My heart broke a little this morning – I received a DM from a rangatahi I’ve known for some time now, and they were feeling very down. The usual burden of climate anxiety, layered with the emotional legacy of covid, and now the rise in racist hatred is taking its toll on so many, and we are about to enter into an electoral year – which we all know comes with its own levels of brutality – with depleted reserves. For you, my friend, and for all of our rangatahi, I wanted to say:
I know things are hard right now. I know it all seems insurmountable at times.
The world you are being handed is one in turmoil, with an uncertain future.
Truth be told – this trajectory of peril has been set for some time now, but never before were we able to access proof of that peril, expose it, and speak out to it, as we have been now, and it is taking a lot of work – much of which you too will have to bear. I wish it wasn’t so, I wish we could have taken care of so much more, but nevertheless I take heart that we have progressed enough to make the extreme right very, very anxious – and it’s important to understand that the global rise of the right, with all their hate and violence, is a direct reaction to social rights progress over many generations now – resulting in you, and the powerhouse you are.
Whenever you hear them speak nostalgically about the “good old days” – they are always referring to the wind back of social justice – the days before the marginalised had a voice, the days before we had diverse representation in media, parliament and other sites of power, the days before we valued equity and human rights for all. All of the social justice progress of the past seven decades: Civil rights, Indigenous rights, Migrant Rights, environmental rights, Disabled rights, Queer rights, Fat rights are exactly what stoke extreme right anxiety. Violence and hate are simply their most base instincts in their fight to survive.
The white supremacist structure is broad (it has, after all, been built over 500 years). At one end of the spectrum you have centrist power-mongers who passively protect and maintain colonial privilege whilst presenting as benign allies. At the other, you have white identity extremists who hold less structural power but are often the loudest, most offensive, hateful and violent. Don’t let the latter distract you from the former – focus on the sites of accountable power, and continue to articulate, with all your beautiful, passionate, eloquent, powerful voices, what true justice looks, sounds, and feels like. Remind those sites of accountable power that it is their responsibility to deal with the violent and hateful extremities of their own colonial political ideologies.
A dear frontline sister once said to me: The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when your abuser knows you are going to leave. Never before have we made it more clear to our abuser that we don’t need them, don’t want them, and are well equipped to do without them. This is exactly why the right is raging in its ugliest form yet.
As many great leaders have said – the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. That is not to say it will cosmically take us there without work, but rather that the the human spirit is indomitable – it can never rest in oppression, nor the truth rest in darkness – both will find, or fight their way inevitably to the light.
The work put in by previous generations to fight for Tiriti justice and education, for reo, tikanga, matauranga, and taiao, has provided us with the cultural, intellectual and political confidence to stand our ground, and has made YOU the scariest damn nightmare the right has ever had to behold.
We now have a new resistance generation, culturally grounded, with the tools of eloquence, political awareness, and righteous determination – ready to pick up this struggle, and take it to new heights. Use the gifts they secured for you to balance your decolonization with reindigenisation – don’t forget to bathe the wounds of your battles with the colonizer, in the soothing waters of our taonga, our karakia, our wananga, our taiao, our waiata, puoro, reo and matauranga. It will renew you to continue the journey, until it’s time for you, too, to pass on the torch.
I know when that happens you will have achieved wonderful things. When I think of what previous resistance generations had at their disposal, and what they have been able to achieve – and I look before me at the quality and strength of our rangatahi movement – I’m filled with hope.
So please, never lose heart. It’s ok to rest, it’s ok to take a breather, in fact you must – because the struggle is intergenerational. But never lose heart – it is precisely the success of our movement that drives colonial anxiety. We have come a long way, and whatever others may say – we are winning.
Composed for all of my Indigenous relations. We got this.
I have a stone in my shoe and I can’t walk straight and I’m sick to my gut perhaps it’s something I never ate perhaps it was the taro held in leathery hands, that guided me here through old seas to new lands held in her belly, a gift from Hawaiiki the taste upon my ancestral tongue, that would have been a reminder of their continuity in me
I have a stone in my shoe And I can’t go on I hear you say you want to fix me with a solution never meant for me formaldehyde fixed versions of me forlorn, pickled, measured sitting on shelves objectified, observed, preserved in your solution crafted by Kant, Locke and Descartes but did you stop to think that maybe you’re in this belljar with me
And sure, looking out through this crystalline colonial curvature these self described bearers of enlightenment may have all the answers like breeding us out of existence with theories of blood quantum that reduce me to a walking pie chart like the question of whether I’m even human coming down to the colour of my skin The Enlightenment Period was made to lighten you, period.
“when civilised nations come into contact with barbarians the struggle is short… new vices are highly destructive… those who are most susceptible to its destructive influence are gradually weeded out , and so it may be with the evil effects from spiritous liquors as well as with the unconquerably strong taste for them shown by so many savages.”
So hear me out, it’s wild, savage even, I know but maybe the problem isn’t me Maybe I’m a native, grown perfectly poor in a garden of weeds maybe my toxicity is the fruit of the same seeds planted by colonial universities and we keep getting told: “We’ll deal with that later…” “Don’t play the race card” “Don’t look back” “Just walk on” “Just walk on” But my brother just walked off the edge And I ain’t takin another step Cause I got a damn stone in my shoe
Stop looking at me like I’m the problem waiting to be solved Like my land was waiting to be sold Like my ancestors were waiting to be vanquished Like their children were waiting for colonial mischief Like we ain’t already had 500 years of being told we are the problem some kind of dark manifest destiny existing for you to come save me awaiting enlightenment by European philosophies rooted in a Doctrine of Discovery created to legitimise slavery a tool to erase our native divinity
De Zurara 1450:
“And so the native African lot was now quite the contrary of what had once been… in that at home they lived like beasts, without any custom of reasonable being – for they had no knowledge of bread or wine, or shoe or cloth and only knew how to live in bestial sloth. But as soon as they came to this land, and men gave them prepared food, their bellies began to swell, and for a time they were ill, until they were accustomed to the nature of the country, but some of them were so made that they were not able to endure it and died, but as Christians… they were very loyal and obedient servants, without malice.”
Yeah, maybe it was something I ate Or maybe it was the lies that they fed to retain me as a loyal and obedient servant to the colonial economy to contain me in a box shaped like a reserve a land block a prison cell a hospital ward a movie screen
Preserved, in your formaldehyde solution at that exact moment of invasion forever exotic, forever subdued, forever subjected to a colonial gaze Not your dusky southsea maiden Not your lovely hula hands Not your savage haka peepshow Did you know that cultural appropriation of our Moana was initiated in the brothels of London and we’ve existed within Euro-maginations from then, til now as sexually available commodities there to be taken as they please our ancestress deities stripped from our collective memory But I hear her calling me Calling me to sing her back To say her name To chant her words again It’s time.
I got a stone in my shoe [stones] and maybe that stone is you and maybe we need to heal together you, me, and our mother She who has carried all ancestral truth through time Let us share that truth Like taro upon our tongues Weeding out the colonially cultivated self-blame Take what has been dismembered and Re-member ourselves with the cadence of ancestral prayer let the tonal salve of Hineraukatauri seek out the pain of generations and draw it from your marrow back into the belly of she who holds us all let’s resculpt let’s renew let’s radically rejoice in who we are and who we have always been destined to be seeds of chiefs sown in the belly of gods the sum total of the interwoven love of thousands Ara mai anō Hineteiwaiwa! Ara mai anō Hinerauwhārangi! Ara mai anō Kēkerewai!
It’s time to re-imagine our full rematriation to our waters our lands our plans for joyous, thriving futures defy colonial timelines and expectations and surrender now to the pull of Hina mother moon aligning our cycles to rhythmic tides and familial migrations and listen, feel, see, sense the present with our whole beings to make sense of the universe again. and reset our trajectory, here, now on our own terms in our own time and re-emerge proud, whole, marked, healed and healing stepping into our roles as good ancestors continuing their stories and starting ours afresh for nothing is ever lost in this neverending series of new beginnings
Let us offer ceremony back To what has been taken for granted With each breath honour the inhalation of sky father, Again, becoming one, with Earth Mother In a constant cycle of life, within you Each breath a gift of their reunion Remelding the negative and positive Within your whare wananga As oxygen, blood, and flesh Ranginui, Wainui, Papa-tu-a-nuku
Offer thanks to sacred water who carries Sky Father aloft to his love A cooling nourishment for your inner eco-system clearing the way for your righteous voice to reach the sun Salving joints that have borne the weight of injustice for too long Presaturating your fully weeded garden for the replanting of native medicine cleansing our bodies our minds our spirits beckoning us internally to the external water cycles that connect sky sea and land Tuia i runga Tuia i raro Tuia i roto Tuia i waho Tuia te here tangata Ka rongo te pō Ka rongo te ao Above, below, within, without Becoming one Becoming whole Becoming present Tihei Mauri Ora.
(aku mihi ki a: Karlo Mila, Rachael Rakena, Moana Jackson, Haunani K Trask, Diana and Mark Kopua)
So after years of constantly making words up (because English isn’t expansive enough to describe its own f**kery) I’ve decided to bring a number of “isms” together and compile a little glossary:
Indigiphile: n. person who fetishizes Indigenous culture, most often white new age/hippy folk but especially those with exploitative intentions (haka workshops in Germany for middle-class white folk; white”shaman” healers etc)
Frag-ally: n. people whose allyship falls apart as soon as they need to critically examine their own behaviour, or not center themselves. Also tend to act up if you refuse to hold their hand on their journey or be their public brown endorser.
Flagophile: n. colonizer who loves beating themselves up publicly for being a bad, bad colonizer rather than changing their behaviour and have little to no regard for how their self-flagellation & demands for attention are also a waste of our time & energy.
Colonielle: n. Female colonizer. Extremely venomous. Avoid at all costs.
Bekhi: n. Becky (basic white girl without a clue), but new age. Often marked with a dreamcatcher tattoo, wants a moko kauwae SO BAD, wears a lot of tassels, bindis, and partial to claiming Indigenous spirit guides.
Coloni-splaining: (v) When colonizers explain colonization (and what should be done about it) to Indigenous people. Quite often with theories they pulled outta their colon.
Compulsive Unimaginative Non-Solution Disorder [CUND]: n. incontrollable compulsion to develop the most boring self-serving solutions to problems we never said we had in the 1st place & then trap us in “cundsultation” meetings asking what we think even though we all know that approach sucks.
Ancestral-planing: (v) Indigenous dissociative technique employed when stuck in a room with a coloni-splainer or anyone with a bad case of CUND. Usually begins with wondering what’s for lunch, then eyes glaze over, sounds turn into blah blah blah background noise and your spirit goes off to more interesting places.
Bro-moter: n. Cuzzies that act as colonial wing-men, enthusiastically introducing colonial businessmen and NGOs to native communities. You’ll generally find them online defending colonielles & colonizers (including tone-policing Indigenous critique).
Euro-magination (n) the part of pakeha minds which creates make believe worlds where everyone has wifi, iwi are all rich, Maori all get free University education, wāhine Māori want your attention and need your opinion etc etc
Asstorian: (n) Ahistorical historian. Fond of starting history at convenient points which erase the colonial f**kery leading up to an event. Also usually (but not exclusively) Tory historians.
*This will be a living post, and as new forms of fkery evolve, and new words come to light, I’ll be adding them here.
I’ve been watching the fallout from the overturn of Roe vs Wade with I guess what could be described as a slightly jaded interest. Not because I don’t care about bodily autonomy, of course I do, but because whenever “women’s rights” issues boil to the surface in the United States, it inevitably exposes itself as actually being about “white women’s rights” even though it impacts Indigenous, Brown, Black, and Migrant communities first and worst. It’s a sad fact that for the most part, we have to wait for a matter to impact upon white women’s rights before they will take a stand.
In considering the recent overturn of Roe vs Wade, and what that means for us in Aotearoa, and what it will take to keep us safe from these forces, we have to be very clear about what those forces are: Right-wing, Euro-Christian fundamentalism. It is inherently racist, misogynist, and patriarchal. It is the scaffolding for colonialism, and it holds strong, nationalistic political influence both in United States and here in Aotearoa-New Zealand. This same imperialist patriarchy, however, is also the context within which European women have forged their own success and this struggle can be characterised as one where they have rallied against patriarchal oppression of their own rights, whilst simultaneously leveraging off the racist oppression of non-white communities.
There has been some rather weak suggestions (unsurprisingly from white men) that we have nothing to worry about here in Aotearoa, that the infringement of women’s rights like what we are now seeing in the USA could never happen here.
I can tell you here and now, that women’s rights in Aotearoa are absolutely at risk, from exactly the same forces that have resulted in the overturn of Roe vs Wade.
And if you don’t like hearing that then you really won’t like what’s coming next:
It’s likely to get much, much worse, both over there and here.
You may have seen this clip before, it’s an important and powerful one, and it would help to watch again, in this context.
It’s full of king-hit truths, but the most important words for me, in this clip are the following from Jocelyn Wabana Lahtail:
“You haven’t even started your healing journey yet”
Healing journeys start with truth, and the primary truth that must be faced here is that coloniellism (ie white feminism) CANNOT ultimately oppose patriarchy, because it is a subset of patriarchy. This primary truth is expanded upon by the following three themes, which can function as stepping stones in our healing journey for what a truly feminist position should be, for Aotearoa and elsewhere.
1. Women’s healthcare has grown out of a racist, misogynist, BIGOTED history
J. Marion Sims, lauded as the “father of modern gynaecology” carried out his surgical experiments on the bodies of enslaved black women, with no anaesthesia. Of course being enslaved, they had no bodily autonomy but this did not matter to white women of the time, many of whom had their own slaves, many of whom offered up these women to be butchered in the first place, and when movement for women’s political rights, which would of course be the precursor to their bodily rights, swept through the United States it was to the exclusion of Black, Brown and Native sisters. This was no different in Aotearoa – just as black suffragettes were refused membership by their white counterparts in the US South, so too were wahine mau moko kauwae refused membership of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, headed by suffragette Kate Sheppard here in Aotearoa.
If you look at the states where Roe vs Wade’s overturn will have the greatest immediate impact, unsurprisingly its the states that are also the most violent towards Black, Indigenous and other non-white people AND towards trans and nonbinary folk as well.
That’s not a coincidence. Bodily autonomy and safety has been denied for centuries in these spaces, from the same forces which we are encountering now in the overturn of Roe vs Wade. The only difference is that now, it’s happening to CIS white women, as well.
In the 1970s the birthrate of native children in the United States was more than halved through the practice of forced sterilization at the hands of the state. At its worst point, over 25% of native women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44 had been forcefully sterilized. These procedures were not always carried out properly, resulting in complications like ectopic pregnancies, requiring further procedures – however those subsequent procedures were not funded by the government, resulting in pain, injury and death for many native women. This may be the first time you are hearing about this: that is likely because it did not happen to white women, it happened to native women.
Likewise here in Aotearoa, Maori were forcefully sterilized through the 1920s as a part of legislation aimed at removing the physically, mentally and intellectually unfit members of NZ society. While the policies were not explicitly aimed at Maori, the colonial determinants of who was deemed “unfit” meant that Maori were disproportionately featured in those groups – in much the same way as how discriminatory policies against gangs and beneficiaries become code for anti-Maori policy.
If you think this is relegated to history and no longer a matter of concern, consider that:
In 2019 a for-profit ICE detention centre forced sterilization procedures on immigrant women.
In 2012 the then Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett publicly endorsed the court-ordering of beneficiaries to not have children, and the enforcement of “compulsory lifelong contraception”.
Medical schools in the USA have a brutal, violent and racist history that includes, of course, racist colonial assumptions about our bodies, minds and rights, but extends through to the theft of Black and Native corpses for experimentation and teaching. Biased medical education and policy is not constrained by borders. The racist assumptions of medical education in the UK and USA was taught directly to those who developed medical education here in Aotearoa and also developed health policies here in Aotearoa, and unsurprisingly this resulted in racial disparity in our own health system.
For all of these reasons, it’s been disheartening, to say the least, to watch Wahine Maori MPs be targeted for their votes in relation to abortion legislation. I have not spoken with them, I can’t expand upon their media statements nor am I saying I agreed with their votes, but the recent attacks upon them have come across as tone-deaf and distinctly colonielle, with little to no acknowledgement of the racialised dimensions of this issue. It’s certainly perverse that this matter should result in Wahine Maori again being targeted.
The racist history of women’s healthcare still persists today in the following ways:
Racial disproportion in maternal suicide The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) is an independent committee that reviews the deaths of babies and mothers in New Zealand. They have put out 14 annual reports, on the causes of death and near death events for babies and mothers. Every year, the greatest cause of death for pregnant mothers is suicide, and every year, Maori are disproportionately represented in this tragic statistic, representing 57% of suicides in New Zealand during pregnancy or within six weeks of birth as well as being over-represented in the other causes of maternal morbidity such as severe blood loss during birth, and are less likely to receive life saving treatment from clinicians in such a scenario.
Racial disproportion in treatment of breast cancer Wahine Maori are less likely to access screening services, less likely to be referred on for chemotherapy, less likely to have satisfactory care, and are significantly less likely than non-Maori women to receive their cancer treatment within international guidelines
Racial disproportion in resuscitation of Maori babies Again, looking at the PMMRC reports you will see that year after year Maori babies that are born prematurely or suffer birth complications and require resuscitation are less likely to be resuscitated than pakeha babies.
2. Lack of access to abortions is a distinct issue for Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Migrant Women
There is no doubt at all that the overturn of Roe vs Wade will impact upon Indigenous, Brown, Black and Migrant communities first and worst. Racist misogyny within police and justice sectors means these groups are less likely to have sexual assaults against them fully investigated, which makes them more attractive targets and they are consequently much more likely to be sexually assaulted. We are less likely to have access to appropriate sexual and reproductive education resources, which leads to less empowered and supported decision making around when, and with whom and how we share our bodies, and all of this leads to a higher likelihood of unintended pregnancies (Maori are, again, disproportionately represented in abortion services). In the USA, Black women are five times more likely to utilise abortion services. Our First Nations sisters are the most likely to be sexually assaulted yet, for decades before Roe vs Wade was overturned, federal law has forbidden Health Service Clinics on reservations from carrying out abortions. There have been no marches, no global campaigns, no international solidarity for the limitations upon Native women’s health rights.
Abortion services, like much of the maternal health care system in Aotearoa, are structured around sets of assumptions about women’s minds and bodies and those assumptions are, unsurprisingly, white and middle class. I have, first hand, witnessed young, scared Maori women being shepherded towards abortion services not because the people around them wanted the Mama to make the best health decision for her, but because they held deeply racist ideas about that woman’s ability to parent, or even right to parent. Yes we should have access to these services, but that access should be safe from racist influences.
Ok so we’ve established that the current issue of women’s health rights sorely needs decolonizing in order to succeed because of 1. The history of women’s healthcare is rooted in racist misogyny and 2. Lack of access to abortion services is a distinct and disproportionately greater issue for non-white women and so here’s the third reason:
3. Colonielles have RIDDEN colonialism throughout history and is a subset of colonial patriarchy.
Coloniellism (or white feminism) has consistently chosen colonial power over solidarity with BBI women and non-men for a long time, this is evidenced by both the lack of vocal solidarity with Native Women as successive governments failed to halt their continued abduction and murders, as well as the lack of accountability for the way in which colonielles weaponise their colonial privilege against BBI women and non-men and their families (eg false accusations, racist harassment, and false victimhood).
Colonielles have not only ridden colonialism throughout history, throwing their Black, Brown, Indigenous and Migrant sisters into the furnace of their colonial steam engines, but they have then gone on to claim credit for the progress of women’s rights around the world. So let me be clear on this:
Coloniellism (white feminism) has NEVER recouped what has been taken from Indigenous, Black, Brown and Migrant sisters through the process of colonisation.
Before colonialism/coloniellism came along, my tipuna wahine were political powerhouses and substantial landowners. While women were banned from education in Europe, Wahine Maori ran their own sacred schools of learning that held equal footing with all others. Well before misogynist Christian domination removed female bodily autonomy, including the right of wahine to end a pregnancy, abortion was practiced by tipuna wahine and respected as their decision, which is just one of the reasons why so much land was passed down through female lines, particularly in Tairawhiti. While European women were considered chattels, our tipuna wahine were military strategists, commanding defence of mana whenua and mana tangata. While European women still struggled for constitutional power, tipuna wahine were being recorded permanently in history through art and geography as eponymous ancestors of entire dynasties, wielding political agency that their European counterparts could only dream of. White feminism has never been able to restore our pre-colonial levels of political power, nor would I expect it to, because the political power of wahine Maori is a much larger threat to colonial patriarchy and the colonielle power it supports.
There are further, important differences between white women feminist causes and that of marginalised women. White women feminism has, throughout history, rested on political and economic parity with their husbands and brothers. This in itself is a reflection of the colonial privilege enjoyed by white women, because hyper-incarceration of their husbands and sons, excessive police violence and targeting of their husbands and sons, and the forced removal of their children from their homes did not feature strongly enough in the lives of white women to feature in their rights campaigns. Indeed, white women feature across history not as allies in the fight against hyper-incarceration of our own brothers and husbands, but as drivers of further incarceration.
Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Migrant feminism must necessarily address and include our broader community because these very racialised experiences inevitably fall on our shoulders, too. Yet where are our white sisters when we stand up to Oranga Tamariki? Where are our white sisters when we protest the closure of a kohanga reo? Where are our white sisters when we call for an end to racist hyperincarceration?
For all of these reasons, standing for non-white women’s rights necessitates standing for Native, Black, Brown and Migrant rights in general, which we have yet to see from the colonielles in our midst (and currently dominating the space).
So I will say it again: Colonielles have nowhere near the requisite moral capital to halt the march of colonial patriarchy. Both colonielles and their colonizer husbands and brothers, still need to undertake their own healing journey and confront their own violent ideologies, a step which colonielles in particular are loathe to do, because they are addicted to their roles as damsels in distress, as victims of the system that they actually suckle off. The time that they are wasting in confronting these uncomfortable truths allows the white supremacist patriarchy to grow stronger every day.
So what to do about all of this? Understand that the power of women on this land existed well before colonizer men and women arrived. Understand that it is literally soaked into the soil under your feet, flowing along riverbeds, surging along our coastlines. Acknowledge that Indigenous, Black, Brown, Migrant women have led political resistance without, and often in spite of colonielle presence for generations. Center the rights of Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Migrant women and non-men in all of your calls for justice. Understand how it intersects with oppression of our LGBTQI+ community, particularly of trans/irawhiti whanau, how it intersects with ableism and other forms of discrimination. Learn the art of radical decentering. Cede space, join the call for decolonization, and educate yourself.
I really don’t enjoy having to do this, so I wish white theorists would stop using their racialised privilege to undermine racial justice work. But here we are, in a nation that centers Don Brash during Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, centers white psychiatrists on discussions of Matauranga Maori, and centers a white anthropologist in discussions on race critical theory. Even if we can’t live in a world where the opinions like this article, where Dame Anne Salmond historically and cultural decontextualises Te Tiriti o Waitangi to her own ends, makes it to print, it would nonetheless be nice if that was not connected to a system which dehumanises and disadvantages our people at every turn.
But here we are.
And just like the Lizendallobarthoglas article (which I’m quite sure is obliquely referenced in this article by Salmond), it’s important for us to place our truth. Because the plain fact of the matter is that opinion pieces like this are picked up by those with power and influence, and are used to perpetuate harm – harm that the author will never, herself, experience. Harm that instead delivered to me, and mine.
Time to deconstruct more white piffle. Gloves on, sanitise, let’s go:
Why does she call upon this narrative, and this character? What appeal does he have to her argument?
1. He is Indigenous, and so she is extracting from his indigeneity to make her point. This is not new, she has extracted from Indigenous minds and bodies her entire career, it has paid for her house, her car, her overseas trips, her everything. She is white, but never declares her whiteness… quite the opposite she has taken Waititi like a toy doll and is using mimicry to try and fake some kind of cultural authority which she, as a white woman, does not have.
2. He has a strong public platform, and so the reframing of his words to suit her narrative draws from his platform – but this process actually takes place over the length of the essay, this is just where she has placed the marker to start the process of twisting the points he made. Waititi never once suggested we should unteach race. He has suggested you can unteach racism – you do not do that by erasing it. In fact, it is exactly the wish of colonial racism that you DO ignore it, so it can continue to extract from brown and black bodies of flesh and our lands and waters.
3. It provides a neat segue to the next paragraph where she goes even deeper into her appropriation of whakapapa.
So let’s point out the obvious, first – this is a clearcut case of claiming proximity as expertise – it is no different to Judith Collins using her Samoan husband as her authority on Pasifika matters, or pakeha women with Maori children speaking “on their behalf” or the pakeha male who went to school with Maori. It is just being exercised to a different degree, and empowered by white academic power structures.
The use of tipuna Maori to further an agenda is for the whanau of said tipuna, ultimately, to call for account – so I won’t be wading into the specifics of what they said, or didn’t say, or meant, or thought.
What I can say though is that those who have followed Salmond’s work long enough know that she consistently draws from this relationship to weigh in on telling Maori how to be Maori. She has pakeha genealogy, as do the tipuna she cites over, and over and over again, and she consistently uses this connection, including in this instance their shared pakeha genealogy to feign mandate to speak on Te Ao Maori. At the end of the day, Salmond does not have the requisite whakapapa to shape this debate.
This is a very common trait of Salmond’s writings, to draw from Maori rather than her own cultural underpinnings in order to make her point. She uses Maori rhetoric, Maori themes, Maori protocols, and Maori proverbs, injecting her own speculation, and placing her decades old interactions with people who can no longer speak for themselves,
Furthermore, the fact that she has so blatantly twisted Waititi’s words to her own agenda and that her reasoning is called into question by numerous Maori and race scholars compels the reader to question her mandate to use Maori to justify her own racial theories in the first place.
It is a common fallacy of white anthropologists that they assume there is a period of time which they can spend which will provide this mandate. Back in the day armchair theorism was huge (and with the advent of the internet, spouting theories from the comfort of your armchair has made a strong comeback). Salmond was trained in a time when armchair anthropology was still rife, but increasingly criticised. New Zealand anthropologist Raymond Firth published ten books on the people and culture of Tikopia (in the Solomon Islands), was granted professorships at the London School of Anthropology, Cornell, University of Hawai’i and elsewhere for his “in depth” scholarship on Tikopia culture, and his texts are still, today, utilised in university courses on Pacific culture and anthropology – he went there just three times (1928, 1956, 1966).
So just how long should an anthropologist spend with a people before they really “know” them? A year, to see them in all of theseasons? 5 years? What should that interaction look like? Going to someone’s house to interview them? Or living with them? How many people should that include? 2? Or living 24/7 amongst them in the context of their village, their whanau, their hapu and their iwi? What is the responsibility of that person to maintain their immersion in that world in order to have some perspective on its social evolution through time? Why would Salmond continue to draw from these two figures and her interactions with them, decades ago, when she could easily draw from her immersion in Te Ao Maori now, if, indeed, she has that?
The assumption that white anthropologists can spend a particular period of time with some people and use that as the basis for expertise is rooted in racism. It draws directly from the traditions of white academia which posit that European men are the source of all rational thought, and all that’s required for them is sparse observation of a group, and they can apply their innate rationality to understand them better than they understand themselves. It’s tired, we are all bored of it, and it is well past its expiry date.
We have always, ALWAYS had our own Indigenous intellectual discipline and traditions, but have also grown our own scholars within western academia and are more than equipped to speak to our own worlds, interpret our own protocols, and position ourselves accordingly. Take a breath and read:
There is no number of years, no number of interviews, no number of hui, that a white anthropologist can attend that affords them more expertise over Maori, than Maori do over themselves.
The fact that Maori scholars eclipse all other expertise on our worlds naturally threatens white anthropologists who have made their careers out of extracting from, publishing on, re-framing and exploiting Maori worlds and words. Anti-racism calls for the declaration of positionality – it demands that people critically examine the bias and privilege that their skin colour, gender, ability, class and/or cis-hetero status affords them. Note – not once does Salmond do any of that.
There, see that? That is where Salmond pivots from racism to race. Taika Waititi never said that – but again, Salmond is putting words in his mouth for her own ends.
Ok – quick digression on Biological Anthropology – that is the most physically violent branch of the discipline – for the exact purpose of legitimising Imperial expansion. Exercises in measuring and pickling black and Indigenous brains, and theorising on relationships between the melanin in ones skin and their intellectual and physical capabilities, were formed to validate the violent invasion and theft of black and brown lands and the displacement and enslavement of black and brown bodies – and biological anthropology still operates today to maintain those harmful racist theories FOR THE PURPOSE of maintaining the privilege and power sourced from said land theft, displacement and enslavement. Biological/Physical anthropologists have long held the perverse space of ignoring race as emancipatory practice even while failing to confront and dismantle the violent, racist legacy of their own discipline. It’s not surprising, but very telling that this is Salmond’s go-to.
Paragraphs 11-18 are all very basic Tiriti scholarship. It’s 101 stuff. That Maori never ceded sovereignty was formally acknowledged in the Paparahi o Te Raki report in 2010. I won’t post that all here.
This is a basic, dangerous, ahistorical and decontextualised statement to make. The tino rangatiratanga of hapu/Maori existed well before Victoria came along it is not a right created by Te Tiriti but affirmed as REMAINING in spite of Te Tiriti. No such right existed for Non-Maori. That this referred to Maori only is unquestionable and is made further clear in the second article by the fact that pre-emption was an exclusive arrangement between rangatira and the Crown (for the sale of land) and only, ever, from that moment related to whenua Maori. You would be laughed all the way home from the Waitangi Tribunal for suggesting that rangatiratanga was intended for Non-Maori.
Another farcical statement that alludes to erasure of Maori as a racialised grouping who entered into an agreement with the Crown and let’s NOT FORGET that the lawlessness was not an issue of Maori at the time. This is an astounding ahistorical approach which removes Te Tiriti from it’s socio-historical context. Prior to the arrival of Victoria, our ancestors lived in accordance to our own laws, which sustained our whenua, waterways and relationships. There has been no level of disruption that comes anywhere near that which was brought by lawless colonizers. Maori sovereignty and legal validity was further recognised by He Whakaputaanga in 1835. That the lawlessness referred to in the preamble of Te Tiriti was a feature of colonizer “settlers” who absolutely unsettled our social balance is not even debateable – it’s been well and truly debated and settled, and the fact that Salmond want to go back and try to reframe this is, again, a regressive take.
From the perspective of those who understand the construction of race over time, it is exhausting to see such basic attempts at erasure. The mechanics of empire and its construction and maintenance of racial hierarchy is of course not outlined in Te Tiriti – why would it be? This did not however stop colonizing “settlers” and the Crown government they formed from applying that racial hierarchy in a way that created massive inequity, and that story needs to be told in order to understand its injustice. Salmond is fixated on this argument that because the word “race” does not feature in Te Tiriti, that it has no racialised implications – in spite of the fact that Tiriti violations are racist in nature, and enabled by a racist system created by racist Europeans.
Again, no, it is an agreement between the Crown and Maori, who were a racialised grouping, and the fact is that the very arrival of pakeha to Aotearoa was off the back of a racist premise, that Europeans had the right to move around the world, claim land, and set themselves up regardless of the laws of those lands that they were breaking. That Europeans imported racism to Aotearoa is no secret, that race was absent in the context of Te Tiriti, or that it is a non-racial agreement, is flat out wrong.
This continued line of reasoning that the word race has to be explicitly stated in order for race or racism to be present is patently absurd. Europeans were very aware of race – they invented it in the 15th century – the term itself came along a couple of centuries later but none of that is relevant to the fact that the assumptions behind imperial expansion, carried by Cook, carried by Victoria, carried by Hobson, carried by Europeans in general, were not inherently racist. The tools for deconstructing it and articulating its harm and injustice have only really been developed since the advent of race critical theory in the 1970s as a development from the civil rights movement. This does not make it irrelevant or any less of an active force in 1840.
Pay close attention to the language employed here, in saying that Cooke’s judicial interpretation of the Treaty is rewriting the Treaty – she is accusing him of a form of historical revisionism. Yet interpreting the Treaty is precisely what is required of people in such a position. Now, the entire judicial process rests within a racially unjust system but interpreting the Treaty has been done by countless Justices and theorists including Kawharu, Ngata, an abundance of scholar and of course the Waitangi Tribunal itself. It does not “rewrite” the Treaty, but then historical revisionism is a favoured go to by scholars who simply disagree with with what people are saying. That, too, starts with the assumption of a universal truth and rationale, the source of which is white European theorists.
AGAIN – Waititi never issued any such warning about using the word race, and never suggested its erasure.
Race is a construct – that’s not profound or new. It was constructed by European imperialists – that’s also not profound or new. What Salmond misses here is that it was through the spread of European empires that racism became entrenched into the fabric of modern society all around the world. Simply stating the obvious that it is not a biological fact does nothing to deconstruct the injustice of the systems that have been built upon it. That is the “ism” in racism – the systemic embedding of these ideologies. As a system, racism continues to inform the flow of privilege and benefits – of which Salmond is a recipient. I bet she doesn’t want them deconstructed and dismantled, she has a vested interest in their maintenance. Which is precisely why she has not declared her positionality.
Nobody suggested we should unteach race – just you, and a number of white supremacists who would love to ignore race as a powerful social force and important context for understanding colonialism.
This is stomach churning as it is non-sensical – because after using a whole lot of words to undermine rangatiratanga – the basic right of Maori to self-determination, Salmond tries to romantically brandish our own concepts, our own whakapapa, our own concepts to validate her argument. It’s insidious, exploitative, extractive, brownskin-cloaking. Whakapapa is no more explicitly mentioned in Te Tiriti than race is, but that doesn’t stop her from weaponizing it.
Salmond has taken this line often – again the “we are all migrants” line is not new – it is wielded by racists to erase indigeneity. We all have some migrant whakapapa but that does NOT negate the fact that Maori are INDIGENOUS to Aotearoa and to Te Moananui a Kiwa. It does not change the fact that when Europeans brought racism and racial hierarchy to Aotearoa, they applied it, with Imperial force and complete lack of morals, to create racist economic, academic and political systems that persist to this day. As someone who has whakapapa Maori, which Anne does not, I can confidently say that whakapapa has not stopped racism in its tracks. Also – whakapapa is not up for pakeha grabs. It is our concept, it belongs to us to define, and to use. Pakeha anthropologists don’t get to grab it and put it up for everyone to employ in their own little racist redemption song.
And yet never once have they concluded that rangatiratanga applies to all, that racism was not present in the context of Te Tiriti, or that whakapapa negates racism.
For the upteenth time, Waititi never suggests to unteach race. But it’s more important, at this point, to acknowledge the following: What is developed by Tuhoe, and works for Tuhoe, is up to Tuhoe. Same goes for Te Awa Tupua, and the same for Taranaki mounga. I celebrate all of our iwi who have worked out an arrangement that works for them.
What a white anthropologist, thinks of those arrangements does not matter in the slightest and when white people position Maori actions they agree with as arguments against Maori actions they do not agree with – it’s a type of “positive racism” (another example of this is the “good Maori” trope, or complimenting a non-white person for having such good English, or wanting to touch and fondle curly black hair, or calling cultural appropriation “homage”). These agreements are, simply, not hers to judge or use as leverage points against other Maori actions or agreements. Similarly, what she thinks of the march towards tino rangatiratanga, as it manifests in Three Waters, or the Maori Health Authority, or Constitutional Transformation, is NOT hers to judge, nor are they the property and sole product of this government. They are a product of the Maori rights struggle, they have been called for by Maori, and Salmond, a white beneficiary of colonial racism, has absolutely no mandate to critique them.
Look, race is a scientifically invalid method for grouping people into categories based on physical characteristics. Invalid as it was, it was the violent enforcement of racial hierarchy that has caused this division, not the mentioning of the word race. What has allowed that violent coercion to be maintained is the ABSENCE of critical, deconstructive theory that identifies it, exposes its harm, and thereby enables us to develop deliberately ANTIracist solutions.
Removing all reference to race does not remove racism, it empowers it.
We know this because that is how it managed to spread right around the world and embed itself in every social institution while not-being-analytically-discussed for centuries leading up to the civil rights and Indigenous rights movements.
But this is why white women should not bring anthropology to a critical race theory fight.
Again, this is a reason why Anne Salmond needed to declare her positionality a the beginning of this – she is a white anthropologist, a beneficiary of colonial privilege who has not ever experienced colonial racist abuse, speculating on what should be done about that from her own privileged position (and exploiting tikanga Maori to do so). I should also say that on the marae, in pohiri, the declaration of ones position, through whakapapa, tauparapara, and other means, is the basis upon which you will be welcomed, or not. If you are deceptive in your positioning, then that is not at all respectful, and in the old days would have gotten you a straight crack on the head with a mere. James Cook is a great example of what comes to those who pretend to be someone they’re not.
It is not the framing that creates the racist abuse. It is the abuse of white privilege that does so. The abuse of white privilege that allows media editors, like Newsroom, to ascend to their roles without the critical tools necessary to see why an article like this should not be published. The abuse of white privilege that fails to enforce protective controls on social media and media comments sections, making them breeding grounds for anonymous racialised hate. The racist education system that allows people to foster those hateful ideas in the first place.
And for the record, although she does not explicitly say this, there are echoes of “free speech”, “be a nice native” and “reverse racism” arguments in this paragraph which are levelled against those who are righteously angered whenever they are confronted by racist arguments. So let me address this: rage against racism, is righteous rage. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it is not a waste of energy or emotion, it is not misplaced, or wrong, and it most definitely is not up for judgement by white beneficiaries of racism. White people can experience racial prejudice sure but beyond the obvious truth that it’s not a nice feeling – it has no further social consequence for those people. It is not attached to them being racially profiled. It is not attached to denial of access to education, or healthcare. It is not attached to a system of inequity that disadvantages them at every opportunity. It is not connected to a history of mass murder and displacement that still sits in their bones and still shapes their destinies. It is not. up. for white judgement.
Can you see how she has pivoted from “unteaching racism” in the first paragraph to a fully fledged “unteach race” argument, using Waititi as her shield?
Stop taking from our people.
Look, it’s a great pity that we have to do this. It’s a pity that Anne Salmond does not respect her lanes, and in fact, uses her proximity to Te Ao Maori to erase those lanes rather than respect them. It’s a great pity that the editor of Newsroom, and in fact most publications in Aotearoa, do not have the critical nouse to spot the harm a piece like this does. It’s a pity that our own race critical discourse in Aotearoa is so wanting, so embedded in white redemption rather than justice and emancipation for those targeted by racism, that it is left for non-white people to have to deconstruct these arguments for future reference. It would be nice if they could just stick in their lanes, necessitate quality Tiriti and Anti-racist education and policies for those in charge of platforms, and center the voices of those most impacted by racism when it comes to addressing it. Then I could have spent tonight chilling instead of having to place our truth, somewhere, for our mokopuna to find.
This originally started as a group of tweets, which I wrote in a bit of a frustrated state after having to go back through my internal playlist of responses to someone who didn’t quite get racism but really, really felt they did. And that’s the thing with racism – it’s so prevalent that there is a widespread belief that we all understand it very well, and yet, it’s our lack of understanding about it that keeps it so prevalent. Anyhow – the tweets grew very popular and I had a number of requests to write about them so here we are! There are enough misconceptions about race and racism that you could probably write a book about them, but we are going to settle on a handful for today. I’m also going to publish them as flashcards, feel free to download and share them.
One of the greatest barriers to addressing racism is that it’s not identified well, which allows it to hide in plain sight. There is a persisting belief that you are only experiencing racism when someone insults you with a racial slur, or physically attacks you because of the colour of your skin. These are of course racist events, but it’s important to understand that racist acts exist within RACIST SYSTEMS. They are permitted because there are policies that enable them… and because of a lack of policies that disable them. This is SYSTEMIC, or STRUCTURAL racism. It can only be addressed through ANTI-RACIST policy. There is no “not-racist” because global colonialism has ensured that the default state of society is a racist one. As activist-scholar Angela Davis says: “In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist”.
In fact arguably “Non-racist” does not actually exist. Claiming to be “non-racist” denies the default presence of racism, allowing it to remain. Claiming to be non-racist, is thus itself a racist statement. If you’re reading this and thinking “does that mean my organisation is racist?” Well if you don’t have anti-racist policies, then yes, it probably is.
Following on from Myth 1 is the myth that racism can only present as extreme acts. This is commonly what allows for people to continue to say racist things and do racist things because they will always compare it to a greater extremity. The only thing that you need in place to qualify as racism – is for it to uphold the system of racial inequity. That’s it. That might take place in a joke (which is one of the most insidious vessels of racism), it might take place on a sign, in a song lyric, in a cartoon, or it might take place in a costume or in a policy, JUST AS EASILY as it can take place in race-based assaults. In fact, physical assaults and hate crimes are only a tiny percentage of racist acts that occur every day. It’s the idea that racism must look like extreme, brutal acts that stands in the way of us exploring our own racism. For as long as we continue to view racism as an unshakeable and shameful personal characteristic rather than a social illness that can influence all of us – we will fail to unpick it within ourselves and the systems we influence every day.
I often hear this from our own – racism was imported by white people, it was invented by white people, why do we even have to do anything? This is their mess to clean up, right? Well, just like a whole lot of other not-great things that arrived on the boat with Cook – we acquired racism too, and there is simply no escaping that we have become active agents in racist systems. I also often hear “we can’t be racist because we have no power in racialised systems”. The system is a hierarchy, not a binary, and we can wield relative power within that hierarchy, and throughout history, non-white people have enabled racism (both consciously and unconsciously) in order to hold on to that relative power. So what does this look like, well if we are talking about lateral racism, that looks like Maori using the “N” word, or promoting policies that target black and brown migrant communities, or making racist jokes about other ethnic communities in Aotearoa.
If we are talking about internalised racism, well that looks like Māori creating policies that oppress other Māori (as numerous Maori MPs have done)… it might also look like a Maori police officer who has been indoctrinated to believe that his own people are likely criminals, it might present as an apathy towards ones own cultural traditions, or an obsession with colonial (often materialistic) values. One of the most common manifestations that I see of internalised racism is the preoccupation with being a “good Maori” – that is, a clear aversion to being disagreeable to pakeha, not wanting to rock the boat, and a tendency to be compliant in order to progress through white systems and claim relative privilege and comfort. Of all forms of racism, internalised racism is probably the saddest, because it indicates that within your native heart, a part of your resistance, your love for tipuna, and belief in yourself has died.
The idea that only white people can be racist is a trap that stops us from dismantling racial hierarchies. It is very, very easy when learning about the history and injustice of racism, to fall into the trap of anti-whiteness. Perversely, this leads to spaces where people deny themselves the freedom and acceptance to be native, and white, at the same time. The reviling of whiteness inhibits our ability to really understand how we interact with concepts like white proximity… and ultimately will stand in the way of the true goal of dismantling racial hierarchies – which will always ultimately harm non-white people the most. As race-critical theorist Ibram X Kendi says: In the end, hating white people becomes hating black people.
I also often come across white people who believe their anti-racism work to be some kind of charity work. I’ll try to explain this as succinctly as possible:
The system of entitled extraction from non-white lands and non-white bodies that forms the basis of racism, is exactly the system that will soon make this planet uninhabitable for every single person on this Earth.
Racist economic policies across Te Moananui a Kiwa allow for it to be used as a weapons, chemical and plastics dumping ground, crippling the second lung of the planet. The maintenance of racist systems is also what stands in the way of social justice solutions to those same problems. Racist ideas about conservation inhibits the development of Indigenous climate solutions EVEN though it’s already been demonstrated that Indigenous forest management outperforms all others in carbon sequestration. The absurd notion that environmental harm doesn’t matter when it’s someone else’s territory is exactly the kind of disconnected racist logic that is leading modern society off the cliff, while also blocking any guidance away from the cliff.
But quite separate to this, is the fact that racist imperialism also disadvantages 90% of white people. At the apex of the racist imperial superstructure sits a small group of extremely wealthy, white, abled, slim, cis-het men who insist, through their racist ideals grown out of the racist science of the racist enlightenment period, that material wealth, whiteness, able-ness, slim-ness, and toxic masculinity are all markers of supremacy, and they abuse the system from the apex-down, to reinforce those ideas, in order to keep themselves at the top.
Dismantling that system will undoubtedly benefit all of humanity – it is not a favour to anyone, any more than it is a favour to yourself, people in your own family, and your future generations.
I can’t even count the amount of times I have come across people who think learning about other cultures will solve racism. Inherent in this idea is a key flaw in addressing racism – the confusion between race and ethnicity.
Quick 101 – race is rooted in the idea that biological markers, (colour of skin, bone structure, eye shape, hair type) are genetically associated with intelligence, ability, criminality, promiscuity, and so on. The fact that these biological markers are so often equated with ethnicity is what often causes confusion. Here, here and here are some handy articles to start to get your head around this. Yes slavery has existed since forever – yes ethnic discrimination and warfare has existed since forever – but it is the constructed idea that you are only *worthy* of enslavement because of the colour of your skin, or *worthy* of ridicule because of the shape of your eyes, or that you are *destined* for prison based upon a combination of these factors, that developed out of the racist imaginations of European scribes and clerics of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Ethnicity is state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. It may include language, religion, and sometimes nationality as well. You can claim many different ethnicities and many different nationalities, but race is more often something that is applied to you, by society, by the racial hierarchy, by systems and the individuals within them, regardless of the ethnicities you claim. Some aspects of ethnicity can become racialised, an example of this is Islamophobia, which is not actually rooted in a deep understanding of Islam, but rather a racist othering of a Non-white, non-European religion. For this reason you will often see Non-Islamic groups like Sikh, or indeed Arab Christians, be subjected to Islamophobic abuse.
So when we say that celebrating cultural traditions will cure racism, it comes from a flawed understanding that confuses race with ethnicity. What we need to learn about is the construction of race, and racial hierarchies, and racial injustice, in order to dismantle systemic racism – and what will naturally flow from that process is a celebration of all cultures. As Arundhati Roy says about confronting empire: we must strip it down, make it drop its mask and force it out into the open on the world’s stage – too ugly to behold its own reflection, too ugly to even rally its own people.
The world has heard a lot about the Dunning-Kruger effect thanks to covid and misinformation. The idea of “instant expertise” has gone hand in hand with the growth of the internet and when that is combined with an experience as universal, powerful and emotional as racism, it can lead us into some very murky waters of superficial understanding, false certitude and blindspots. Racism is a discipline as well as a cause. Thought leaders and activists have had their lives taken while fighting it and exposing it. It has multiple contexts around the world that intersect, and interconnect and we become richer as we respectfully learn about them. As we embark on a journey as a nation to dismantle racist systems, we owe it to those who have dedicated their lives to racial justice, to immerse ourselves in their teachings, to honour the discipline they have grown, layer upon layer of deep reflection upon where we have come from and where we need to go, in order to do justice to it.
That’s it – it’s a small list but it is the most common misconceptions that I come across and the reflections I often have around them. I’ve only been studying this for a few years and I have so much more to learn – about racism in general and about the racism in me, and how to dismantle it all. I hope that at least some of this might help some of you in your journey too.
I remember very clearly, when I was a kid, hearing the N word used as an insult. Before hearing it as an insult, I’d heard it as a dog’s name, I’d heard some whanau use it for a nickname. It didn’t have a meaning at that point to me, any more than the name “Rover” or “Bill”. But once I heard it levelled as an insult, it clicked that it must have some kind of meaning to it – so I went to my mum and asked “Mum what does [n*****] mean?”
She was in the kitchen at the time, she stopped what she was doing and turned and asked me where I’d heard it. I don’t recall if it was myself or a friend who had been called it – but the very next thing Mum said to me, in a very careful, deliberate manner was “You must never, ever say that word, do you understand me?”
She went on to explain why. In an age-appropriate fashion, she told me of the history of the Ku Klux Klan, and of slavery, and the slave trade. She told me, at that point, that when we use that word, we call up that history, and it’s not our history to call up.
To this day, I have a hard time letting the word move past my lips, and in spite of hearing it used here in Aotearoa over the years, I am glad my mouth has never gotten used to it. I have, however, heard it many times – it worked its way into our lexicon (both English and Maori) very early on. Since that discussion with my mum all those years ago, I’ve learnt a lot about its use both here and across Te Moananui a Kiwa. I’ve read about its use here, as an insult, nickname and even place name, since the arrival of the colonizer.
And this past week, I have seen it levelled, in an insulting and demeaning fashion, by our own, against a Black American man here in Aotearoa, and the ensuing fallout exposed numerous loci of pain for both our Black community here in Aotearoa, Maori Kiritea, and Maori/Pasifika in general. It was just the latest in many instances where a black person I know, has been called that word within a very short timeframe of their arrival to Aotearoa. In quite a few instances, it is their first experience of being called that word.
Yes, they had to come to Aotearoa to be called the N-word.
Now, allow me to be clear on my positionality (as we all should when entering into conversations about power and bias). I carry Maori lineage alongside Czech, Scottish and Cornish. So I am Maori, and I am Pakeha, with neither cancelling out the other. That is my lineage.
How I present is another thing entirely. I am Maori Kiritea. My skin can move from being very brown in the summer, to being very light in the winter. Between my partner, myself, and my two children our household skin spectrum ranges from dark brown to alabaster. While my moko influence my own experience of the world, I chose them, and before I chose them, much of my pathway was shaped by my own whiteness and proximity to whiteness (ie people believing I was white, or at least, “white enough”).
Why is ‘how I present’ another thing altogether? Because skin colour is a building block of race, and has been since the concept of race was created. Skin colour influences how you move through, and experience the world. Race is different to ethnicity in important ways, in that it can be applied to you without any knowledge of your culture. Where ethnicity is something we often claim ourselves, and can communicate our cultural, religious and national identities – race zeroes in on how you present, visually.(Read that paragraph again, if you like – it’s an important one, and one that we will return back to again, before this is through.)
Race critical theorists often pinpoint the early stages of racism as being around the 14th century, with the advent of the Doctrine of Discovery, the creation of the “Black” race for the purpose of enslavement, and the creation of the “Native” race for the purpose of dispossession, with both being subordinated to the “European” race – hence the rise of white supremacy. I’ve written many times about how this hierarchy of power was embedded into our global power systems, shaping our modern economy, international relations, legal frameworks, media, and power systems. From the very earliest stage of this story, as the children of Africa were ripped from her breast, and traded around the world, their story has become intertwined in deeply complex ways with the Indigenous peoples of the lands they were taken to – and the common oppressive experience of white supremacy. Just as we need to understand that this embedded white supremacy everywhere, we also have to understand it embedded anti-blackness into power dynamics everywhere, even into the conversations you have with people here, today.
Here, in Aotearoa, colonizers applied the N word liberally to anyone who was not white and without the full context of what the N word meant, or the relationships or experience to appreciate its inference, it was often seen as a mere descriptor and absorbed into our lexicon. Back then, before the ease of international travel, cross-cultural education, the civil rights movement, decolonial theory and the internet, there were a lot more excuses for centering ourselves in our understanding of that word. Now, not so much. It’s so, so important that we consider what was said and done in the past, with what we now know in order to consider whether we will continue to weave it into our identity. It is dangerous, very dangerous, to consider something intractable simply because it has managed to stick around for a long time.
After all, racism has managed to stick around for over 500 years.
All of this is a very long preamble to acknowledge the context of cultural appropriation of blackness, antiblackness and the use of the N-word in Aotearoa. Yes it has history specific to here… and yet none of that should be used to erase the history that came before its arrival, and the power dynamics that stem from that history. I need us to understand this very important fact: While anyone can “say” the N-word, it is impossible to say the N-word and limit what we invoke to our own shores, and our own history. When we say the N-word, as non-black people, there is simply no escaping the fact that we also invoke a history that we do not carry in our bodies, that we do not carry in our movement through this world, and that cannot be weaponised against us to the same effect.
Understanding this requires us to reach beyond the context of the n-word, and into understanding anti-blackness as the context which allows for it to be taken, claimed and used to repeatedly.
I’m not going to define anti-blackness because that’s not for me to do, even in Aotearoa. That is for black people to do – and we have a wealth of Maori-African, Maori-Black-American, and Black Tangata-Tiriti who can, and have provided that definition. Here, here, and here are links to their voices and I implore you to listen to them. When it comes to defining it, I defer to them.
We have had some discussion in recent years about the use of the N-word, and probably there is an increasing number who get it now. But still, in this past week, even those who could see the anti-blackness in the use of that word, did not stand up to decry it, and did not see the anti-blackness in that. Others still, only stood up to decry it when it was a part of “correcting” the victim’s response, and did not see the anti-blackness in that. Some other non-black people started to “explain” to black people what anti-blackness actually means, and of course, did not see the anti-blackness in that. Within an hour of witnessing a black man being called the N-word, we had managed to make it about non-black people’s feelings – and we still could not see the antiblackness in that. Black people then consistently had words placed in their mouths and were called anti-Maori, divisive, ignorant and made to feel, again, like outsiders and the antiblackness of THAT was not seen. Black people were told, again, that now was not the time for raising the issue of anti-blackness, or not to speak in such angry ways, and definitely to not point out the white skin of those they were responding to – and the antiblackness of THAT was never acknowledged.
It extended to a pakeha (who claimed his entitlement to the conversation because he has brown children and is, farcically, making a documentary about the N-word in Aotearoa) calling the police on the black man who was called the N-word, and falsely accusing them of violence. It has been embarrassing, disheartening, and at times gut-wrenching.
How have we come to miss the rampant anti-blackness right in front of us? Well, one thing I can say is that in the many spaces I’ve worked that seek to explicitly deal with racism at a local and national level, very, very few include black people, and consequently a lack of informed analysis about anti-blackness permeates our discussions on race. Over the years I have seen anti-blackness raised in Aotearoa, I have seen it derailed time and time again as Maori (often Maori kiritea) insisted that colourism be understood in light of themselves and their experiences of being light-skinned Maori. Whiteness as a RACE is consistently confused and conflated with ethnicity and whakapapa, and at the slightest mention of someone’s whiteness as it influences their experience of this world and the power dynamics of that conversation, this suggestion is called insensitive, un-nuanced, and even ignorant to the cultural context of Aotearoa. We rarely go a few months without a new think-piece about how difficult it is to be a Maori kiritea and the judgement that comes with it from our own. In that sense, we have repeatedly held each other to account over our anti-whiteness.
We cannot, however, seem to bring the same energy for anti-blackness.
I have watched black people in Aotearoa exercise incredible grace and restraint over the years as they sought to progress the korero but have been continuously derailed or shut down by our own. I have watched them back away from the discussion, at times out of respect for tangata whenua. Sometimes it was to protect their own wellbeing. Sometimes it was just sheer exhaustion. Being kiritea myself, I’ve not wanted to force a discussion that would draw further fire their way – but I can see, now, that our ineptness in this space has contributed to a context where black people are now routinely exposed to harm on our whenua, under our watch, and we cannot allow that to continue.
Further, as a nation that has in recent years seen extremist racist violence, are staring down the immediate reality of more extremist racist violence, and are desperately trying to eliminate racism, we CANNOT continue to avoid or limit our discussions of anti-blackness. There simply is no anti-racist future without addressing it, and you WILL NOT address it in the absence of black voices. I can see a few factors getting in the way of this discussion, and I’m going to name them here, along with a few things I think we can do *as a start* to dealing with it.
Our people do not like being called white by other people It was very, very weird to see people who call themselves white in their profiles (apparently to take ownership of what privilege that brings), take exception to being called white by black people. We have been defined by others for so long, and even mis-defined by our own, that it is instinctively egregious to have someone else “label” us. When people who understand the difference between race and ethnicity call us white, it is a challenge to accept all that comes with it, and to understand the limits of where we can go, and where we cannot go in our discussions. To those who do not understand that difference, it feels like a denial of our whakapapa and a re-defining of who we are. What is needed: Deep learning about the difference between race and ethnicity.
Being denied access to a discussion triggers our mamae Leading on from point 1 – when you are Maori, and have had everything taken from you, being denied access is a deep-seated mamae. It triggers experiences of being denied access to our land. It triggers experiences of being denied access to our culture and language. For Maori Kiritea it triggers hurtful experiences of being denied access to our identity. When we hear “this isn’t your place” it raises all of the pain of being shut out by colonizers, and our own. Similarly, when we are told of the privilege of being white in a white supremacist world, we feel the difficulty of being white-presenting in Te Ao Maori is being negated. While we do experience the intergenerational legacy of racism, Maori kiritea do not have a reference point for being pulled over, or incarcerated, or denied a job, or denied justice, or denied service, because of being black. What is needed: De-centering of our own mamae and a reciprocity of the grace shown us by many black New Zealanders who have decentered their own pain for us, repeatedly. Deep understanding of, and respect for the distinctiveness of black history. In short, manaakitanga.
We place intrinsic negativity on being white While being white provides an opportunity for privilege abuse, and the fact we live in a white supremacist society means that the abuse of that privilege happens regularly, having white skin is not innately bad. The domination of white privilege abuse in the stories of colonization means many of us struggle with the idea of being called white (even though we say it easily enough). We fear that, in accepting the whiteness of our presentation, this must necessarily make us white supremacists. What is needed: An understanding that white supremacy is a system, and exists in acts, words, and policy, not in genes or skin colour. Deep wananga on what it is to carry whiteness responsibly.
As difficult as this has been, the discussions on antiblackness of the past week have probably surged us closer to racial justice than Aotearoa has been in a long time. I’m just sorry that, as is so often the case in this global system of anti-blackness, black people again had to pay the price for that.