Lizzie Marvelly: Middle NZ - Just what does it mean?

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Andrew Judd won't seek re-election because of the abuse he and his family have endured. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Judd won't seek re-election because of the abuse he and his family have endured. Photo / Getty Images

Middle New Zealand. I can't get my head around it. I've spent the week having an identity crisis. What on Earth is middle New Zealand? Am I part of it? Or am I lower, higher, further to the right or further to the left of it? The use of the word "middle" suggests that middle New Zealand denotes the majority, the average, the cluster that represents the most of us - but if I'm to believe what Mike Hosking says, that cluster does not include me.

Recently, Seven Sharp broadcast a segment about the New Plymouth Mayor, Andrew Judd. Mayor Judd has decided he won't seek re-election. Why? Because of the abuse he and his family have been forced to endure since he began to call for Maori representation in New Plymouth.

He's been spat at in the supermarket in front of his children, abused at the Santa Parade, and even had a constituent in a Nazi uniform come in to have a chat with him. Which sounds about as much fun as eating thumbtacks.

It's nasty stuff. Understandably, Mayor Judd has had enough of it. The kinds of attitudes displayed in the Seven Sharp clip belonged in the 1960s, I thought as I watched it. Then Mike Hosking weighed in.

"He's completely out of touch with middle New Zealand," Hosking said, adding there was "nothing wrong with Maori representation on councils" because "if you're good enough you'll get voted on". His comments are now the subject of a formal complaint made to TVNZ.

I have no doubt many people will agree with Hosking. They may well be the "middle New Zealand" he's talking about.

I'm not sure whether it's my age, whakapapa or abhorrence of racism that excludes me, but evidently middle New Zealand I am not.

Sometimes I wonder whether being born and raised in Rotorua gave me rose-tinted glasses. Whether growing up in a city with the motto "Tatou tatou" (we together) gave me a false sense of race relations in Aotearoa. The fact that people have complained when I've used the name Aotearoa interchangeably with New Zealand, however, suggests that racism is alive and well.

My iwi is Te Arawa, but due to my mixed European and Maori ancestry, I have fair skin. People are often amazed when they learn I am Maori. They are also occasionally shocked, especially when they've just said something racist in front of me.

I can remember many incidents like one in the Hawkes Bay, when a well-meaning but painfully ignorant woman tried to cover her racism by suggesting that "more Maori should be like you".

She meant more Maori should act like Pakeha. Because if we are to be "one", we are clearly to be Pakeha.

The reality is that I experience a great deal of white privilege. I look white, and I was brought up in a largely Pakeha environment. I can voice my support for "Maori issues" without being branded a "Maori radical". I can express my opinion without people assuming that I speak for all Maori. Truthfully, I am a whitewashed version of Maori that fits more easily into the dominantly white mainstream.

What is white privilege? It's a term to describe the unearned benefits and advantages I enjoy as a simple result of my skin colour. My white skin means I'll never be looked at sideways when I walk into a shop. My Anglo-Saxon name means I'll never be fired for correcting my boss for pronouncing it incorrectly, as a teenaged Miriama Kamo was. My Caucasian-looking face means that if I make a mistake I'll never be called a "bloody Maaari".

But I am asked to account for my being Maori. The question of "how Maori are you?" is one I hear often. I wonder - are Pakeha people ever asked "how Pakeha" they are? Are they expected to be able to give an exact percentage of how much "Pakeha blood" they have?

I am very aware of my white privilege, but there are many who are not. For example, those who think there is no problem with Maori representation in local government.

If everyone has an equal opportunity in local elections, why are just 5-8 per cent of elected local government representatives Maori? It's a statistic that doesn't tally with the fact Maori make up 15.4 per cent of the population. It's just one of many statistics that prove Maori are still systemically disadvantaged.

As Andrew Judd said, while Maori are forced to walk in the Pakeha world, there is no requirement for Pakeha to learn a single thing about Maori. Pakeha are happy to co-opt the haka, Pokarekare Ana, pounamu (greenstone) and countless other Maori customs and taonga (treasures) when it suits them, but if you dare to suggest Pakeha children should learn about the Treaty of Waitangi, you do so at your own peril.

But what really hammered it home for me was the repellent attitude of a central government politician who told Andrew Judd that "the loser must follow the rules of the victor."

Perhaps that MP represents middle New Zealand.

I can agree with him or her on one point only - in modern-day New Zealand, there can be no doubt Maori have been the losers.

When Maori earn $8400 less than Pakeha each year, when Maori are prosecuted at higher rates than Pakeha for the same crimes, when the Maori unemployment rate is 12.1 per cent while the Pakeha rate is 4.4 per cent, when Maori have a life expectancy of seven or eight years less than Pakeha, it's not hard to see who the system favours.

As for my white face, I am who I am, there's nothing I can do to change it, but I can acknowledge my advantages and commit to fighting attitudes that disadvantage people who look or act "more Maori" than I do. I can join the call for a New Zealand in which Maori are adequately represented. What a privilege that would be.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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