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“Kiwi” is not an ethnicity

Apparently, in 2006, the census will for the first time consider "Kiwi" or "New Zealander" an ethnicity. There were, apparently, some 80,000 morons who decided that "NZ European" or "Māori" or whatever it is simply wouldn’t do their background justice. And amazingly, Mansoor Khawaja will bow to those 80,000, and put "New Zealander" on the census form this year.

The 2006 preview sample form I downloaded doesn’t have that strange option on it, but that’s beside the point. By including "New Zealander", a nationality that has little more than one-and-a-half centuries’ history, the entire concept of ethnicity is undermined.

What was ever wrong with "NZ European"? If you’re a descendant of an early European immigrant to New Zealand, you’re New Zealand European. If you’re Māori, you’re Māori; if you’re Chinese, you’re Chinese. If you happen to be a child of both an NZ European and a Māori, you’re both. Those options were simple. They were descriptive. They were suitable. They gave a proper and accurate snapshot of what New Zealand’s ethnic build-up is.

Now, we have New Zealanders. How do you define New Zealand ethnicity? Sure, I’m a New Zealander by nationality, born and bred, but of Chinese descent; can I count myself as of New Zealand ethnicity? After all, this is meant to be a completely subjective matter. Hell, if I want, I can just say I’m part of the New Zealand "ethnic group" and leave it at that.

But this isn’t a step towards "building a nation that’s proud of its heritage", as Kerre Woodham suggests. Ethnicity and nationality are distinct concepts. Whatever "traditions" we might have "developed" in 150 years are but infants, pitifully inferior to proper, standing cultures. It is quite possible to uphold ethnic customs whilst being proud of one’s nation’s heritage, I’ll present myself as an example of that. We don’t need to break any ethnic "barriers" to be one people; we already are that, and we celebrate, not destroy, our cultural differences.

Rather, this is a step away from accuracy, a decision that will leave the question more open to bias than it has ever been before. Those 80,000 rebels, for whom only "Kiwi" will be satisfactory, will only distort the picture of New Zealand’s ethnic build-up. They will render the statistics meaningless, because "New Zealander" doesn’t help users of those statistics any more than "Citizen of the World" would.

The statisticians should not fall into this upsurge of public idiocy. They know what census statistics are for, and that the forms are certainly not places for nationalist statements. Those 80,000 fools should grow up and face the facts, because New Zealand is not an ethnicity, it is a nationality, and any sabotage of New Zealand’s statistical analyses should be viewed as just that.

Related Links

  • NZ Herald: ‘Kiwi’ a dinkum response for next Census
  • NZ Herald: Kerre Woodham: Sense in Census move
  • Statistics New Zealand
  • Statistics New Zealand: 2006 Census

    The New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings will be held on 7 March 2006. Mansoor Khawaja is the chief demographer of Statistics New Zealand. Kerre Woodham is a columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

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