The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Reasons, not excuses

Someone posted a link to my post on the Kahui twins situation, An Excuse For Racism, on this thread at Real Women, resulting in some interesting comments, in particular the following from Grace:

This person [that would be me, span, dear readers] is blaming society, the lack of free help (bollocks), low wages... how about the weather? Or power cuts???? Or simply bad parents and a dysfunctional family? Morals, empathy, a sense of right and wrong and a bit of responsibility - they don't cost anything. The contraceptive pill doesn't cost a heck of a lot, either, especially if you have a community services card. I'm presuming these child murderers know how babies are made? And that they cost money once they are born? Or do people who live in poverty not realise this? If you can't afford to look after your babies, don't keep having them!!! Common sense, no matter what colour your skin is, don't you think? I wonder if this person thinks the mother of these murdered babies should be allowed to go on and have more babies?
No more excuses - they're starting to sound quite hollow.

I have these questions for Grace (and I will post a link to this post on Real Women's forum, for them to see) - how does a family become dysfunctional? Why are parents bad? How is it that some people lack a sense of right and wrong, or an ability to act responsibly? And do you realise that there are women out there who don't have the kind of choices about their bodies and their reproductive health that I might?

Money makes a difference to people's lives - it takes off the pressure about where to live, how to pay the rent, how to pay the power/water/food bills. It means you can save up a bit and buy second hand appliances, instead of having to go for expensive (and often debt-inducing) hire purchases. It gives you independence from those around you (as mentioned in my original post) and the ability to break away from the bad eggs in your life. Living on a low, fixed income, is not an excuse for abuse, but it is one possible reason that families end up under stress and abuse thus becomes more likely.

Fey Hag made a comment later on in the Real Women thread, that really sums up the point of my original post (whether she meant it to or not):
I would like to point out there can never be an excuse for killing.
There can be reasons why it could happen.
If we ignore those reasons we are part of the problem.
Face them & we can be part of the solution.

Carl made the following comment on my original post, which also gets to the nub of things:

I think the key is whether we want to stop it happening again, or whether we just want a chance to yell at disadvantaged people.
To further expand on my original post and my views on the matter, if the reason that the Kahui twins died is because their family is Maori, or the family's main source of income is from benefits, then what do we do next? I don't believe these are the reasons, but if they were, how do we deal with it?

Do we castrate all Maori/beneficiaries? Do we forcibly adopt their children out (to white families not dependent on benefits of course)? Do we sell them only food with contraception in it? Do we end all benefits, to anyone, regardless of circumstances, as everyone on one is bound to turn into a bad egg sooner or later? These are the kinds of solutions racists, eugenicists and those who have little empathy for others propose, in my humble opinion.

As I said in my original post, I am not denying that there are cultural elements behind abuse. I personally believe that the existence of s59 of the Crimes Act sends a bad message to parents; that they can hit their children with quite a high level of immunity from prosecution. (And yes I'm aware that Tony Milne got totally scragged for his post on this point.) I have also witnessed the attitudes of many people to violence within a relationship - that it's "just a domestic" and therefore no one else's business (a post on this is coming soon). These are just two examples I can think of, from New Zealand's mainstream culture (mainly informed by Pakeha culture), that I believe signal that there is in fact a high level of tolerance for violence within the family. Other cultures, including Maori, no doubt have their own values around child abuse, some against it and some for it. The cultural background is certainly a part of the mosaic that forms the reasons for child abuse, no argument from me on that.

But it is just one part, and I believe a relatively minor factor. If the main reasons for child abuse are the kind of reasons I was discussing in the comment thread to An Excuse For Racism (things like poverty, alienation, transience, the stigma attached to seeking help or being helped by agencies like CYFS and Work & Income, a history of family violence, substance abuse in the household, unemployment, etc) then solutions can be found. Not easy ones, but none the less, the abuse rate can be lowered.

Am I just being naive, and want the reasons to be poverty-based rather than the race- or beneficiary-based, because the former have more palatable solutions? Or am I actually correct, that it is the kind of life people are leaving and the history that has shaped them, rather than anything hard-wired in them, that causes most cases of abuse?


Maryanne said...

The thing about Grace's words are that it's all in the reading of them. On the one hand they could be seen as an unempathetic, hard line slamdunk from someone who just doesn't understand what it is like to be in that situation. On the other hand, there will be no changes made in our society if we are not willing to go deep and be brutally honest about what is happening. And the answers don't even have to be the truth because after all, what is truth? If Maori leaders stand up and say, there is too much child abuse in our communities, we are going to take action, then great. In doing that they are not saying it is a Maori problem, they are simply owning it as something in their community. This does not say it is not happening in other communities, because we all know it is. What I think is important in all of this is that anyone who has the courage to stand up and say "enough" and then take action, they deserve our respect and support. Sure we can pay lip service to the problems online and maybe in doing so some will be moved to take some kind of action, but otherwise we are about as effective in the game as the commentator. There is a place for commentary but ultimately it can devolve into a who is right argument, when those who are in action have left the room and are off getting on with it! We are all entitled to our opinion and have the right to voice it, but I think we also all need to remember that it is an opinion and not a truth. I suspect I have contradicted myself somewhere along the line but that is good, as the best thigns in life are based in paradox ;-)

Ghet said...

I'm hesitant to step into this one because it feels like such a minefield. And I do believe in individual responsibility rather than lying around on the couch whining about how you come from a broken home so none of your problems are your fault.

But. It's stressful enough raising small babies in a decent household. Doing it in chronic overcrowding which is the direct result of poverty, where you can simply never, ever be in a room by yourself... imaginable, and awful.

I'm currently watching one of my friends trying to get out of a nasty marriage. She has all the will in the world but not the financial means - they can barely afford the mortgage together, she can't afford a home for herself and her daughter on just her income. Poverty is a huge obstacle to having real control over your own life.

I grew up in a physical abuse household, my partner with substance abuse. We haven't passed that on to our own kids, but we got free by leaving everything behind, our families and the social situation we grew up in. My own escape was narrow, because when I was fifteen I was not in perfect control of my own fertility - what fifteen year old girl is? I can still see where I could have been, what lay down the other path, the White Trash lifestyle.

The difference for us was education. We had the opportunity to get out and we made the call to take it, but we needed the opportunity, and that had to be laid on by society at large. Varsity-educated, we had access to the kind of incomes our families had never seen before. I don't need to worry week to week about how to put food on my family.

I will say, though, family violence is never normal. It might be common, it might exist in most of the families you know, but it always, always carries a huge sense of wrongness.

span said...

Thank you both for sharing, I really appreciate your contributions. I came back to NZ part way through the Kahui situation and I've been really struck by how affected people have been by it. Dismayed at those who have used it as permission to display their racism or beneficiary bashing, but heartened that so many people have recognised that family violence is wrong.

I don't have much more to say right now, but welcome further comments and replies.

Anonymous said...

[url][/url] [quote]I guess this has been said on many forums and blogs, that there needs to be differentiation between the reasons that lead to these deaths, and the contributing factors. Anyone with both eyes open will know that Te Ao Maori does not create people who are ready to murder their children. Yet many news items point the finger at the so called brown peril as being the 'reason'.

Blaming collective living is also misguided. Most families of pacific descent in south Auckland live in collective situations. It is the only way you can survive with the ridiculous cost of housing these days. If the govt is to mount a campaign to target collective housing in Tamaki, it will have to take on the entire south Auckland area.

Tahu Kukutai is correct in saying that this is not a problem we should be owning on an ethnic level as June Jackson, Parekura Horomia, and Pita Sharples are naively doing.

The other point was about Tamihere's idea that the urban Maori authority be the distribution centre for the dole payments. I am in agreement with that but with these 2 conditions.
1/ all interest earned from having those millions of dollars sitting in the urban authority bank accounts overnight be donated to food charities in auckland.
2/ the administration fee payed to the urban authority be no more than what is expected to be paid to a WINS office since that is all they will be doing.

My guess is...and its just a guess, is that with those two conditions in place, the interest in 'owning' this part of society by the maori urban authority will simply disappear.[/quote]

Anonymous said...

Just looked. Some pretty upset people on that realwomen site. Why the aggression?

span said...

Thanks for your comments Anon.

In regard to your point about communal living, I certainly have no problem with it, when it is because people actually want to live together, and the building itself is healthy. But as you point out, it is often due to economic need, resulting in too many people living in a house designed for a small number. Cramped housing conditions is a key factor in diseases like TB coming back to Auckland. The Govt should definitely be building bigger state houses, which suit communal living, and I believe in some parts of Auckland Housing NZ is heading in this direction.

As to the agression - I throw my hands up. I also encountered some extreme agression in my workplace about this issue, which was totally unexpected (and in fact unprovoked as I was just sitting eating my biscuits quietly). I wonder if people feel such a sense of despair and powerlessness that they turn to anger and attack the easiest targets in their frustration. It makes them feel like they are doing something, when sadly they are not.