In a classic example of discriminatory normative standards, on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, Rawiri Waititi, the head of New Zealand’s Maori Party, was expelled from that country's chamber of Parliament for wearing traditional Maori formal attire instead of a Western-style suit and tie (see report).
ICHRRF points out that such monochromatic cultural norms imposed in the name of etiquette and uniform are pervasive in several societies. Formal attire, within fair limits of decency, is a fundamental expression of cultural identity. Denying people the right to dress according to their culture, or making it awkward for them to do so, is a definite sign of cultural intolerance and forced assimilation into a cultural and racial or ethnic hierarchy. A social atmosphere that bullies ethnic minorities into conforming to a different cultural practice, makes it embarrassing for them to freely express their own culture and its appearance, or causes awkwardness and a lack of warmth towards those who have a different appearance is a society that will develop a toxic underside. When such social norms are enshrined in rules and laws, this is outright cultural tyranny.
In the case of an Anglo-settler colony like New Zealand, the Maori are not just any other ethnic minority, but are the indigenous people of those islands. If anything, their culture should evoke not just warm acceptance across society but celebration, beyond token mascots. This is especially so today, since the Maori community weathered a great deal of colonial depredation, violence and confiscation of their lands and property in the 19th century, leading to what many thought would be an extinction of their race by the turn of the century. The survival and revival of Maori culture is an inspiring story for all.
With this background, ICHRRF welcomes the decision taken today by New Zealand House Speaker Trevor Mallard's decision to change the rules around wearing ties to allow Maori formal attire. It is hoped that this incident prompts a general re-think around societal norms in New Zealand and the wider world.