Skip to main content
Log in

The Role of Emotion in Understanding Whiteness

  • Symposium: Institutional Racism, Whiteness, and Bioethics
  • Published:
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Aims and scope Submit manuscript


This paper argues that stoicism as a central element of whiteness shapes, controls, and ultimately limits the experience and expression of emotion in public space. I explore how this may play out in particular medical settings like hospitals in Aotearoa New Zealand. I argue that working in conjunction with other values of whiteness identified by Myser (2003)—hyper-individualism, a contractual view of relationships, and an emphasis on personal control and autonomy—this makes hospitals emotionally unsafe spaces for Māori and other groups who place high importance in the collective sharing of emotion. Using death and bereavement as an example, I suggest that challenging and addressing stoicism in the structure and performance of whiteness in hospital settings may provide an important point of entry for anti-racism measures and health equity.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. End of Life Choice Bill - Member’s Bill 269-3.

  2. Coroners (Access to Body of Dead Person) Amendment Bill 33-1.


  • Anderson, L. 2005. Bioethics in New Zealand: Continuity, changes and challenges. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2(3): 121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barnes, A.M., B. Borell, T. McCreanor, R. Nairn, J. Rankine, and K. Taiapa. 2012. Anti-Maori themes in New Zealand journalism—toward alternative practice. Pacific Journalism Review 18(1): 195–216.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barnes, H.M., T. Raina Gunn, A. Moewaka Barnes, E. Muriwai, M.Wetherell, and T. McCreanor. 2017. Feeling and spirit: Developing an indigenous wairua approach to research. Qualitative Research 17(3): 313–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beauchamp, T.L., and J.F. Childress. 2009. Principles of biomedical ethics, 6th ed. Oxford University Press.

  • Borell, B. 2005. Living in the city ain’t so bad: Cultural identity for young Maori in South Auckland. Masters thesis, Psychology, Massey University.

  • Bryder, L. 2009. A history of the “unfortunate experiment” at National Women’s Hospital. Auckland University Press.

  • Came, H. 2012. Institutional racism and the dynamics of privilege in public health. PhD dissertation, University of Waikato.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2014. Sites of institutional racism in public health policy making in New Zealand. Social Science & Medicine 106: 214–220.

  • Counties Manukau Health. 2019. Families at heart of Bereavement Care Service. News, November 1.

  • Delahunty, C. 2019. Leading us through loss. The Spinoff, December 14.

  • Dunlop, M., and Murphy. 2019. Ngāti Awa to play a key role in the Whakaari / White Island recovery operation. Radio New Zealand, December 12.

  • Edge, K. 2017. Different coloured tears: Bicultural bereavement perspectives. PhD dissertation, University of Waikato.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzgerald, R., M. Legge, P. Rewi, and E. Robinson. 2019. Excluding indigenous bioethical concerns when regulating frozen embryo storage: An Aotearoa New Zealand case study. Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online 8: 10–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fox, R. 1990. The evolution of American bioethics: A sociological perspective. In Social science perspectives on medical ethics, edited by G. Weisz. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fricker, M. 2007. Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford University Press.

  • Fusitu'a, E., Murphy, and K. Scotcher. 2019. Whakatāne after Whakaari: How the town is responding to the tragedy. Radio New Zealand, December 13.

  • Graver, M. 2007. Stoicism and emotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Gray, B. 2014. Bioethics for New Zealand/Aotearoa. New Zealand Medical Journal 127(1397): 67–76.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris, R.B., D.M. Cormack, and J. Stanley. 2013. The relationship between socially-assigned ethnicity, health and experience of racial discrimination for Māori: Analysis of the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey. BMC Public Health 13(1): 844.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hipango, H. 2019. End of Life Choice Bill—Proposed amendment to SOP No 259: Harete Hipango, in Committee, to move the following amendment: Clause 27B.

  • Hook, G. 2009. “Warrior Genes” and the disease of being Maori. MAI review, no. 2.

  • Hudson, M., K. Russell, L. Uerata, et al. 2016. Te Mata Ira—faces of the gene: Developing a cultural foundation for biobanking and genomic research involving Maori. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 12(4): 341–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Illouz, E. 2017. Is love still part of the good life? In The good life beyond growth: New perspectives, edited by H. Rosa and C. Henning. Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, M. 2004. The mysterious ethics of singing sheep and feet pointing backwards. In Reflections on the use of human genes in other organisms: Ethical, spiritual and cultural dimensions. Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of the Environment—Toi te Taiao: The Bioethics Council.

  • Jones, C. 2002. Confronting Institutionalized Racism. Phylon (1960–)50(1-2): 7–22.

  • Macdonald, N. 2019. Bereaved parents get new info site but support remains inconsistent. Stuff, September 23.

  • Manhire, T. 2015. One final haka as New Zealand bids emotional farewell to Jonah Lomu. The Guardian, November 30.

  • Manning, J. 2009. The Cartwright papers: Essays on the cervical cancer inquiry, 1987-88. Bridget Williams Books.

  • McCreanor, T. 2005. “Sticks and stones may break my bones ... ”: Talking Pakeha identities. In New Zealand identities: Departures and destinations, edited by J. Liu, T. McCreanor, T. McIntosh, and T. Teaiwa, 52–68. Wellington: Victoria University Press.

  • ———. 2009. Challenging and countering anti-Maori discourse: Practices for decolonisation. Psychology Aotearoa 1(1): 16–20.

  • McGill, D., and J. Pearce. 2005. American families with English ancestors from the colonial era: Anglo Americans. In Ethnicity and family therapy, edited by M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano and N. Garcia-Preto, 520–533. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • McIntosh, T. 2001. Death, every day. In Sociology of everyday life in New Zealand, edited by C. Bell, 234–251. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mead, S.M. 1997. Landmarks, bridges and visions: Aspects of Māori culture. Victoria University Press.

  • ———. 2003. Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori values. Huia.

  • Mitchell, M., M. Coombs, and K. Wetzig. 2017. The provision of family-centred intensive care bereavement support in Australia and New Zealand: Results of a cross sectional explorative descriptive survey. Australian Critical Care 30(3): 139–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Monroe, C.R. 2017. Race and colorism in education. Routledge.

  • Moore, A., J. Grime, P. Campbell, and J. Richardson. 2013. Troubling stoicism: Sociocultural influences and applications to health and illness behaviour. Health 17 (2):159–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Myser, C. 2003. Differences from somewhere: The normativity of whiteness in bioethics in the United States. American Journal of Bioethics 3(2): 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • New Zealand Herald. 2016. Move to recognise Maori death practices may lead to law change. April 12.

  • ———. 2019. Watch: Marlon Williams performs beautiful waiata at National Remembrance Service in Christchurch. March 29.

  • NiaNia, W., A. Bush, and D. Epston. 2016. Collaborative and Indigenous mental health therapy: Tātaihono—stories of Māori healing and psychiatry. London: Taylor & Francis Group.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Nikora, L.W., and N. Te Awekotuku. 2013. Tangihanga: The ultimate form of Maori cultural expression—an overview of a research program. In Pacific Identities and Wellbeing— Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by M. Agee, T. McIntosh, P. Culbertson and C. Makasiale, 169–173. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nursing Council Of New Zealand. 2012. Code of conduct for nurses.

  • 1 News. 2019. Christchurch’s Māori community’s “truly remarkable” response to terror attacks praised by Muslim journalist. March 20. TVNZ. Accessed March 2, 2020.

  • Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. 2019. Bereavement Service. Starship Child Health.

  • Paradies, Y. 2006. Defining, conceptualizing and characterizing racism in health research. Critical Public Health 16(2): 143–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pathak, E.B., S.E. Wieten, and C.W. Wheldon. 2017. Stoic beliefs and health: Development and preliminary validation of the Pathak-Wieten Stoicism Ideology Scale. BMJ Open 7.

  • Paul, C., and B. Brookes. 2015. The rationalization of unethical research: Revisionist accounts of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the New Zealand “unfortunate experiment”. Washington, District of Columbia: American Public Health Association.

  • Potiki, M. 2018. Takiauē (Tangihanga): Death and mourning. In Te kōparapara: An introduction to the Māori world, edited by M. Reilly, G. Leoni, L. Carter, et al., 137–151. Auckland University Press.

  • Ramsden, I. 2002. Cultural safety and nursing education in Aotearoa and Te Waipounamu. PhD dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ritchie, J., S. Morrison, T. Vaioleti, and T. Ritchie. 2013. Transgressing boundaties of private and public: Auto-ethnography and intercultural funerals. In 40th anniversary of studies in symbolic interaction, edited by N.K. Denzin, 95–126. Bingley, U.K.: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

  • Schäfer, C. 2007. Post-mortem personalization: Pastoral power and the New Zealand funeral director. Mortality 12(1): 4–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ———. 2012. Corpses, conflict and insignificance? A critical analysis of post-mortem practices. Mortality 17 (4): 305–321.

  • Sleeter, C.E. 2014. Inheriting footholds and cushions: Family legacies and institutional racism. In Crafting critical stories: Toward pedagogies and methodologies of collaboration, inclusion, and voice, edited by J.F. Carmona and K.V. Luschen, 11–26.

  • Smith, L. 2012. Decolonizing methodologies research and indigenous peoples, 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

  • Smith, N. 2015. Entire Kiwi school performs “spine-tingling” haka for fallen teacher. TVNZ, July 28.

  • Sobralske, M. 2006. Machismo sustains health and illness beliefs of Mexican American men. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 18(8): 348–350.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vocational Training Council. 1975. Understanding Pakehas: A pamphlet to help Polynesian migrants understand the European New Zealander's way of life and work. Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yong, H., S.J. Gibson, D.J. de L. Horne, and R.D. Helme. 2001. Development of a pain attitudes questionnaire to assess stoicism and cautiousness for possible age differences. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 56(5): 279–284.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Belinda Borell.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Borell, B. The Role of Emotion in Understanding Whiteness. Bioethical Inquiry 18, 23–31 (2021).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: