I think it’s weird that I’m writing this post.
Everything I’m going to say has already been said, better and with frequency by Māori – and by Amelia Shroyner, who I’m adapting this from. But it seems like when it comes to racism (just like men re: feminism) Pākehā need to hear it from other Pākehā.
So let me state this plainly. Pākehā, we are massively failing with our Pākehā fragility. When we are asked to do the very least in empathetic listening, we centre entire conversations around our own feelings.
We argue with Māori about their lived experiences of racism. We say “not all Pākehā!” and “tino rangatiratanga” and totally miss the point. We ask Māori to educate us, and to be “nice” about it. We talk about our good intentions. We bring up the times we were also treated badly.
Why? Because we can. As Pākehā living in Pākehā supremacy we have the power to take that focus because society values our words more than those of Māori. It’s hard to even recognise we’re doing it. But it has to change. We have to be able to comprehend a point about racism without demanding that Māori patiently hold our hand and explain it to us very delicately as to avoid hurting our feelings.
Let’s just get this out of the way: The fact is, if you’re Pākehā in Aotearoa, you’ve likely said, thought, or done something racist. It’s just a fact. We were all brought up in a Pākehā supremacist culture. Not only do we passively participate in institutionalised racism as Pākehā, we benefit from it! To shy away from that is to put oneself (yet again) above Māori.
We have to unlearn a lifetime of subtle and not so subtle social cues and behaviors. We have to become aware of how we think about people. We have to cringingly remember times we said racist things to other Pākehā, or worse, in front of Māori. Whatever it is, we have to face that shit. And it’s hard. And it should be hard. We’ve had everything handed to us; we can’t demand racial enlightenment on a silver platter too. We have to do the work.
By resisting (or even embracing) fear, guilt and shame we can open ourselves up to conversations about culture and power that actually create a deeper understanding. By not expecting to be greeted with enthusiasm or praise for talking about culture and power, we can avoid the pitfalls of feeling “attacked” or “bashed” when our assumptions are challenged.
We don’t need to be silent, but we do need to learn how to listen. We have got to stop entering conversations about racism only to derail them and centre them on our feelings and our perspectives. We need to stop taking the focus away from the work the POC activists are doing.
We have to realise that being called a racist isn’t worse than being the victim of racism.
Māori who are activists and educators, and especially wahine Māori who are activists and educators, are often asked to invest emotional labour in breaking down racism into bite-size pieces so that “well-intentioned” Pākehā can understand. We need to lessen this burden by understanding how taxing this work is and simply listening before we share our own insights and perspectives. Māori are very familiar with our stories.
I don’t have to live with the weight of knowing I will be prosecuted for no reason and my incarcerator would get away with it. I don’t have to experience the shame of my cultural group being labeled child abusers, welfare bludgers or a warrior race. I don’t ever have to contemplate how to prepare my child for a world that will fear, dehumanise and underestimate them. I cannot fathom that. I also cannot imagine carrying the weight of this knowledge only to be asked to educate the same people who resist listening to my reality.
To then demand that Māori educate you on your own ignorance with the expectation of their further emotional labour is to abuse them.
Pākehā, we can do better. We can sit with our Māori friends and whānau and feel our emotions without coopting their grief. We can do our own work to educate ourselves, and find new sources of information to take the burden of our own ignorance off the people we have oppressed for centuries.
We can work harder to educate each other, as fellow Pākehā, on how to better discuss racism, how to really show up for Māori in meaningful, non-disruptive ways, and fight Pākehā supremacy from within.
And we can do these things without demanding treats or pats on the back or taking credit for “starting conversations.” These conversations have been happening without our participation for decades. We don’t get a gold star for acknowledging humanity and being decent human beings.
We’ve got to do better. People are dying out here.