Recently, we published an article which questioned the claims being made in narratives around inherited colonial trauma. We knew it would spark some interest. After all, that’s what happens when you challenge a relatively widely popular discourse, particularly one that some academics have built their ‘careers’ on, and that is fundamentally ideological rather than truly critical. However, our argument was robust, our theoretical framework solid, and academic conventions were adhered to. The article was blind peer-reviewed by two New Zealand and two international reviewers. We were ready to welcome debate. As the Czech theologian and philosopher, Jan Hus, said: “Love the truth. Let others have their truth, and the truth shall prevail.”
We shared the article in a page on social media designed to showcase new research. The response from members of this group was disturbing but sadly predictable. Their actions included:
- Removing the article from the page twice, not because of its content but rather because of the ethnicity and gender of one of the authors. Apparently, this group does not welcome research written by “Pākehā men”, although in making this racist assertion, ignores the fact that much of their own research is derived from the work of Pākehā men. One member of the group explained that removing the article was an “act of resistance” (against what we do not know). Oddly, for a group intent on showcasing research involving Māori, the ethnicity of the co-author was ignored, and her contributions to the article erased. This sort of reaction points to significant cultural insecurity among those engaging in such censorship. People who are confident in their cultures do not fear engaging with alternative perspectives.
- Instead of addressing specifics in the article, the preferred approach of the group was to make personal attacks against the authors, which ranged from accusations of racism, white supremacy, colonised thinking, causing harm to “our people”, and substandard scholarship. Resorting in some instances to hate speech to reject an article is unbecoming of any academic but seemingly acceptable to some members of this group.
- Not one person pointed out exactly what the supposed flaws in the article were, which is a rather unusual response from people who identify as ‘academics’. What was evident from the misleading generalisations that were made was that those criticising the article had manifestly failed to read it.
- Only two people admitted to reading the article, one of whom said it was a little above her. Why? Because she’s “not a privileged white male”. The racist implications of that statement are plain, and embarrassing if this is the best critique that this person was capable of mustering.
The saga ended with the administrator of the page removing the article for a final time, due to the fact “publications by Pākehā men, even written with Māori… are not appropriate on this page”, then closing the thread. Sadly, rigorous and respectful debate, which is a cornerstone of the academy, was no match for ideological, culturally insecure group-think.
With regard to the inherited colonial trauma narrative, there are some crucial questions which remain unanswered by its advocates. These include:
- If the arguments presented in the article were so flawed, isn’t the obvious response to identify the deficiencies rather than resort to personal attacks? Simply hurling accusations against the authors is a blatant sign of intellectual impotence.
- If inherited colonial trauma is so bad and damaging, why would its advocates refuse to consider an alternative theory? Why are they clinging to the trauma, despite the fact there is no clinical and little historical evidence to back up their theory, and who benefits from this?
- How can people with no clinical training in the area of trauma apply a mass diagnosis to a whole ethnic group without having met with the vast majority of people in that group (or indeed, possibly anyone at all)? In medical terms, this is malpractice. In general terms, it’s fraud.
- The Māori response to British settlers ranged from resistance to indifference to collaboration. For those in the third group, if they did not suffer during and after the colonial period (and we quickly found several whānau who identified as being in this group) what is the source of their trauma?
- If colonisation traumatised all Māori, why doesn’t that trauma present in all Māori today? Notwithstanding the fact there were horrific events in New Zealand’s colonial past, why isn’t every Māori suffering from inherited colonial trauma?
- Would any Māori tell their child on a daily basis that that child, by virtue solely of their ethnicity, is traumatised? And if not, why not? We know, based on the literature, how damaging that would be to a child’s psyche, so what is the inherited colonial trauma narrative doing to the collective Māori psyche?
- Other peoples in the last two centuries have experienced trauma en masse that was long in duration and severe in scale, yet do not manifest the traits that some of those who criticised our article claim derive from inherited colonial trauma.
- If trauma is a response to historical violence, why don’t proponents of the inherited colonial trauma narrative offer any consideration to the biggest act of violence against Māori in the 19th century? That act, of course, was intertribal warfare at the beginning of the 19th century, which killed a staggering one fifth of the Māori population.
Interestingly, when we put the idea of inherited colonial trauma to a number of Māori from a variety of backgrounds and regions, the vast majority found the idea they were suffering from inherited colonial trauma ridiculous.
The inherited colonial trauma narrative necessarily reshapes history to fit a preconceived pseudo-psychological construct. It can only function in the absence of any critique or consideration of historical nuances, has no clinical basis whatsoever, and, most concerningly, traps proponents of this narrative in a struggle without end. What’s more, this narrative is a lazy response to some of the challenges facing some Māori, where the idea that colonisation and the supposed resulting inherited colonial trauma are the sole reasons for certain outcomes means one does not need to consider any other possible explanation, of which there are many. How will we solve some of these issues if we’re looking in the wrong direction? Ultimately, the inherited colonial trauma narrative is historically inaccurate, fundamentally racist, denigrates tino rangatiratanga, has no clinical basis, and is extremely anti-Māori. Debate welcomed.