Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Saturday, October 08, 2016
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Friday, November 20, 2015
Students of colour organising is getting serious media attention in the US at the moment. Concerned Student 1950 at the University of Missouri forced the University president to resign, holding him responsible for failing to address racism on campus (“Racial climate at MU”, “Mizzou hunger strike is what happens when universities disregard black lives”, “Concerned student 1950 demands”). Since then, we’ve heard about organising on countless campuses (article on 22 campuses with comments section naming other campuses, demands from students on a growing number of campuses).
One article that caught my attention was about Georgetown University. Georgetown’s history makes the link between white supremacy and its success clear—slaves were sold to pay off debt.
“American universities have only recently begun to publicly grapple with the fact that these elite institutions, like the United States, were literally built on the exploitation of black bodies. Beginning with Brown University’s Committee on Slavery and Justice in 2003, universities around the country have unearthed disturbing truths about how their schools profited from human bondage. For many universities, Georgetown included, slavery made the difference between a viable institution and a shuttered one.”
“In addition to the renaming of Mulledy Hall, Georgetown activists are asking for plaques to identify the unmarked graves of slaves on campus, an annual program to explore Georgetown’s history of slavery, the inclusion of information about black people’s contributions to Georgetown in campus tours, mandatory diversity training for professors, and the rechristening of McSherry Hall, a campus building named for the Georgetown president who presided over the 1838 slave sale.And they’ve had early success (Georgetown renames building).
“But the demand that could have the biggest effect on Georgetown’s future, if the university complies, comes down to money. The student activists have proposed a new endowment fund, equal to the present value of the profit garnered from the 272 slaves, for the purpose of recruiting black professors. It’s a brilliant example of how universities could enact something in the vein of reparations—a tangible admission of the link between the horrific acts of generations past and today’s racial injustice, one that would provide an equally tangible benefit to current and future students of color.” (Georgetown students protest hall named for slave selling Jesuit)
By clearly founding their campaign on the school’s history, demanding actions to explore how Georgetown benefits from white supremacy and ways to put it right now, the students are offering the school an opportunity for learning and leadership. By grounding their argument in justice, rather than human rights, they invite deeper reflection and relationship building—they invite the school to take responsibility for finding solutions, rather than either denying the issue, or simply reacting to external pressure and doing the least possible.
I hope the school takes this opportunity, and I’ve included two ways they can build from it.
- To explore how white supremacy not only allows them to be successful, but has also made it harder for other projects to survive. Actions like recruiting more black professors will ultimately help Georgetown remain successful at the expense of institutions with less money and prestige—institutions that have been committed to teaching about white supremacy long before it was politically safe. Not just recognised historically black and tribal colleges and university, but the many organisations teaching about justice. Reparations shouldn’t just mean finding ways to make yourself better and more powerful, it should mean dismantling that power in ways that support those most affected by your actions. In this case, supporting oppressed and exploited communities on their own terms.
- To look at white supremacy more broadly, including how the school (like every colonial state) was built on the exploitation of native bodies and lands, and exploring how the school benefits from ongoing imperialism.
- To explore and end ways the school contributes to white supremacy, and prioritise ending white supremacy
Of course I’m not writing about this because I think anyone at Georgetown or any other US university care what I think. I’m thinking about what needs to be done in Aotearoa, and how much I would love if the institutions that the State supported to uphold cultural imperialism took responsibility for dismantling it, instead of playing neutral or pretending they aren’t advantaged by it (I’m reminded of this cartoon).
Leonie Pihama reviews some of the colonial history of New Zealand universities in her PhD thesis (Pihama, “Tīhei Mauri Ora, Honouring our voices: Mana Wahine as a Kaupapa Māori theoretical framework”, PhD (Education) thesis Auckland University, 2001: 49-52). It’s very easy to see that the older universities have benefited from colonisation, because they were developed when colonisation was brutally obvious, but all universities benefit from white supremacy. For example, the three Wānanga have claims to the Waitangi Tribunal showing how they are disadvantaged by the State education system, which prioritises universities.
I’d like to see all the universities examine their past and current practices for ways they have exploited and harmed (and are exploiting and harming) tāngata whenua and peoples of colour and their ways of being. I’d like to see them examine the sources of their power and prestige—at whose expense have they succeeded, how are they benefiting from and contributing to white supremacy/ cultural imperialism? And then, I want them to work with tāngata whenua and communities of colour to put it right.
How do we make that happen?
(note: I use white supremacy to describe the historic and ongoing systems of oppression of indigenous peoples and peoples of colour, including their ways of being. Bell hooks explores the term in her chapter “Overcoming white supremacy: a comment” in Talking back: thinking feminist, thinking black.)
Sunday, August 02, 2015
Thursday, July 30, 2015
For about a week, my inbox was full of links to blog posts about Andrea Smith and whether she is or isn’t Cherokee. I’ve read all of those posts, and most of them make me really uncomfortable. I want to explore my discomfort in a series of short (for me) posts over the next few weeks. I don’t know where this will go. I don’t plan to critique anything that anyone is saying, and I won’t presume to give any solutions—I know it's not my place. But there are a number of reasons that my reaction is complicated, and I think it’s important to talk about those reasons.
First of all, I should re-introduce myself. I am from Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu on my birth father’s side, and European on my birth mother’s side. I was adopted at birth by a Pākehā family, back in the days of closed adoptions, and grew up in Whangārei. My parents were assured that I am completely white, and I am light-skinned enough that this is marginally believable. So I was raised in ignorance of tikanga, and without any knowledge of my Māori whakapapa. I didn’t find my father until I was in my 30s, and with that I found out my iwi. At the time, I hadn’t even visited the area that we’re from. Since then, my birth father’s family have been incredibly welcoming, and have taken the time to teach me a lot. It has taken me a long time to learn some of the things that I should already have known. There are many things I will never learn. I will always be in-between, both Pākehā and Māori, and not quite either (I will write more about this in another post).
I have been lucky. There are many parts of my story that could have been different, that could have resulted in my never discovering my whakapapa, or that could have resulted in my knowing the connections, but never able to prove them:
- I needed to find my mother
- She needed to remember my father’s name
- She needed to know that he was in another country
- I needed to find him
- He needed to acknowledge me.
It would have been easy to be caught in a situation of knowing who I belong to, but with no way of proving it. Whether I knew it or not, whether I could prove it or not, I have always been Ngāi Tahu. That is part of my whakapapa.
This sort of story, of complete disconnection, is colonisation. I was going to say it’s an important part of colonisation, but it’s more than that. Colonisation is breaking connections. Whakapapa is the ultimate threat to colonisation; it guarantees that colonisation will eventually fail. Whakapapa means we care for each other—we are responsible to each other and our ancestors. We are a force. This means that every link in whakapapa, every connection, is a threat to colonisation. It’s only by breaking indigenous connections to place, by forcing tangata whenua from their place, that colonisers can take the land and try to keep it. It’s only by breaking indigenous connections to each other, imposing their culture and values in the gaps that are created, that colonisers can feel safe and superior. As individuals, we are much more likely to succumb, to assimilate, to disappear.
For many Māori, the knowledge of whakapapa died a generation or two ago, the connections are forgotten. When that knowledge is taken, what can we do? Should we admit defeat, and say the whakapapa is gone, we are no longer Māori? Should we shut people out if they can’t prove their relationships? Or are there better solutions? What are the risks in accepting people who, for whatever reason, seem to belong? What are the opportunities? Are we more likely to realise tino rangatiratanga through strict rules of exclusion, or through flexibility and inclusion?
Clearly, I am affected by these questions. My identity as Māori, tangata whenua, Ngāi Tahu feels vulnerable. It’s hard for me to remember that this is true for lots of us. Many of us feel vulnerable, not Māori enough. Which project does that insecurity serve—colonisation or tino rangatiratanga? What are our political goals, and what actions move us towards them, or away from them? These are questions I think it is important to continue talking about.
I’ll write more soon.
Friday, April 17, 2015
This is tidied up notes from a talk I gave at the GLITCH Youth Decolonisation Hui for Sexuality and Gender Minorities at Te Puea marae in Auckland last month. I really struggled to come up with anything to say in 10 minutes. To make it harder, I was on a panel with people who have been working for our communities for decades, and I was much more interested in what they had to say. In hindsight, I wish I’d taken more time to talk about liberalism, recognition and assimilation, and our responsibilities to our tūpuna and mokopuna, and how we take control of the stories, and a bunch of other things that would never fit into 10 minutes.
I’m going to talk about stories, and the different ways of telling stories, because the stories we hear about ourselves, and the stories we choose to tell about ourselves, have a big effect on how we understand who we are, and on the futures that we can imagine ourselves contributing to. Every story has an agenda and an effect, and I think it’s important to always be thinking about that.
I want to start with the way we talk about our history. In school I got taught that history was pretty much men doing stuff, mostly conquering or fighting wars. The way Māori history is talked about still seems mostly in that style. We are allowed to be proud of our tūpuna as fierce warriors, but when we try to publicly remember them as great parents, or lovers, or kaitiaki and rangatira in its true sense, the media are quick to find historians like Paul Moon to ‘balance’ that story and bring it back to violence.
There’s the story of our tūpuna Māori as primitive, lawless, barbaric cannibals who were struggling when Europeans arrived, and probably wouldn’t have survived without European technology. It’s a self-serving story invented by European colonisers to justify stealing land. It can’t possibly be true, or our people wouldn’t have survived as long as we have. You need laws and a system to grow and retain knowledge to survive. Māori have an academic tradition as long as anyone else’s, and that tradition should be the basis of the stories we tell about ourselves.
So instead of talking about the violent warrior history of the Māori that got fed to me at school, I’m going to talk about our academic history.
I want you to imagine a line in front of me, this continuous line stretches past the arrivals of my European ancestors to these lands, past the arrivals of my tūpuna Māori from their Pacific homelands, it extends all the way into the infinity of creation. And it carries on through and behind me into the future that we can’t see.
This line represents the accumulated experiences, knowledge and wisdom of generations. It is our academic tradition. Whatarangi Winiata called it the mātauranga continuum. We are part of it, and we can have a huge effect on how it grows into the future. In fact, our specific experiences are really important for making sense of what’s happened and how to put it right.
The foundation of our academic tradition is the stories our tūpuna crafted for us. Many of us grew up on the common patriarchal versions of those stories where for example Rangi looks down on Papa, desires her and takes her and they have a bunch of sons, who eventually feel cramped and conspire to push them apart and let light in, then fight amongst each other before dividing up the world amongst them. Or Tāne goes looking for the female element, and eventually makes her out of dirt, brings her to life and impregnates her, then when his daughter grows up he takes her for his wife and she gives birth to mankind before realising her husband is her father, and then fleeing in shame to the underworld. Or the Māui cycle which is like a boys own adventure. In all these stories, males are the centre, they are active and creative heroes, while the females are passive. The only time they get to act is to flee in shame. Those versions have very clearly been selected and shaped by exposure to Pākehā patriarchal values and ideas about what a good story looks like. They have nothing to offer me, or to anyone else who wants more out of life than a patriarchal rape fantasy.
There are other versions of creation that are far more interesting.
There’s my people’s tradition where Rakinui and Papatūānuku each have other partners, so the primary relationship is bigger than Raki and Papa—there is no nuclear family. Or there’s Pei Te Hurinui writing about a Tainui creation tradition, where Ranginui had partners other than Papatūānuku, both were bi-sexual, and both gave birth to children.
There would have been heaps of creation stories showing that our tūpuna had interesting understandings of gender and sexuality. Our tūpuna needed to understand their environment, where sex comes in pretty much every form you can imagine. Plants can produce both pollen and seed, or just one, they can be self-fertile or reproduce without sex. Animals can be male or female or both, or switch depending on what’s needed, or be sterile, or reproduce asexually. Why would we expect atua to be confined to male or female bodies? or defined by their sex? Or to be monogamous?
I don’t want to dwell on how so many of our stories have been distorted or taken from us altogether. What I want to talk about is our responsibility to give those stories back. Who understands the silencing of colonisation better than us? Our bodies, our sexualities, our genders, our relationships have been erased. I know what it means to limit our stories to heterosexual, monogamous patriarchy, because I am expected to fit myself into those limits too.
And now there’s new stories to explain our current situation.
There’s the feel-good one-people-into-the-future-together story. It starts with recognition that some bad stuff happened to tangata whenua during colonisation. It sometimes includes an apology, like the Australian Prime minister gave to their indigenous peoples. But it never involves colonisers conceding any power. Nothing changes.
There’s the story of white liberalism. It says that pretty much wherever we come from, if we’re not white, our culture is conservative and backwards compared to Pākehā culture, and Pākehā values will liberate us. That story conveniently ignores that what we most need liberation from is western imperialism, and that for example, sexual and gender liberation on these lands has pretty much always been led by Māori and Pasifika.
That story is based on recent moves towards tolerance of deviant genders and sexualities—the state, progressive corporations and nice, liberal people are finally ready to recognise that we exist, and even to share some of their rights with us. We get included in their marketing campaigns, they let us choose the gender on our passports, and even marry one other person of any gender. Some of that stuff is helpful, but what does this neoliberal story of tolerance mean? People with power look like they are being nice to us marginalised queers, we can be out and still successfully participate in capitalism and colonisation. But nothing is being conceded. They aren’t changing, they are letting us change to fit in, to assimilate.
What is the world I want, if it’s not this one? That’s a hard question to answer, especially when someone else controls the stories. This is why our own academic traditions are so important—they help us see outside Western culture and values. When we think about the stories our tūpuna left for us, when we strip out the misogyny and white supremacy that got laid on them, we can see that they are all focused on building relationships and the responsibilities that come with those relationships.
What would society look like if it had relationships and responsibilities at its center?
It suggests a future where, as Moana Jackson has said, we are all recognised as mokopuna, who will become tūpuna, where we remember that we all come from atua, that we can all create and contribute.
This is a world I could get excited about. Focusing on relationships and responsibilities doesn’t ignore the specific oppressions we face within our own cultures, but it is guide to help untangle the shit we currently face.
That’s the dream our tūpuna had for us. How we do that, how we imagine that, those are the stories I want to hear. And if you don’t agree with me, if this doesn’t sound like you, and you have other visions, then I want to hear stories that lead you to the future you dream of.