Three cheers to becoming a Two Flag Nation

They're just wee flags squeezed onto car windows. But they symbolise something much more than rugby and something I hope will out live the Rugby World Cup

When Governor William Hobson famously declared "He iwi tahi tatou" (We are all one people) to the rangatira who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, he left an awkward legacy. I imagine he meant well and all, perhaps as he saw it merely offering some noble words of colonial unity. But our history is littered with unhelpful attempts to make those words come true.

From the turn of the century when many – without urgent concern – assumed Maori to be dying race through the mid-20th century when Pakeha New Zealanders would confidently assert that this country had the best race relations in the world, the dominant mindset was, well, that there was only really one dominant mindset that would prevail here.

We would all become this single thing – a New Zealander. It was never clear exactly what that was; indeed, to try to express it was considered subversive, a bit poofterish and not really very New Zealand-ish at all.

You knew it when you saw it though. It was a bit humble and a bit decent and a bit irreverent and a bit rugged and a bit more bloody-minded. And more.

The conformity of the mid-20th century made it very hard to step outside that identity. It was just who we were meant to be. Like Hobson said.

One thing it certainly didn't involve was any tikanga. Or fancy ideas about kaitiakitanga or manaakitanga or that sort of stuff. That Treaty of Waitangi wasn't part of it either, except as something that happened ages ago.

Today, there's still a strong streak of this attitude running through the country, as seen in the reaction to Don Brash's Orewa speech. We're all the bloody same. No "special treatment" because no-one's different. Why can't everyone just be happy to be like me? Y'know?

We're all bloody New Zealanders, right?

Right. And wrong.

There's a lot that unites us in this country, and by no means do I mock the common threads of identity we share. There is something unique about the confluence of cultures, histories and geography in this country that adds up to a particular and precious New Zealand identity.

But there's something wonderful that's emerged in just the past few weeks, as people have embraced the Rugby World Cup.

We've become a two-flag nation. And no-one's angsting over it.

All over Auckland at least, cars are flying a New Zealand or All Blacks flag... plus one other. One side is true blue Kiwi. The other is Samoan. Or Welsh. Or American. Or South African. Or Fijian. Or Scottish. Or Irish – especially Irish. And so on and so on.

New Zealanders are discovering their other. People are showing off their non-kiwi bits.

And rather than have someone telling them that we're all the same, or that we all have to assimilate and share one world view, we're celebrating with a toot, a wave or a good old bit of banter.

Make no mistake, it's vital that we hang onto the ties that bind us, and rugby is part of that. Indeed, perhaps it's precisely because we're in this safe mental or cultural space created by rugby and because we're safe in the knowledge that we have a common meeting place – a rugby ground and 15 men in black – that we feel free to express our differences.

But right now it's OK to be a French New Zealander or a Tongan New Zealander or an English New Zealander. It's OK to confess a different world view or set of priorities. And this is a very good thing.

It's common in the US to describe yourself as an Irish American or a Polish American or, of course, an African American. But it's been resisted here as somehow dangerous and disloyal. Especially if you want to be a Maori New Zealander or a Pakeha New Zealander.

Look at the debates over the years about what we call ourselves on official forms, over the use of the word pakeha and over so-called "one law for all" issues. The common thread in all those political debates have been a fear of difference.

Now? Now we're celebrating those differences, even if it's in a small way. Those other flags on so many cars – and on the fences, and bedroom windows, and in the face paint – say 'I love this country, but I have other identities, other values as well'. The fact we're taking pride in that and enjoying all the different cultural expressions that brings shows a healthy level of maturity.

No, we can't en masse be as comfortable with the concept of being a Maori New Zealander as we can be with a Canadian New Zealander or Romanian New Zealander. Those others don't seek to share power, and so don't threaten our social order in the same way.

The idea of Maori being a bit different has political consequences that many still resent and reject.

But seeing those flags flying from cars as they zoom by gives me hope that we Pakeha can become more comfortable with other ways of being a New Zealander – be it a Chinese New Zealander or gay New Zealander or poor New Zealander. Or even a Maori New Zealander.

Those flags are a fluttering sign of change and maybe open the door just an inch further to new political possibilities.

My wish now is that we carry this two flag spirit beyond the Rugby World Cup and remember the joy of diverse worldviews and traditions coming together, so that yes we can be one as New Zealanders; but that we can still be many, as well.