Political Correctness: Sex, Race, Ethnicity*and the ‘Average’ Fijian

By Crosbie Walsh
statistics-extrapolation1LIKE SEX AND AGE, RACE AND ETHNICITY are realities of life, and they are — or should be — included in all statistics where they are relevant.  Not including them results in a loss of important information and insights into causes, effects and inter-relationships. But this is what Fiji appears to have done, presumably for new "politically correct" reasons.  There appears to be no Fijians, Indo-Indians and Others in Fiji any more: they are all Fiji citizens.  Please, someone, tell me I'm wrong.
Removing or not using race or ethnicity will not make race or racism go away. Fiji’s people are no less itaukei, Indo-Fijian, Kai Solomoni, Kailoma, European, Chinese or so on now that all citizens are called Fijians.  Calling all citizens Fijians will not eliminate racism, although it should help to remove institutional racism. A healthy Fiji will be one where each race or ethnic group proudly proclaims its unique self and its shared nationality.
Arrival and Departure Statistics
The apparent removal of race from official statistics came to my attention when I asked the Bureau of Statistics for information on arrivals and departures.  Despite several requests, all I was provided were tables distinguishing citizens from non-citizens.    This means that while previously I would have been able from departure information to explore relationships affecting the so-called brain drain, for example, I now had one less variable to feed into the matrix.  All I could examine is the “average” citizen.  In some societies this may be sufficient but not in Fiji whose history from colonial times has produced very different demographic (births, deaths, internal and international migration), social (health, education, housing, religion), economic (occupation, industry, income, expenditure, savings) and locational patterns for each of its races.  Race is probably the most important single explanatory variable because it allows us to see variation around the average. A government that wishes to monitor progress towards its goals using statistics that are based solely on common citizenship, with no mention of race, is likely to come up with statistics that are next to useless.  
The National Average
Citizenship will produce a national average which may be necessary for international comparisons but it is probably the least useful statistic for use within Fiji because it hides differences and extremes.  Graphing such averages helps a little because graphs show the most numerous  occurrences (the mean) and differences around the mean and average. Often the graph will shown a normal curve that looks like an inverted bell but in Fiji the norm may consist of two extremes (a bipolar distribution) which when merged only look normal.  Thus, to talk about average income, average housing, and just about average anything else makes no sense at all.  Fiji’s average income is not shared around between rich and poor, and its average house is not a mix of two-storeyed concrete houses with four bedrooms, toilet, shower, lounge and kitchen and  one-room corrugated iron squatter shacks. The average migrant is not the difference between gross arrivals and departures.
Rural, provincial and urban averages
Neither can one sensibly talk about a rural or provincial average.  Rural areas typically comprise quite different itaukei and Indo-Fijian residential patterns: itaukei live in communal villages; Indo-Fijians live on their individual farms.  And this often produces differences in access to roads, electricity, water supply and toilets.  Ba province is predominantly Indo-Fijian; Lau province is almost entirely itaukei.   The average province is not Ba and Lau combined.
These patterns reproduce themselves in the towns.  Some suburbs are predominantly one race or another, but within most suburbs major differences are evident.  I used to live in Namadi Heights, an affluent suburb in north Suva. It was once mainly European with some Indo-Fijians. Today it is more racially mixed but across from where I lived there was a settlement of squatters who for census purposes were added to their affluent neighbours.   It is for this reason that I think the use of “residential areas” in the Household Income and Expenditure is likely to give inaccurate results.  The use of housing types would be far more accurate. I proposed five types that were used and showed their worth in the 1996 census but they have not been used since.
More race sub-categories would be useful
The value of race as a helpful explanatory variable in censuses and surveys has been demonstrated so many times that further advocacy should be unnecessary. Indeed, a strong case can be made to further refine racial categories.   The first time I was aware of this was during a household  survey of Navua township in the mid 1970s carried out by second year USP  students as part of their coursework.  We divided race into Fijians, North Indians, South Indians, Gujerati, Muslims and Others. These were not pure categories, of course.  A person could be  a North Indian Gujerati Muslim but crude as the measure was, it produced far more interesting results than had we kept to the usual Fijian, Indian, Other categories.  There were, for example,  major differences in household composition, housing, education, place and country of birth, occupation and income which would have been concealed had we treated all Indians as one.
At the regional and national level it would also make sense to treat separately  the different races that make up “Other”.  A composite of usually affluent Europeans and Chinese; usually quite well off Rotumans , Part-Chinese and Kailoma (part Europeans), and usually  poor or destitute Kai Solomoni produces the most meaningless average imaginable.  If government wants to do something to help the Kai Solomoni and other descendants of Fiji’s first indentured labours, or obtain information on Rotumans, Tuvaluans, and Banabans in mainland Fiji, a sound set of statistics would be a helpful starting point.
Up until a month ago I had no intention to write anything about retaining statistics on race, largely because I think too many people see Fiji through a racial prism that explains everything that happens politically, economically and socially.     But if reference to race is often over-done, it can also  be underdone.  Race in combination with other useful explanatory variables — such as income, occupation and housing type— is what is needed.
Changes in Bureau of Statistics procedures
What caused me to write this article was an email from an overseas friend who has been studying Fiji for several years.  He wrote:
“ I've nearly completed data collection for the book … and am currently updating and revising  the Fiji article  …   In the process of revising my Fiji stats, I became very concerned by   apparent changes in FIBS (Bureau of Statistics) data collection and compilation of HIES (Household Income and Expenditure)   reports that present  data that are not comparable from report to  report.” 
He had several concerns — no thorough analysis of census data since 1996; statistics based on “extrapolations of extrapolations;”   Overseas Merchandise and Trade  Statistics that are  now inconsistently tabulated and reported — and so on.  But his main concern was the HIES reports that readers will recall are used to analyse poverty and make recommendations on minimum wages.   This is what he writes:
  “I am most alarmed by  the glaring omissions and inconsistencies in the HIES Reports.  Data  that should be presented consistently and comparably over time are  either omitted or smoothed beyond appropriate use.  (Data on Indian  emigration that suppresses their earnings and inflates Fijian  earnings is not noted or presented.)  There has been no consistent presentation  of income deciles by ethnicity,  weekly household earnings by  ethnicity or other indicators of social well being since the 1997  UNDP.  (We really do not want to present data that shows growth in  the Fijian and Indian upper income deciles.) 
“And the latest  HIES  Poverty Report is a joke; far from a meaningful "gaps" report that  adequately measures dispersion of household incomes and expenditures  or poverty between and within groups by household composition, size  or ethnicity.”
He concludes with a warning  against the use of statistics to act out researchers’ biases, and thinks “maybe the Fiji government should just save money and  refrain from paying for surveys until they have sufficient funding to  do it right.”
He is not saying that people are deliberately misusing statistics; merely that too many are incomplete, questionable, and cannot be compared with earlier periods.  Removing —or not using— race as a major explanatory variable is a major part of this problem.
A knowledge-based society
Pillar  9 of the People’s Charter calls for Fiji to become a knowledge-based society.  Raw data and statistical analyses form part of the bedrock from which this and other Charter goals can be planned, monitored and achieved.    Race/Ethnicity needs to be put back into the statistics Government gathers because it is a Fiji reality , and refining race into sub-groups  could make it even more useful.  These also are part of Fiji’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural  reality. 

* Race is biological whereas ethnicity is race, culture and acceptance by a respective ethnic group.  Racism is the use of race to establish and justify a social hierarchy and system of power that privileges, preferences or advances certain individuals or groups of people usually at the expense of others. Racism is perpetuated through both interpersonal and institutional practices.


Talaite said…
A valid and very good argument!
Cakeater said…
You are wrong Crosbie. Your proposal is called having your cake and eating it.

And, as you implied in an earlier post, you can't do that.
Croz Walsh said…
@ Cakeater ... If you mean what I think you mean, we shouldn't talk about guava, garlic, apple, rourou and hibiscus but only about plants. Try making a pie with a "plant" recipe. Or, if you have brothers and sisters, why didn't your parents call you all with the same name and get you to wear identical clothing. Isn't this discrimination? Might one of you be treated differently?
Delusion of Grandeau said…
What is so wrong about being called a Fiji citizen for goodness sake! I am so proud of being a Fiji citizen despite my ethnicity & race. Wake up and smell the frangipanis we are so lucky to live and be allowed to live in a beautiful country like Fiji. God save our beautiful country, warts & all.
Islands in the Stream said…

Your remarks are valid. It was always a useful device to know who was: Fijian/Indo-Fijian/European/Other (although this last was insulting and unhelpful) but only in so far as people did not circumvent the classification methods. We know those who always said they were 'Fijian' for logical reasons. They resisted being compelled to identify their race. Perhaps they were unconvinced that government would use this information to their benefit. And, furthermore, to what end was a Part European called thus in colonial times and not a 'Part Fijian'? Because the term 'fijian' was always a loaded term with associated baggage. We should always be prepared to profer useful information when we may freely choose to assist in national development especially in the field of Healthcare for All. Co-ercion is unhelpful and is an impediment towards dialogue towards a Constitution of Liberty. However, Ian Simpson's remarks require consideration. No prescriptions for remedies which we would be unprepared to swallow ourselves should be enforced by sanctions from afar. People will need to be encouraged by a Freedom of Information Act to act in the national best interest freely. Mothers dying in pregnancy and childbirth at the rate of 30/1000 is one of the most pressing and urgent areas. Surely, this situation should never have been allowed to happen? If male Fijians were dying at this rate would we have acted sooner? And who has taken our trained midwives from us?
Anonymous said…
you pretty much just rewrote wadan narsey's argument about the futility of calling everyone fijians. now i understand why you don't publish his articles.
Anonymous said…
you pretty much just rewrote wadan narsey's argument about the futility of calling everyone fijians. now i understand why you don't publish his articles.
Cakeater said…
Introducing fruit into this debate means that you probably didn’t get what I mean, unless you were referring to our propensity to try making little fruit salads whenever the lights are out.

To use your analogy, I’ve tried making pies and (although I’ve never tried this particular recipe) suspect that whether I baked a Kai India, Kai Colo or Kai Vulagi pie, they would all taste the same.

Unlike some people I don’t talk to plants so can’t say whether or not they would prefer to be known as ‘plants’ or would prefer ‘guavas’, ‘apples’ etc.

However I will say that one sure fire way of people treating each other, and being treated, differently is to emphasise ethnicity within a single nation. I can’t see any reason why a government which wishes to emphasise nationality and de-emphasise race and ethnicity should do as you imply and occasionally make reference to the latter. I would be interested to hear when you feel such times would be useful and allow me to comment.

I believe that anyone who feels a need to consider race is locked into viewing whatever ‘race’ is through a relatively short time frame. For instance, Ratu Mara was Fijian. Being of obviously Polynesian heritage was he ‘more’ or ‘less’ Fijian than, say, Rabuka? Since her family has been in Fiji since 1871, is Sandra Tarte Fijian? (If anyone says she’s not, just try to get her entry into Europe without a Schengen visa). She’s probably less familiar with iTaukei rituals than a Melanesian in Nadroga, but I wonder if a Melanesian born and bred in Los Angeles is as familiar with those rituals as Sandra is. Would that LA-born Melanesian, if in the VKB, have more or less right to own iTaukei land than any 5th generation ‘settler’ family? Ask the Simpsons, the Whippys and others. I’m starting to get dizzy, so I’ll stop.

My point is that as soon as one starts to consider ethnicity and race as being important in some way, one begins to lose sight of the intrinsic humanity of us all. You’ve tried to reduce my argument ad absurdum by (rhetorically) suggesting parents are discriminatory if they call brothers and sisters different names and dress boys and girls differently.

I’m not suggesting our hospitals offer antenatal care to a man but, as an example, I see no need for the Ministry of Health to mention that Indians are, as a group, more likely to suffer from diabetes and Fijians, as a group, are more likely than others to suffer from, say, STD’s. Targeting such groups runs the risk of deflecting attention away from the actual dietary/ lifestyle cause of diabetes and spread of STD’s.

But, as I wrote earlier, I’d be interested to hear when you believe ethnicity/ race should be considered.

(PS I originally posted this into another section of your blog by mistake)

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