News // 23.01.2016 // Curated by Ed.

“If you’re a Maori in this country with half a brain…”

I was at work one day and one of my higher education co-workers said:

“If you’re a Māori in this country with half a brain, you can make every post a winning post.”

A little confused, I asked “I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that saying – ‘every post a winning post’ – can you explain that to me?”… they kindly obliged…

“At a race track, horses cross a post at the end – whichever horse passes first wins. That post is known as the finishing post or the winning post. But, if you look at a race track, aaaallll around the track there are loooooots of little posts aaaaalll the way around it.  What I’m saying is that if you’re a Māori in this country with a half a brain, you can make every post a winning post.”

Basically, they were saying that Māori have it easy and don’t need brains to do well.

Right. Ok.  Saying this knowing I’m Māori, I had to give this person marks for speaking their mind.  A robust conversation followed.  Unfortunately, what had been a really enjoyable working relationship was never the same again.

An article on RNZ this week told a story which reminded me of this exchange.  In it and the associated Youtube video, two students talk about their experiences of racism on campus.  Sam Manulea and Sehar Moughal take turns interviewing each other and provide insights into life as a racial minority pursuing higher education in Auckland.  This is part of an initiative called I, Too, Am Auckland and is similar to others found overseas (e.g. I, Too, Am Harvard).

Generally, places of learning are probably viewed as more liberal, tolerant and accepting of diversity.  We also like to think of ourselves as an enlightened nation and so the stories may be surprising for some.  It’s clear we have a way to go.

Increasing Māori and Pacific participation in higher education in particular has received a lot of attention and the sector has enjoyed some success in getting more through the door.

However, once there and working hard to succeed, these learners and other minorities often face problems that the majority don’t.  This in itself makes it difficult for the majority to empathise – if you’ve never felt unwelcome or been the focus of racist comments from strangers on a regular basis, how could you possibly appreciate the impact?  Meanwhile, the targets have to recover and find a way of coping or avoiding those situations, while working to overcome all the usual challenges that go with being a student.  There are quite a few of those already without adding to the burden.

Auckland celebrates the fact that we are a super-diverse city.  In order for us to truly be able to ‘wear’ that with pride in a real way, we need to ensure that we live it out in practice – which basically means not being a***holes to people different from ourselves.  Now, there’s a New Year’s resolution!

Credit: The cartoon is from a 2014 Ryersonian article on racism which is also a great read.