Here’s the tea guys: Taika was right, New Zealand is racist as fuck. After hearing the third racist comment in 24 hours, I snapped and told someone they were racist as fuck. Right to their face. They cried. It wasn’t what I planned, obviously. But because of the way the system works, I was the one that transgressed social norms. That person was told that they need to be careful what they say around people, because some people may find it offensive. I was seen as the aggressor, the bully, told to work on my delivery of the message I was trying to relay. So here it is, I’m going to write my message, hopefully it’s palatable enough for the masses, but my guess is that it won’t be. I want to preface this with the recognition of the privilege I have by being born light skinned, I hold a unique position where I simultaneously carry the scars of the women of colour that came before me, while floating through white spaces undetected. This is why I so often find myself fighting on the topic, because I continually hear the comments that white people would never say in front of a person of colour, because they are socialised from a young age that racism is supposed to be hidden. It’s only expressed in ‘safe spaces’, where white solidarity will be maintained.
I grew up with strangers calling me “casper” and my own family praising me with statements like “not bad for a white girl”. As I began to be socialised into white supremacy, I thought this was racism, my young mind thought racism was discrimination against any one because of what they looked like. As I got older and university educated, I realised its so much more complex than that. Racism is a societal structure that we are all socialised into, there is no way not to be racist, unless you live in a vacuum. Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility explains that currently we see it as a dichotomy where racist = bad person and not racist = good person, which is why people find it so offensive to be called out on their racism. Saying you’re not racist blinds you to your own racial biases, if you claim they’re not there then you can’t examine or challenge them. Some people are more racist than others, there’s no doubt about it, I’m not saying that a casually racist comment is the same as being a neo-nazi, but every time we let a comment slide, we reinforce the system.
We live in a colonised nation, just like the US, Canada and Australia. The data shows that across all of these nations, health outcomes are significantly worse for people of colour. To maintain the status quo, we are all made to believe that we are successful because we are harder working, more financially savvy and better educated. What they don’t teach you at school is that if you are white, you are reaping the benefits of colonisation daily. Land was stolen, there was a deliberate attempt to erase indigenous culture and the violence continues today. Colonisation is not in the past, it is an ongoing process. We see it in mass incarceration, poverty and right down to the refusal to pronounce Māori names correctly. We are quick to identify those in our communities who are underprivileged, but its harder to acknowledge that in order for there to be underprivileged, there have to be overprivileged. My computer doesn’t even recognise that as a word, if that isn’t a sign of how deep this shit is engrained, I don’t know what is.
Here in New Zealand, we have similar programmes to what the US called affirmative action, where there are different university entrance requirements for Māori and Pacific. Most white people I ask about this claim it’s not fair, and heck that was me once. I really had no idea that there are so many ways the system is stacked up against POC, that creating different standards for entrance is actually quite a minor attempt at levelling the playing field. There have been some claims in the media recently that it is a class problem we have here in New Zealand, not race. That’s partly true, but it doesn’t change the fact that people of colour are disproportionately economically deprived. Since day one I have been socialised to believe that people that look like me finish school, get a degree, start a family and live life happily ever after. Mainstream representations of people of colour look significantly different. For all of us these messages become internalised, and ultimately they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Think about this next time you watch the news or read the herald, look at the language that is used, the images that are used. We can’t change the system if we can’t see it, and it’s no accident that it’s hard to see.
So I guess what I’m asking of you is to examine the system, see how it benefits you and harms others. I don’t have the answers for dismantling the system but I’m definitely trying my hardest to not reinforce it. Some days that looks like politely asking why someone is complaining about Māori language week and showing them the new interactive app Kupu, which makes learning everyday Māori words easier than ever. Some days it looks like absolutely losing my cool and swearing out of pure frustration. I’m asking all of us to do better, to speak up when necessary, but to first and foremost elevate the voices of the people who are getting fucked over by the system the most. Stop asking them to educate you, just do it yourself. Finally, on that note, if you only read one book this year, please, please, please make it White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.