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A Matter of Race / First Car

I had a post planned for this week. You know, some good self promotion for the podcast. But somehow self promotion doesn't feel like the highest priority right now. Because this has been a week that has once again brought racism to the fore.

From the killing of George Floyd to the lack of ethnic diversity in the National Party shadow cabinet.

From Christian Cooper's footage of having a white woman call the cops on him while playing the race card to Judith Collins' comments about being victimised for being white.

From the destruction of ancient aboriginal sacred sites by a wealthy mining company to the Gisborne District Council's approval of $28,000 for a replica statue of Captain Cook's Endeavour without any consultation with iwi who would be unhappy with the proposal because when Cook came he killed their tīpuna!

And that's just the newsworthy stuff! That doesn't include situations like the relatives of a friend of mine being racially profiled by Pākehā police in Ponsonby, unnecessarily handcuffed, interrogated, and denied basic human rights like going to the toilet.

Examples of both overt and covert racism. That is, racism from people who know they are racist and racism that is simply participation in systems built on racist foundations that give privilege to the majority (white) culture, usually while wearing an "I'm not racist" badge on their heart.

Throughout this week I've added comments on posts and then deleted them before posting. I've debated whether to post something myself - a response to all of this racial inequity.

'Debated' for a number of reasons.

First, I don't want to be another well-meaning white cisgender male thinking I know what it's like to be a minority. I've seen some posts from white people trying to help before listening to understand the issues at play. These posts are often unhelpful at best. At worst, they are fuel for the fire.

I don't want to be that guy.

So I have carefully considered what my response should be.

Secondly, I deleted some replies and posts without publishing them because I decided I couldn't be bothered with the push back that may come from such a comment of post. I didn’t have the energy or the time.

But therein lies the issue.

I have a choice about whether to engage or not. I can choose to post or not to post. To speak or not to speak. To act or not to act. Many have no option.

I see my Māori (and other non-white) friends weighed down by the burden of living every day in the fight. The fight for the right to be themselves without prejudice, without being followed around stores in case they steal something, without having people cross the street to avoid them, without having to justify why they are where they are because someone 'like them' shouldn't be there.

The system constantly has its foot (or knee) on their throats and they must engage in a system that overtly and covertly works against them EVERY SINGLE DAY!

So how can I be a helpful part of this narrative? Not engaging only when it is comfortable or when it suits me. Not assuming I know how non-white people feel when facing this day in and day out. Not claiming that I don't see colour - I want to see colour. Colourless things are boring. Understanding and appreciating people for who they are means appreciating WHO THEY ARE - including their race, ethnicity and culture.

I'm no expert on how to engage in this process but there are several things I am committing to do to be part of the solution rather than another enabler of the system. And I encourage other Pākehā to consider what you could do.

1. Notice. What is it like? I choose to notice all the ways in which I receive preferential treatment because of the colour of my skin. As I've observed it isn't that hard to see. Noticing helps to remove the ignorance of thinking that we all have the same opportunities. We don't. Ongoing awareness of this is important in order to lay a platform for engagement.

2. Listen/learn. Why is it like that? I will ask those who deal with racism to share their stories with me. Not just stories of how they experience racism...although that is important. But stories of their dreams. Their culture. Their world. And I will listen to how they see me being able to help in this process.

I will learn about the history of this land, as told by those who didn't hold the power – the ones who don’t get to write the history books. I will learn the stories of injustice and oppression that have led to the inequality we now see in our country.

3. Kōrero (converse). Having listened, I can then join the conversation - always keeping that listening posture. And then engage other Pākehā in conversation when there are opportunities to do so - challenging racist perspectives when I hear them but doing so through questioning and respectful kōrero rather than going on the attack. These will be awkward conversations. But important conversations. Courageous conversations.

These points aren't linear. They all need to be happening in my daily life.

Now let's be clear. This isn't about me. And yet, it does mean taking a long look in the mirror. Because I am in a position of power through no merit of my own. And to not use that privileged position to positively add to the conversation is to stand for the system which oppresses so many.

With this heart, I offer a poem that has taken four years to write. Only finished this week when given that final push. A poem about race and about my place in the conversation.

Here is 'First Car'.

First Car.

My first car was a 1980 mark II Ford Escort

Silver with brown bucket seats

The special edition with

square headlights instead of round ones

and the little knob on the inside

so you could adjust the mirror

without winding the window

I opened that car with 17 different keys

and a stone

It's gutless 1.3L engine meant that

an ascent that began at 100

often ended at 30

like we were at Everest's crest

and the air was too thin to breathe

I loved that car

The police, not so much

Regularly pulled over on a whim

I was once breath tested

three times in a night

I didn't drink

No infringements,

just 'random' tests

for a shaved headed youth

in a silver mark II Ford Escort

I sold that car 20 years ago

I've never been

'randomly' breath tested since

Prejudice is a funny thing

Until it's turned on you

and you find

you aren't laughing

And for many

prejudice cannot end

by simply selling a car

Talk to those

whose shade of melanin

is a warning to shop keepers

to keep shop more intently

to ensure they don't take

what isn't theirs to take

All because their skin is the same

colour as the mud

made when the tears of their tīpuna

flooded this whenua

as the crown took

what wasn't theirs to take

And when they claim back

only two percent

of what was taken

it is they who are called greedy!

Talk to those who have lived here

Their entire lives

whose family have been five

generations in Aotearoa

yet whose ethnicity and name still invite

questions about how "kiwi" they really are!

Like those saying such things

aren't themselves

a by-product of immigration

Talk to those who are asked

'can't we all just be one?'

Thinly veiled shorthand for

'Can't you be more like me?'

'Why don't you bow

to the gods of colonisation too?'

But in reflection…

I see that I...

I am part of the problem

For the majority voice rarely sees

The privileges it awards itself

And if these attitudes are to change

allowing us to be

a unity of beautiful diversity

then I must first change myself

let go of my ignorance

take my apathy by the throat

and invite it to leave

Discomfort is not persecution

Being held to account

for the privilege I did not earn

is not being demonised

for the colour of MY skin

And I am NOT not racist

until I actively

stand against the status quo

instead of passively benefiting

from a system that repeatedly

rewards inequity in my favour

My first car was a 1980 mark II Ford Escort

Silver with brown bucket seats

The special edition with square headlights

instead of round ones

and the little knob on the inside

so you could adjust the mirror

without winding the window

Now I am adjusting the mirror

so I can look at myself

and ask myself what it is that I see


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