Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Apologies don't mean shit

There's a couple of things I want to talk about in relation to apologies. One is Melissa Lee's "apology" for her comments on the Waterview motorway, saying it was to keep South Auckland criminals out of Mt Albert. The other is in relation to sexual abuse and physical violence, which is a pretty tough topic but it needs to be talked about.

I'll talk about the recent media hype about the Mt Albert elections and Melissa Lee's racist comments first. First of all, I think what she said reflects on the attitudes of probably most National Party MPs who would think that way but not say it out loud because they're aware that they would come under scrutiny, especially about Don Brash' Orewa speeches. We all know they represent the rich, and using a female Asian face is a rather token gesture that gives their Party some sense of legimitacy and credibility in "representing" Asian migrants. It's politically wise to do so nowadays. At debate in the quad at Auckland uni today was a really entertaining political spectacle. As an anarchist, I don't support voting or any of the political parties, but it was fun to heckle the right-wing parties along with the rest of the student population. But anyway, Melissa got heaps of heckling for her racist comments. Some Labour Party supporters standing on the balcony of cultural space yelled "I'm not a criminal" and signs saying "The National Party are the REAL criminals". A placard of Melissa Lee's face was also liberated and subverted with "Racist" and a Hitler moustache drawn on it, which caused a bit of scuffle with National Party supporters claiming it was stolen and called the police (it shows how seriously they take their property rights). In response to all this, she said in a rather patronising manner, "You are students, do you not watch TV? I have apologised." As if that made everything okay, as if it excused her stereotyping and racist (and classist) comments in public discourse. Once it's out there, it can't be claimed back. An apology doesn't mean shit to people.

Apologies don't mean shit to people who are living in poverty or people imprisoned by racist police and courts. Apologies don't mean shit after centuries of colonialism and the legacy still remains. Apologies don't mean shit when you're still going to support a motorway being built through an entire community for the sake of 'economic progress'.

The other situations where apologies don't mean shit is in cases of rape, sexual violence or physical violence against womyn. I also think other forms of violence too, but cases physical and sexual violence is what I have been confronted to think about lately. It's so fucked up that this even happens in our communities, which we think is all empowering and progressive. I'm not going to go into detail about anything because it's not my stories to tell. But I think there needs to be ways that we can deal with this shit as a community and support the survivors in every way we can. Male violence against womyn is so fucking common in this patriarchal society it makes me sick. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes it's not. What's really hard to deal with is when it happens when people are out of control (ie. on drugs) or when people claim they misread signals and are genuinely sorry about what they did after the fact. Either way I don't think intimate violence against womyn or anyone is ever excusable. What I mean by "intimate violence" is violence against people they claim to care about or love. The effect of an abuser's actions stays with the person forever, it's not going to go away with an apology. Whether it was intentional or not, it still happened and it still hurt someone. To use an extreme analogy, it's like the difference between murder and manslaughter. In both cases, someone was killed - intentionality is irrelevant to that person's life that was lost. Or in some recent discussions I've had about genocide - with the UN definition including the intent to wipe out a whole 'people', and how that really limits the meaning of genocide when the destruction massive populations of indigenous people was "unintentional". It still fucking happened and the survivors should still be supported in the same way and abusive and violent behaviour should be condemned.

That said, I do think there is more potential for change when people have realised what they've done as wrong and are willing to change. I don't think that applies to National Party though, the apology was just a smart political move.

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