Massey’s racist past should be debated, says academic

William Massey: "Nature intended New Zealand to be a white man's country"

Massey academic Steven Elers has unearthed a series of racist remarks made by William Massey, former prime minister of New Zealand and the person after whom Massey University was named.

The comments were presented by Elers on Wednesday, 28 September, leading him to call on Massey University to consider changing its name.

Some of those comments presented read:

“Nature intended New Zealand to be a white man’s country, and it must be kept as such. The strain of Polynesian will be no detriment.”

“Clearly, we want to keep the race as pure in this Dominion as it is possible to keep it.”

Elers presentation also included racist comments made by five New Zealand politicians of the period.

Elers spoke to Massive after his presentation, saying that he was happy to see students debating the issue, saying:

“As educators, we need to infuse this idea of questioning to our students.  We need to get them to challenge their ideas of the world, to question everything, and to question us.”

Elers believes that Massey’s comments expressed a clear ideological viewpoint.

“They are clearly ideological in the sense that they put out white supremacist beliefs. When you are talking about racial purity and keeping New Zealand white, people are trying to deny it, but you can’t deny it.

“The comments stand for themselves and they’re not off the cuff either. They were in either crafted messages to the media or they were said in parliament, multiple times.”

Elers went on to say that Massey’s comments should be judged through a modern lens.

“Whenever we look at anything, we’re assessing it with our lens from where we stand, from today’s lens and from our cultural values. That’s how we judge everything. That’s how we judge Adolf Hitler. That’s how we judge Nelson Mandela.

“People go ‘oh it’s not fair to take those words out of that time and context’ and I say ‘why not, he said it’.”

Elers believes that Massey University should undertake a debate on the issue, but is not optimistic that a name change will occur.

“They’ve got a lot of things to consider. I don’t expect they’ll change it. I think they should at least have a debate or discussion.

“Those views do not represent the university, but the thing that sticks out is the name.”

Massey served as prime minister of New Zealander from 1912 to 1925, and Massey University was named in his honour in 1926.

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