John Banks’ on-air comments: ‘Why do we keep giving these people a platform?’

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Opinion – Nobody is racist anymore.

John Banks addresing the media after the Court of Appeal cancelled an order he should be retried on a charge relating to election expenses

John Banks apologised on air for his comments on the Magic Talk Mornings programme, but denied he was racist. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Apparently we live in a post-racial world. I don’t know when it happened, I clearly missed the memo.

Was this sometime between the slew of Māori children being taken by Oranga Tamariki and the latest Aboriginal death in custody in Australia? Or sometime between Trump’s Muslim ban and George Floyd’s death at the hands (knees?) of police?

Did the Mediterranean suddenly become buoyant enough to safeguard passage for the refugees that would otherwise be drowning in it trying to get to safer lands? That’s an unexpected side effect of climate change!

Someone also forgot to inform the right wing extremist group burning crosses while wearing hoods last weekend in the bush in Victoria. Awkward!

Whenever it was, it seems everyone else woke up one day with social colourblindess and selective amnesia about history.

Or so the likes of John Banks would have you believe.

For context, Banks, during a recent stint on the radio, felt it completely appropriate to let a caller make obscene, patently racist comments about Māori and Māori culture unchecked and uncontradicted. And then he concurred.

But when his behaviour was called out, as it should be, he claimed not to be a racist. It seems nobody is racist anymore. Saying, doing or supporting racism no longer seems to qualify one as racist.

Even if one’s comments or actions demonstrate at worst a deeply embedded hatred for a particular group (who are inevitably not white) or at best an inexcusable ignorance of reality in this day and age of easy access to information, one cannot be condemned as racist.

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Indeed, sometimes it feels as if calling someone racist is a greater offence than racism itself.

Like you’ve needlessly caused a fuss by drawing attention to it. I am reminded of MLK’s speech about his disappointment in white moderates, about one who “prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”.

It is this burden of the expectation on us to maintain a negative peace in order to avoid causing discomfort to moderate white people that emboldens someone like Banks to claim not to be racist even when he so clearly is.

As if racist words carry the same weight as “good morning” and “looks like it might rain” and don’t serve to reinforce a cultural preservation of systemic inequality and injustice. Which in turn hurt real people and communities, for generations, in incredibly pervasive ways: from how they access healthcare, education and employment, right down to how they move through this world and experience simply being.

I do not expect any better from Banks and his ilk. And while it is heartening he was booted off the show, I wonder why on earth this exercise is still necessary.

How many times a year do we endure this almost formulaic “faux pas” by an old white man in the media, followed by a half-assed apology and a tedious parade of excuses. Why do we keep giving these people a platform?

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Firstly, they don’t need the money. They made their money when houses cost $5 and university was free. Give someone else the job. God knows my generation need every opportunity we can get if we ever hope to own a home in New Zealand instead of a fort made of avocado pits glued together by our congealed tears over shattered dreams and climate apocalypse related anxiety.

Secondly, who still wants to hear what they have to say? Is it still, in 2020, relevant? Is it interesting? Is it fresh? Is it adding any value to our national discourse? Or is it the same old garbage reheated to satiate the small handful of people left who “are not racist but…”

To be clear, we are all racist. We all grew up in a world with social constructs that permeate every part of our consciousness, about race, gender, sexuality and so on.

The thing that sets humanity apart from all other animals is our ability to subscribe to shared fictions: religion, identity, economics, nationhood.

Within these intersubjective realities we have constructed, we enjoy different levels of privilege depending on where we are situated in the relevant hierarchies.

So while I’m a Muslim woman of colour and am often faced with Islamophobia and racism and misogyny in my life, I still have to tackle within myself and my community anti-blackness, homophobia, ableism etc.

Arguably, under late capitalism, class is the most distinguishing source of privilege. And whether I am home in New Zealand with my family or working in Australia, I am on stolen land of settler colonies, and I must be cognizant of what that means and what role I play in perpetuating the ongoing impacts of that reality.

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In my striving to be a decent human being (and believe me, it’s a lifetime’s work that cannot and must not end), I am not absolved of this struggle.

So why is Banks? Why is there no obligation for him and his friends to do better, to be better. It’s tiring, and boring. And it’s time we all move on.

Stop giving him a microphone when all you will get is the intellectual equivalent of shrill feedback.

* Saziah Bashir

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