Imagine you bought an old house.
You shift in and enjoy your new (old) place. It has nearly everything you want, including views, room for whānau, and outdoor space.
But all homes require maintenance. Roofs, hot-water cylinders, and carpets need replacing. Walls need repainting; exteriors washed.
What do you do? Hire professionals, DIY? Or do you say, "I didn't create these problems, so they're not mine. I'll leave the house as-is."
Little by little, the roof starts leaking, walls and floors look shabby and the heatpump dies. This is not the place you dreamed it would be.
It's analogous to what we hear each time the issue of colonialism is raised. People say, "Something that happened in the 1800s is not my problem."
Yet, it is. We are still living in the house Colonialism built. We are still tackling a leaky roof and a busted hot-water cylinder.
In 2021, New Zealand wrestles remnants of colonialism - which in my view is systemic racism - whose outcomes are disproportionately high rates of Māori living in poverty and in prison, with higher rates of cancer and other diseases that produce lower life expectancies.
Fair-minded folk are trying to unwind damage to indigenous peoples that started hundreds of years ago. One tool to ensure local Māori have a voice in government is through the establishment of Māori wards.
"Anti-democratic!" say some people. "Reverse racism!" shout others.
If democracy is of the people and for the people, shouldn't the Government be representative of its people? Tauranga City's Māori population stands at nearly 20 per cent. Yet zero per cent of councillors chosen in the last election were Māori.
Reverse racism is a myth. You can stereotype Pākehā, call them names, and create ways to include more people of colour (POC) in hiring and education decisions, but POC still don't do most of the hiring, firing and policing in New Zealand.
As (white) author Tim Wise wrote, "When a group of people [such as racialised individuals] has little or no power over you institutionally, they don't get to define the terms of your existence, they can't limit your opportunities, and you needn't worry much about the use of a slur to describe you and yours, since, in all likelihood, the slur is as far as it's going to go."
Those who fight growing calls for racial equity want to be both hero and victim of their own stories.
White privilege remains. People with privilege often assume they understand everyone else's perspective. We don't.
"But Māori can get elected just like anyone else."
Twenty years have passed since Tauranga voters elected a Māori person to the council.
Blind spots are so-named because we can't see them. Studies show unconscious bias lives in everyone. The question is whether we're willing to acknowledge it, and then, what do we do with the information?
"I don't see colour. Some of my best friends are Māori." These proclamations are no proof of someone's equitable heart.
Evolution has hard-wired humans to see differences in others. Proximity to people of colour does not inoculate white people from doing racist things. History tells us we can be friendly, even intimate, with someone without considering them our peer.
Founding American father and third President Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence "All men are created equal," yet he owned 600 slaves throughout his lifetime.
He brought an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings, to live with him in Paris when he was 44 years old and she was 14. He repeatedly raped her, and is believed to have sired her six children.
A Washington Post article says, "Despite fathering Hemings' children, Jefferson argued against race mixing because black people were 'inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.'"
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Monday announced the Government would abolish a law that allows local referendums to veto decisions by councils to establish Māori wards.
The action will prevent a small minority (as few as 5 per cent), of the electorate from overturning a council vote to establish a Māori ward.
Tauranga organisers working with lobby group Hobson's Pledge recently got more than enough signatures for such a referendum, after TCC voted to establish a Māori ward last year. In my view, it's another example of Pākehā voting against sharing power (as required by the Treaty of Waitangi) with Māori.
Some people who make up the dominant, Euro-centric culture are hopping mad about Mahuta's announcement. They call the decision "undemocratic," which is another way of saying, "I want to stay on top."
What are they afraid of? That a councillor elected from a Māori ward would botch governance?
Experts say the overwhelmingly older and Pākehā voter turnout in local elections helps preserve the status quo. Despite 24 councils voting to add Māori representatives in the past 18 years, only two have done so successfully.
To its credit, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council already has Māori representation.
Inequality hurts everyone, including white people. It creates disconnection within individuals, families and communities. I believe ensuring Māori have a seat or two among 10 city councillors (whenever we once again have 10) is a step towards understanding, connection and equity.
We didn't build the whare (house). But we are responsible for fixing it.