Gordon Campbell on the America’s Cup, Critical Race Theory and a new, weekly music playlist

a7c82ca36de360afa848So… Why don’t they just cut to the chase, and call it the Emirates Cup? As this column predicted several months ago, the next America’s Cup challenge is headed overseas. Here’s what Werewolf said back in March:
Emirates has made a major commitment to Portsmouth/Isle of Wight as a sailing centre of excellence – and voila, that’s where the next challenger of record is coming from, and where the next Cup contest could well be sailed. Such incredible luck for Emirates, right? Over on the other side of the table, Emirates also retains naming rights for the New Zealand team. Can anyone doubt that the crucial inputs as to the when and where of the next America’s Cup challenge are likely to be made by Emirates, and not by anyone in New Zealand?

On the bright side… The collapse of the Kiwi bid means that the weird joint venture between the New Zealand government and the sheikdom of Dubai – whose Dubai Investment Corporation owns the Emirates Group that owns the airline – has now come to an end. Thankfully, this will save New Zealand some of the reputational risk of being joined at the hip to the unsavoury ruler of Dubai. As I said in March:

No doubt, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a remarkable person. Of late though, he has been notoriously associated with the kidnapping, drugging, imprisonment and torture of two of his daughters.

This week, Auckland mayor Phil Goff has been whining about the hundreds of millions of taxpayer/ratepayer money spent on the Cup bid and on Auckland’s yachting facilities. Good grief. The people who own and race yachts are super rich. Many of them became super rich by knowing how to take suckers to the cleaners. That is how they roll. (That’s also how rorts like public private partnerships (PPPs) get off the ground.) More than anything, the America’s Cup is a machine whereby wealthy people with yachts get to socialise their risks and privatise their profits. One would hope a lesson has been learned and that something like this will never happen again. Yet chances are, if anyone came knocking on the door looking for an auld mug to bankroll say, the Commonwealth Games…it’s very likely that New Zealand would be among the first in line.

Footnote One: Back to the March article in Werewolf. This looks prophetic :

Obviously for Emirates, a repeat of the Auckland experience of 2021 isn’t a desirable option. If the Cup challenge can be transferred – as early as next year – to Cowes in the Isle of Wight, this will nullify New Zealand’s current home advantage. By doing so, it will make the Brits truly competitive. Happily for the airline’s marketing division, the challenger of record happens to hail from a UK that’s situated right in the middle of an Emirates priority market. It is also where the British Royal Yacht Squadron first contested the Cup back in 1851 against the schooner America in a race around the Isle of Wight. Add all of that up, and it looks like a marketing dream.

Keep in mind that Portsmouth’s tallest building is now called Emirates Tower. The yachting facilities upgrade at Cowes has also been financed by Emirates. They’ve been playing a long game. It goes like this:

No problem for Emirates then if the same Cup-originating British yacht club can be handed a competitive home advantage and – thanks to the recent changes in the nationality rules for Cup racing – it can also be made harder for a Cup once brought home to the UK, to be wrested back from it again. Given the history, the US would be sure to challenge in say 2023 or 2024, as they did in 1851. Ramp up a lucrative trans-Atlantic rivalry steeped in history! But be careful to stack the odds in the UK’s favour, by ensuring the US boat – or say, an Italian boat- can’t readily be filled with professional hired guns. So where does New Zealand fit into this vision? Lets just say that Team New Zealand’s current name sponsor may not be holding our long term interests closest to its heart.

Race politics
The Act Party, as Giovanni Tiso tweeted recently, is politics for little children. Short attention spans, and simple, pre-masticated issues are its stock in trade. It is so much easier to pretend that the complex stuff of politics– climate change, systemic racism – doesn’t actually exist. That’s one reason why the centre-right doesn’t do stuff like PM Jacinda Ardern’s apology for the Police dawn raids on the Pasifika community in the mid-1970s.

Jeepers. You mean that …racism has a history that goes back to like.. before we were born??? Surely, that just cannot be. Sorry kids, but the social disadvantages experienced by Maori and Pasifika people in everything from housing to healthcare didn’t happen by chance, and they aren’t the result of decisions made by them, or anyone else, overnight.

Maybe these hellspawn of Roger Douglas and Margaret Thatcher need to pull up a bean bag, and listen up. Back in the mid-1970s, the reason why Pasifika workers and their families were targeted is that they were deemed to be surplus to labour market requirements. The raids were instigated by a Labour government that treated Pasifika migrants as a pool of cheap labour likely to threaten the jobs of Labour’s own blue collar base – and the raids were continued by a National government willing to appeal to the same prejudices, mixed with generous servings of class disdain.

Arguably, not a lot has changed over the last 45 years. Injustices and hostility to foreign labour still characterises the Immigration Service policy “reset” today, with the blessing of the Ardern government. The reset is comprised of more sophisticated versions of the same racism and classism we saw in the mid-1970s. That’s a really compelling reason why we need to ensure that the history of colonisation (and its impacts over time) are made a key part of the new curriculum in schools. Only if the root causes of those shameful episodes in our past are understood can we (a) address their lasting effects and (b) recognise their modern incarnations.

Now I’m going to say some of this again because maybe some of you may not have been listening. It may come as news to you Master Seymour, and to some of your little friends, but the consistently poor outcomes in health and education for Maori and Pasifika communities aren’t simply the result of the decisions made by individuals only last week.

To repeat: the dawn raids apology would have been more meaningful if it had gone hand in hand with a recognition of how current immigration policies and practices reflect the same commodification of labour. We continue to sell our birth-right to the highest bidder; we continue to treat cheap foreign labour as a threat, and we use it and dispose of it without a second thought as to the human cost.

One can understand why the Act Party and their elders in the National party are hostile to the notion that (a) systemic racism exists (b) that its causes are woven within the fabric of New Zealand’s history, and that (c)the outcomes deserve to be taught as part of our education system. All that can go against the grain. To some people, it suggests that the rules of competition have been rigged – maybe for generations ! – in their favour, and that at least some of their gains have been dealt from a stacked deck.

The blind spots are not consistent. For example : Act and National are more than willing to argue that the attitudes conducive to welfare dependency persist over the course of generations – yet the advantages that white people enjoy in areas like health, education, housing and the job market are somehow seen to be mysteriously different. It is always Groundhog Day for the libertarian right. Every morning, they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to their positions of privilege. Well, there is a different way of looking at this situation. In the US, it is called Critical Race Theory, or CRT.

Crazy, Like Fox

Critical Race Theory (CRT) says that no, the current structures of inequality were not delivered to us in stone by the hand of God, or by the invisible hand of the market. They were created by very visible human gods who set the rules for themselves and for their descendants in ways that more recently, have served to minimise their tax obligations. Colonisation is the gift that keeps on giving.

To no-one’s surprise, Fox News has been driving itself crazy of late over the prospect that children – children in public schools! – might be being taught about how a system of advantage (and disadvantage) has been created and perpetuated in the US of A. Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida (and the leading GOP presential contender for 2024) opposes CRT lock, stock and barrel:

Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools.

Weirdly, given that US conservatives usually portray themselves as avid defenders of free speech, many Republican-controlled states are hard at it passing laws that place restrictions on any public school teaching that’s related to race. Tennessee’s law, which goes into effect on July 1, bars instructors from teaching that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

Sure, it is understandable why some people would want the unpleasant facts about a nation’s racist/colonial past to be swept (and kept) under the rug. History is always written by the winners. In the US, this explains why the 1921 massacre of 300 black people by a rampaging white mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma was entirely absent from the US history books, until recently. Here ,we apologise for the dawn raids and tidily consign that episode to the past. Just as we did beforehand, with the events in Samoa of 28 December 1929. Helen Clark apologised for that in 2002.

Controlling History’s Narrative

For some Americans, being told about such things disturbs their faith in US exceptionalism. For some New Zealanders, learning about our colonial past (and its ongoing effects) would disturb our own preferred self-image – ie, that we are an intrinsically good little nation who can be relied on to punch above our weight on the world stage, and show other countries a thing or two, given half a chance.

Forgetting (or taking pains to never hear the bad news in their first place) does fulfil a human need. “There is a desire for a good past and a good ancestry,” Marie Griffith a professor at Washington University recently told al-Jazeera. ”Americans have a hard time holding things together in a complex way. I don’t think we’re very good at being able to accept the good and the bad together as a part of our own heritage.”

Yet in Griffith’s view, learning a more complex and more accurate account of our past can be a positive, liberating experience. “We can learn about the very difficult and painful parts of our past and do better, without developing self-hatred. Your children are not going to start hating you and hating all of your ancestors simply because they’re learning this history. It should be an honour to grapple with that history.”

Those new US state laws that prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory, as many observers have noted, raise some alarming questions about academic freedom and the power of state governments to restrict the public’s ability to hold difficult conversations around race. As the Al Jazeera report concludes, “The primary question dividing those on both sides hinges on whether one thinks that racism is a symptom of individual bad actors, or an inherent flaw built into the systems of government, business and education.”

Exactly. And the exact same question is pertinent here. Critical Race Theory has not (yet) aroused quite the same intense passions in New Zealand as it has in the US. Yet it’s a safe bet that similar tensions will arise here as soon as the details of the changes to the 2023 school curriculum emerge into daylight. Just like their US counterparts, the Act Party have been striving to paint any teaching about the history of systemic racism in this country as being synonymous with “wokeness” and “cancel culture” – ie as examples of p.c. liberal elitism. This is a political conjuring trick. Like their counterparts in Texas and Tennessee, our self-proclaimed defenders of free speech are trying to control how New Zealanders talk about their past.

Critical Race Theory is not inventing the past. Instead it is highlighting the fact that our history is not monolithic.A variety of truths have always characterised the daily experience of the ethnic minorities – Maori, Pasifika, Asian etc – that have been here, and belong here. In that respect, racism doesn’t need to involve the overt use of racial slurs or detrimental policies targeted at people of colour. More often than not it is normalised, and woven into the patterns of power. Maybe, as one of Al Jazeera’s sources says, “ [Racism] can be ensconced in policy in ways that we are unaware of, because we’ve internalized certain rhetoric, or beliefs, about who is deserving and who isn’t.”

Footnote: There is a political agenda behind this debate. The wilful blurring of the lines between Critical Race Theory, wokeness and cancel culture is all part of a deliberate effort to discredit progressive change, by painting it as liberal do-gooderism carried to extremes. In New York magazine in April, the veteran columnist Ed Kilgore suggested that “Casting a really wide range of ideas and policies as too woke ( and anyone who is critical of them as having been cancelled by out-of-control liberals) is becoming an important strategy and organising tool for the right…because it allows them and their supporters to pose as innocent victims of persecution, rather than as aggressive culture warriors seeking to defend their privileges, and to reverse social change.”

That’s the case here, too. Day in week out, the Act Party portrays itself as a plucky little band of cultural commandos gamely battling uphill on behalf of ordinary Kiwis, against the woke legions of the left. If only. The reality is almost the exact opposite. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to defend the status quo, and especially not when you’re equipped with all the tools that wealth and privilege has put at your disposal.

Hey, a weekly playlist

Thirteen tracks seems the right length, and hopefully Alex Chilton would approve of the title. This week’s list begins with “Bodies” and its nostalgia for house parties (“bodies in the basement”) pre-Covid. Also this beautiful one-take roller-blading video for the track features MUNA singer/writer Katie Gavin swooping down a suburban street. The “Bodies” video is a near-perfect fusion of music and motion.

This isn’t a concept playlist, but it does end with a different kind of dance nostalgia. Namely, with Arizona/Bay Area/Berlin (and back again) DJ Avalon Emerson’s 2016 banger “The Frontier.” A lot of EDM jackhammers the rhythm and “The Frontier” does that, too – but the synths also convey an epic, widescreen sense of yearning…which surely, is another key part of the impulse to dance. Mindful of what Covid had done to live music, Emerson returned from Berlin mid 2020 and has set herself up in New York to recreate herself as a performer/producer.

Last year, she was finding it tough to replace live feedback with the counting of streaming numbers. “I’m trained to value these little KPI numbers, but it doesn’t feel that good,” Emerson told Gay Times last September.“The way some people listen to streaming services is as a silence-filling machine, instead of active listening. If you look at 100 plays, how many of those are someone actually sitting down listening, enjoying something? You can’t really tell because it’s all flattened into the same listen.” Thankfully, things have begun looking up. Early this year, Emerson became part of the BBC1 Residency roster, and in October, she’s headed for Amsterdam to headline a live, all night long Paradiso club line-up. Bodies in the basement, once again.