practitioner, manager, academic or researcher…”
 Email from ANZASW National Office.
 Link to review of Roastbusters article: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/291264/social-workers-say-roastbusters-report-unfair
 The original comment was, “Bollocks, that frontline social workers are not to blame. They are as much to blame as any other factor that contributes to this whole mess and contiuned abuse of these girls. CYF social workers need a lot more training and understanding around domestic violence and sexual abuse, thats’ the truth. It’s appalling that ANZASW is quoted as saying ‘CYF social workers are not to blame’ and it’s due to their being overworked etc. Police, Justice and CYF epically failed these kids…denial doesn’t help them or their familes. Monique says, it just looks really Dumb and Dumber. Where are the comments/voices speaking up on this.” (From original screenshot).
 See at http://www.enhancer2p.ac.nz/meet-the-team/ “Institutional racism is the manifestation of racism within all social systems and institutions and the social economic, educational and political forces or policies that operate to foster discriminatory outcomes. It is a combination of policies, practices or procedures imbedded in bureaucratic structures that systematically leads to unequal outcomes for groups of people.” See, Institutional racism and the social work profession: A call to action (2007). https://www.socialworkers.org/diversity/institutionalracism.pdf