“Ree, can you do this for me? You’re white”.
It’s a line I’ve heard many times before and believe it or not, 9 times out of ten, those words come from the mouths of the people in my own family.
Believe me when I say, I can feel your eye rolls from here. But let me provide some context. I am the oldest of my parents’ 6 children together. I also have an older half-sister and a younger whangai sister (we do call them our sisters but for the sake of context it is necessary to have titles as it will become part of the story).
We didn’t learn about our half-sister until I was 12 and she was 16. She is the daughter of my father. We haven’t always had an easy relationship but I’m happy to say it’s definitely better these days. As a result of how life turns out, I was closer to our siblings growing up, so it’s usually me they come to when they need help with things.
Having been born in 1981, I was part of the generation of children that couldn’t speak te reo Māori, because our parents were never taught it. Living in the city also meant we weren’t overly exposed to Māori culture except for trips home to the marae or the token gestures undertaken by schools of the time, so my education was very much in the Pākehā school system.
My younger siblings (except our whangai), who started to arrive in this world a little over 5 years later, however, attended Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori.
Even though 5 years doesn’t seem like a lot, a lot can happen in 5 years and as a result, the difference in our educations’ is noticable! While I am able to write affidavits that impress lawyers, my siblings can rattle off our pepeha without a 2nd thought. While I am comfortable dealing with government departments, my siblings can break out Haka that will send shivers down your spine.
I’m well aware my siblings share a connection with our Māori culture that I do not but I will say it’s not easy for two non-Māori speaking parents to teach a language they don’t know when resources and support are limited as was the case with mine and many other parents throughout this country at the time.
Now, don’t get it twisted. Do not take my inability to fluently speak te reo Māori to mean that I am completely ignorant and unaware of tikanga. I am very much aware, but that’s a conversation for another day.
The point to all of this is this – I learned from a very early age, long before adulthood, that racism, especially systemic, was and is still alive and well in NZ and doesn’t just come from Pākehā and as much as this comment may cause controversy – Māori are racist too, even against their own.
I have learned over the years that I need to behave more Pākehā than a Pākehā and more Māori than a Māori.
My “white” way of talking means my family takes great delight in listening to me do a takedown of some organisation or person when an injustice has occurred because the person on the other end of the phone is stunned I am able to articulate what the issue is without calling them every name under the sun.
However, my brown skin means my 100-dollar bills are always checked for authenticity in the exact same stores my Pākehā husband will go to and because I am aware of this, for the most part, I am able to “change colour” like a chameleon to adapt to my surroundings.
My reality is that I’m expected to go along with the idea that society has that ALL beneficiaries are Māori and ALL of them are ripping off the system. While I do agree some people do take the proverbial, neither of these are entirely true.
My reality is also that if I don’t carry outrage over a mountain some people want to build houses on, for others to live in, so they are not living in cold run-down accommodations, that I don’t care about Māori.
Why is it that I am constantly being forced to pick sides when I am not only Māori, but also of Irish, Scottish and Yugoslav descent?
Why am I not allowed to look at both sides of the story and form my own opinion?
Why am I not allowed to be proud of all the positive aspects of all of my heritage whilst also calling out the negative aspects of all of my heritage?
Why is it ok for others to express their views and opinions without fear of backlash, threats, and mockery but not me?
So yes, I am a mad, not quite black woman. Mad that society has created a world where your opinions are given value based on the colour of your skin and not on making valid points.
I’m mad that society tries to dictate that I need to feel a certain kind of way because of the colour of my skin. That I’m meant to behave like an oppressed person because of the wrongs of the past, as if finding a way to rise above it is somehow a bad thing.
I’m mad that society thinks Māori are nothing more than dole bludging wastes of space with little to contribute to society. I’m mad that government organizations have the audacity to keep changing their name whilst ignoring the issues within the broken system that seems targeted on hurting rather than helping Māori. But most of all I’m mad that people feel that because my opinion is different, I am wrong. If 9,999 people told me 1+1=3 would I be wrong if I was the 10,000th, and only, person that said the answer is 2?
I’m not saying our history is fluffy ducks and fairies. Far from it. However, I’m also not going to use history as an excuse for any of my behaviours, as is so often the case these days, but I will acknowledge it for what it was, accept that it was and always will be part of our history, and work to be better and expect better because I know better.
I will continue to speak out about the fact that Māori are over represented in some of this country’s worst statistics including child abuse and crimes whilst also being proud of the things being achieved by Māori all around the world.
I will speak out against a justice system where a person who sells a plant to help others, runs more of a risk of receiving a jail term than someone who hits and kills a person and runs away from the crime scene or someone who kills their child and gets away with it.
And I will do it with one of the most important values instilled in me by my parents – respect.