Last week, after seeing the racist backlash against a South Auckland family victimised by a false rumour, Emmaline Pickering-Martin read an interview with the young professional white male who'd started the rumour. Here's her response to that interview.
Most of you have probably heard about a rumour that was circulated online around how the latest outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland came to be.
The rumour was completely untrue. And last week, Dylan Reeve interviewed the man who had started the rumour with a single post made to the online platform Reddit. The interview was posted on David Farrier's website Webworm.
Throughout the interview, the "young professional" male discusses how he came to create the post, why he took the post down, and his response to the flow-on effects from his decision to create that post. This piece of writing isn't to criticise Dylan or David as I appreciate and am a consumer of both of their work — but, rather, to discuss some of the uncomfortable feelings I felt after reading the interview on Tuesday morning.
We all know the statistics confirming that Māori and Pacific communities in Aotearoa are our most marginalised. We know more specifically that our women face higher rates of discrimination across the board in every type of situation from healthcare, gender pay, employment, education — the list goes on.
So when I read this interview, I had three responses.
First of all, I had a sick, visceral feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's that feeling when you know something is wrong and so absolutely effed up that it makes you sick.
The second feeling was anger — that feeling when you read something and you know how much this will affect people you love and you want to fight the world with all your strength and all your swear words combined.
The third feeling was the academic one. The one where all the statistics and research and big words flew into my head and made me want to write a paper about racial hierarchies in our society and the effects of humanising white men while being okay with the dehumanising of brown women.
So here we are.
The young professional male's story is not an uncommon one. Idle chat around a coffee table in the office in the morning, little quips with friends when out grabbing brekky at the local — all these things we know people do daily. What we don't usually get to see or hear is the content of their conversations.
But we now know that the content of this person's conversations, after the Prime Minister announced we were going into lockdown, were to do with the isolation facilities and the "mickey mouse" nature of security. There was also chatter about a female student he knew from the University of Auckland and how that female had contracted Covid-19.
The most frustrating thing about this is we know these conversations happen about our people all the time. He didn't have to say he was talking about a Pacific woman. We know he was. The "casual racism" — or, you know, just racism — can be found in offices across the country. We know for a fact that we have a long way to go as a country in terms of stamping out racism in all its forms.
As someone who is visibly brown and large and a woman, I'm willing to bet my children that the conversations this person had across the day had an element of racism within them. Whether that was conscious or not. There have been too many examples not only in my everyday lived experience but also in that of those around me for it to not be said.
We learn from the interview that the young professional male then decided to summarise all the talking points from the day and bullet point them on Reddit as an overview on how Covid-19 was introduced into the community in Auckland. He took it upon himself to create a narrative that he believed to be true and share that with others on the interweb.
We talk a lot about intent vs impact when it comes to our communities. About how, no matter what your intention is, what truly matters is the impact that whatever you're doing has on our people. Intentions are great and I have no doubt that 99 percent of the time, everyone comes to whatever table they come to with good intentions.
But good intentions don't mean anything if you don't have the range. The range in this case was realising that undermining the very system that was there to protect us would create more harm than good. There is no good outcome for Pacific peoples when we're made to be not only the villains in this situation but also, as one of the most vulnerable communities for a myriad of reasons, to have our trust in the isolation system and healthcare system tested.
When the young professional male discusses his ex-army friend calling the isolation protocols "mickey mouse", that does nothing but create more distrust in the system that we already have issues with.
By discussing a young Pacific woman's life with little to no real knowledge of what actually occurred, what is that saying about not only the gendered hierarchies in our society but the racialised ones as well?
Is it okay for young professional males to be grabbing coffee and discussing a Pacific woman who they know from uni and her fake love life and her fake breaking of isolation rules? No, it's not. There's a very real danger and flow-on effect from this.
Throughout the interview, the young professional male talks about his remorse, and since then I've read many of Dylan Reeve's tweets where he says he truly believed the person was remorseful and did understand the gravity of what he did.
But what doesn't sit comfortably is the humanisation of this man. He's written about in such a way that we get this narrative of a "promising young professional" with "a lot to lose".
I refuse to accept this narrative. How often in the media do we get to see Pacific or Māori young people being given the benefit of the doubt or being described as "promising" and with "a lot to lose"? How often are our people humanised when they've done something wrong?
The answer to that is never. Never. Never has anyone found out about something a Pacific or Māori person has done and said: "You know what? We don't want to hang them out to dry — let's just keep them anonymous for this piece of reporting."
We don't get that privilege. We don't get the time, grace or privilege to be able to learn from our mistakes. We are instantly demonised and vilified, and if you don't believe me, feel free to take a look at any mainstream media comment section when there's a story about Pacific/Māori/South Auckland.
What is possibly the most tiring thing, though, is reading the many comments online about how "remorseful" it seems this young professional male is. How it seems as though he really understands the gravity of his actions and how he mentions reparations for the family. This man has a well-paying job in International Aid. He also mentions he may lose this well-paying job and end up having to go back to working on his family farm for his parents or become a carpenter.
Can we stop for a second and read that again? The absolute privilege of this man. To be able to move from one high-paying job to a family business or possibly a trade. I can't imagine being this well-resourced and having back-up options that don't include a visit to Work and Income while I apply for jobs and wait to hear back.
What we see here is not only the humanising of this man but also the way in which we as a society value people in well-paying positions who do "professional" work.
Meanwhile, the racism that has plagued the online forums over not only the Pacific community but also South Auckland as a whole has been absolutely unacceptable and disgusting. There've been many comments about the places of work of the whānau at the centre of the latest outbreak, and lots of discussion around Pacific communities and how we congregate.
I've never seen this sort of discussion around people working within "professional" settings such as the young professional male working in international aid. There's never a discussion around the congregation of white people around cafes in Herne Bay, but it seems to be okay to discuss Pacific peoples congregating at churches.
When are we going to stop and realise just how racially hierarchical our society here in Aotearoa is?
It's apparent to me that, across various online platforms, we seem to be okay with what this young professional male did because he seems remorseful and Health Minister Chris Hipkins publicly denounced the rumour. What I want to make abundantly clear, however, is that it's not okay. The very real life effect of this rumour has been felt by the Pacific community. There have been multiple racist attacks on Pacific peoples online and verbal abuse in person.
The family at the centre of this should be praised for their proactive behaviour in getting tested and contacting workplaces, schools, and the people they'd been in contact with. They've fully co-operated with the authorities and they've done nothing but the right thing. What this man has done has completely blown any of that positive praise they deserve out of the water.
This man now gets to sit back and live his life in whatever form that takes with a lot of support online mentioning that they hope he has support around him. What about the racist abuse that Pacific peoples have had to face? Why do we have to continually live now with the mud that has stuck from some random rumour that one single man decided to post online from threads of information which were baseless and untrue? Where is our support?
It comes from our own people. Never from the wider community. It comes from those churches we so love to congregate at. Never from the idle chat in cafes in Herne Bay. It comes from our youth who stand strongly in their belief in South Auckland being their haven. Never from MSM who so love to vilify the places where we are the majority.
So when I read the interview with the young professional male, all I could think was: Man, it must be nice to be able to make a mistake and not live with the everyday racist consequences. It must be nice to be able to offer monetary reparations. It must be nice to be able to have a career or two to fall back on. It must be nice to have gone to university and have a great paying job in international aid. It must be nice to talk about Pacific peoples over coffee in the office in the morning. It must be nice to not be named publicly in the first instance because people have the empathy to give you the benefit of the doubt.
It must be nice to be white.
Emmaline Pickering-Martin was born in Suva and raised between Ba and Nadi in Fiji. She migrated to join her whānau in Aotearoa in the late '90s, and has three children who share Fijian, Māori, Sāmoan and Tuvaluan whakapapa. Emmaline is a teacher who has taught in primary and intermediate schools across Tāmaki Makaurau. She is currently finishing her master's degree while tutoring and guest lecturing in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland.