Thursday, February 17, 2005

Culturally "Offensive" Playdough

What is wrong with my country?

PC Free NZ points to this Herald article:
Playdough, potato stamps and the use of other food for art and play has been banned by some kindergartens because it is considered offensive to Maori and other cultures.

Pre-school teachers say the ban is out of respect to Maori beliefs that food should be respected for its nutritional qualities and not used "as a plaything".

This is just plain stupid. Having respect for other cultures does not mean letting them run roughshod over our own. As Dr Muriel Newman wrote in her emailed newsletter:
At the heart of this issue is whether or not it is right and proper that in a society which is increasingly culturally diverse, one minority group should be able to impose their will on the majority? Under normal circumstances minority views do sometimes take precedent over accepted ways, but such outcomes are normally achieved through persuasion not coercion.

In the playdough case, political correctness has been used as a weapon to silence and intimidate opposition. By claiming the use of food in play is culturally offensive to Maori, [they...] can call anyone who speaks out in opposition, a racist. It is a classic example of the modern-day tyranny that is constantly being wreaked by minority groups over the majority of New Zealanders, through the use of political correctness.

Now, I'd happily agree that children should not be forced to partake in activities that are offensive to their own culture (at least, not without good reason). I hope nobody is forcing Maori kids to play with playdough, if it's really that traumatic for them. But part of living in a multicultural society is co-existing with other cultures. We should be teaching kids to respect cultural differences, and not to force their own parochial values on others. And in my culture, there is nothing wrong with such play. Frankly, I find the contrary suggestion to be culturally insensitive. But hey, I don't have brown skin, so I guess my culture doesn't count, right?

[Psst, fellow leftists, what do you think of all this?]


  1. What's wrong with you white-skinned people? Can't you see a good thing when it is glaring you in the face? Just because some other culture (ie non-white skinned, non-Western, non-Graeco-Roman-influenced) comes up with a value that is morally superior, you have to freak out like this!

    OK, all jesting aside, the article might have been written as "A growing number of kindergartens have begun voluntarily refraining from using certain food items as plaything out of respect to the beliefs and values of the increasingly multi-cultural population of its constituents." But I guess a sub-editor at the paper would have remembered his journalism prof saying something about the emotive use of Anglo-Saxon words like "ban" and slashed red ink all over the piece, and viola, you have a report that reeks of reverse cultural imperialism.

    So, hang loose, dudes, celebrate the cultural diversity, or start your own kindergartens with your own culturally insensitive white kids (and other ignomarous non-white ones) and play-dough till the cows come home!

  2. You're a leftist? If students from every culture are part of the public school system then the practices of that school system should respect the culture of those students. Or perhaps you think the Maori children should not be part of the public school system.

  3. I think what you might be saying, patrick, is that there are two types of culture "high culture" which is the one we are told we are suposed to have and "real culture" the one we actually have. Real culture is controlled by practicality and some might argue it is naturally superior to high culture and in general any attempt to bring us closer to an arbitrary high culture is bad for that society (unless of course there is a strong social policy reason for that).

  4. Patrick, I think you're quite right. It's rather ironic that regarding minority cultures, it's the extreme left that are the real "conservatives", opposing progress in the name of cultural tradition. Cultures are always evolving, as indeed they must in order to meet the challenges of modern life. How enforced stagnation is supposed to help them, I'm not quite sure. (Though I hasten to agree that it's up to young Maori to shape their own culture, as I doubt an externally imposed dynamism would do much good either.)

    TheBloke - I guess you're right that the story could be framed in a much less inflammatory light. Nevertheless, the point remains that it is unfair to impose cultural taboos on children of other cultures. Feel-good rhetoric about "respect" and "sensitivity" doesn't change this. Woolly thinking (esp. about cultural issues) is one thing I really despise about many of my fellow leftists.

    "me,I" - I consider myself to be left wing, though you're welcome to peruse my politics posts and make up your own mind.

    But how about you? It was my understanding that those on the Left usually know how to read. And I'm pretty sure that in my original post I described what I thought respect for others in a multicultural society should consist of. If you wish to argue the merits of my suggestions, then please, go right ahead. But spouting idiotic straw men ("perhaps you think the Maori children should not be part of the public school system") isn't going to advance the discussion any.

  5. I don't understand what the fuss is. Imposing cultural taboos on children of other cultures? We have done it and do so everyday!

    What is needed is more cross-cultural awareness, understanding and education. Perhaps what the kindergartens are doing may be rough stabs in the general direction of something that is, after all, aimed at a more culturally diverse, informed and aware population.

    One may not need to refrain from certain practices in order to be culturally aware or sensitive but perhaps that is the first step of many that would cultivate a more culturally informed population.

  6. Personaly I find it hard to believe that their actual culture discourages the use of play dough although the "high culture" might do so.

    I mean if you take some maori kids and place play dough in front of them will they really run away disgusted? (maybe, I just doub it)
    I think it may be "high culture" that we are ofending and that doesnt invove actually offending real people - it just means those who think everyone else ought to be offended get excited.

    If so, then I suggest the sooner we slap them back down the better.

  7. Lets ban kids from using water as well

  8. Yeah we europeans find the idea of eating another human as a food source culturally offensive too , never bothered maori though

  9. I seem to remember quite a few examples of europeans eating other humans, who knows what situation they will end up in to do that sort of thing

  10. European doctors used to prescribe human body parts as cures for ailments.

    My all-time favourite was the prescribing of Liver (preferably of a red-head) to cure food-poisoning.

    I always hated playdo, I also hated Seaseme St.

    My prespective on it is that Playdo is hardly an essential part of Kindergarten tools, if Parents want their children to play with it they can purchase it for their kids' private use.

    It should really be up to the individual institution, some places out in rural New Zealand or South Auckland may have a significant proportion of Maori and Pacific Island children, why should Playdo be included for 3,2,1 or no Pakeha children, simply as a response to PC-ness?

  11. I’m a NZer living in Europe and have been for the past 5 years. I’m a democratic socialist with Syndicalist leanings –and Pols degree-. My father alerted me to this nonsense the other day.

    The play dough issue –and the responses attacking Richard’s critique- are a prime example of the provincialism that New Zealand’s increasing inward looking culture seems to be moving further towards. Progressives and radicals in New Zealand need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they are interested in equality or division. Because justice, equality and social mobility are far more important than “cultural sensitivity”. What good is a bi-lingual sign to a kid that’s parents don’t have a book in the house?

    These pointless arguments over “culture” are a dividing issue. Here in Europe dozens of different cultures that, like New Zealand Europeans and Maori, have a history of conflict are now embracing Modernity and forgetting past conflict, because it is the only option for a just future. Some Maori groups – and liberal Whites- seem more interested in a continuous past instead of reaching out into the future together.

    Social space must be neutral, devoid of religion, politics and race. The only way in an increasingly integrated world that we will ever find common ground is by having neutral public space –this means schools, government dept etc. - free from all religion, culturalism –which in NZ seems to be a euphemism for race- and politics.

    For my part I believe the Labour Party and the Greens –the two parties I split my vote between- need to secularize the cultural aspects of their parties if New Zealand leftism is to have a future. Just look at how the forces of reaction flocked to Brash’s speech last year. If the Left don’t start focusing on creating a socially and economically democratic system, where people are free to pursue their lives to their best ability, according to their needs free from religious and racial interference and a pointlessly regressive grasp on history, we’ll never move on.

    This doesn’t mean that we should crush differences in culture into bland social paste, far from it, we should embrace them. But just leave it at the door when you leave your church, marae, mosque and learn to accept that we enjoy a free society and the freedom sometimes means that others are free to offend you. I find things offensive about Maori culture in regards to the lack of democracy in their leadership and the treatment of women but I don’t expect them to change this for my sensibilities. I expect the same courtesy in return.

  12. Thats why I am glad that we have Kohanga reo, my two daughters both attended Te Kohanga reo and now they are both in a Kura kaupapa Maori( total immersion) and loving it. they are both learning cantoees and mandarin chinees at the moment, if the Americans are right and the English language has only got about twenty years left as an economic language and the chinees culture will be the next economic language on the horizine then my girls need to learn all about that culture.
    I think that you are right you stick to your cultural norms and we will stick to ours,What is precious to me is what is precious to me. I know who I am my daughters know who they are,Both my daughters want to study to be doctors and they will achieve that because they have a mother like me who took a hold of the knowledge from my ancestors and is now imparting everything to my daughters, they are making their choices from an informed point of view and I did not get anything from the Pakeha culture for who I am.The Pakeha culture has nothing for me.

  13. To be honest- this makes me sick.

    Do the children really care about other kids playing with playdough? I can't see kindergarten kids saying; "Look over there Ryan, that kids playing with playdough. You know it contains ingredients which basically make it food. That's offensive, come on, grab your half-eaten crayon lets go over to the sandpit."
    It's ridiculous, this is kids having safe, creative, clean fun.
    Why should part of one culture be lost to make way for another?

    This is like banning swimming because we drink water.

  14. Who cares? Is playdough really so important in New Zealand Society? Get a life.

  15. It's not the playdough that's the issue, ballot box. It's the ever-growing concept that everyone has rights to practice their cultural beliefs except white people. Particularly white Christian people.
    I could give a crap about the entire concept of playdough hamburgers - it's the reverse racism I'm having a sheet about.


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