Defending The Sacred.

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So every year about this time – I find myself having this discussion about costumes, and appropriation. It runs from now til after the Christmas and New Years parades are all done. It gets messy. I often get told that I’m over-reacting and that costumes are innocent (particulary when we are talking about children’s costumes). It’s draining – but for the reasons outlined below, for me, it is so important. I’ve outlined the facts in many previous blogs, how it impacts on identity, how it is linked to sexual violence against Indigenous Women, and although many appreciate the issue of MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – probably the saddest acronym there is) – there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to how they relate. I’ve run out of ways to make that connection – and all I have left is my own story. Warning – this deals with issues of sexual assault. I share it with hope that it will help – just as other brave women who have shared their stories have helped me. Mauri ora.

I think I was probably about 14 when I first felt racism and sexism at the same time.

You see this was Australia in the 80s. Pre-Mabo.

You stepped on a square of concrete and it had “black germs” for the rest of that day. You walked onto a balcony and the other children would scream and run off, apparently to escape those same “black germs”.

Those were the younger years.

But now I was 14, it was the late-80s, and things started to change slightly. One of the boys who had been particularly cruel in the earlier years had changed his tune somewhat, and one lunchtime, as I walked past their table, he declared to all in earshot that he intended to make “cute black babies” with me.

This memory has stuck with me so clearly, because it signaled a shift in my experience of racism. I had been attacked before in many ways but this was the first time I became conscious of a peer, of my own age, declaring his entitlement to my body, based on my race. Not even my skin colour because truth be told I’m not that dark in skintone but all that mattered here was that I wasn’t “white”.

Here’s the twist: I was bothered, yes, but I was also weirdly relieved.

Because THIS – I recognised.

I recognised it because I’d already been sexually assaulted from the age of about 5, and from that very young age I’d already started to make mis-associations between these expressions of entitlement to my body and admiration, even love.

I didn’t, at the time, realise that there were so many other girls out there, like me, who had also been sexually assaulted, and that in fact being Indigenous in racist lands made you more of a target because, in the predator’s mind:

– You are less likely to report it
– You are more likely to “want” it
– You are less likely to be listened to
– You are less likely to be believed
– You are less likely to have your complaint actioned

Which all adds up to you being a very attractive target.

So I didn’t know that there was this ocean of girls experiencing this process alongside me, each in our silence. And it took me a long time to process this, it’s been a long path and that path included costly lessons. Lessons about the difference between sexual liberation, and sexual oppression. This path, and my life experience, also taught me that violence could be excused, and that it was ok to place yourself in the path of danger again and again, because violence was a form of passion and that was a kind of love. This twisted reasoning around love, violence and sexuality led to some very dark places. Places where my body paid prices. Permanent prices. My abdomen is so full of internal scarring that if you touch my belly button now, I feel it about two inches deeper, and lower, about where my uterus used to be.

And this became a kind of self perpetuating cycle where someone saw me as an object and treated me as such – a fad that could be picked up and played with. An Indigenous adornment that could be worn then tossed, and I internalised that, I validated it within my mind as just “how the world was”. I wore my hair in braids, as my Nannies had before me, and I was called “Poke-a-ho” which of course shamed me away from wearing my hair like that. I didn’t see this as a pervasive system back then, though – I just saw it as “how the world was”, that blonde girls could wear braids but I couldn’t without being labelled an Indigenous whore, and this is just how the world was. Tiki lounge “luau” parties featuring “exotic south sea maidens” was just a way for people to have fun. When your world is saturated with these messages, the unjust becomes very normalised.

I also didn’t know that this was a uniquely Indigenous experience of sexism. I didn’t have anyone who could sit me down and say “Listen Honey, there will be men in this world that will treat your descent from Hine as if it’s a piece of tacky lingerie – they won’t even know they’re doing it, and it will be all over television and in your workplace and in the costumes people wear and the language they use and the choices they make – it’ll be in your face every damn day”. White women couldn’t unpick that for me – their experience of sexism was different and didn’t include having their own inherited sacredness robbed by colonizers, and in any case it’s largely white women wearing Indigenous Women as a fun costume, imitating us with their casual accessories, or donning us as a sexualised cosplay.

No, it took Indigenous women to unpick that for me, and with me. Women who carried my scars, my experience, my pain and my commitment to survive. It took Indigenous Women who had walked this path, and reflected on it, to help me view the myriad of ways in which these outcomes are predetermined, right from childhood, and to understand clearly how an innocent child can innocently wear a harmful costume – and it can still do harm.

(an incredibly powerful testimony by Holyelk Lafferty)

Because those children communicate to all the other children around them, that culture can be explored through casually wearing it. By wearing it in this way, they give permission to separate the costume from the bodies, souls, beliefs and lives that it belongs to, and that this, in some way, honours the people. They grow up with a sense of entitlement to another people’s appearance that is rooted in colonial mindsets, and cultivated in a context of rape culture, and it creates more work for me, and for my sisters, to unpick these ideas before they do harm. Before they get a job in media, or social services, or the police force. Before they become the boy taking our daughters out on a date. Before they casually declare that they want to impregnate our mokopuna so she can make him some “cute black babies”.

And it took Indigenous Women because we are the ones who live the specific intersection of sexism AND rape culture AND racism every day. At the hands of white men, but also at the hands of white feminism, and also at the hands of Indigenous brothers. I am numb to white male oppression, I am weary of white feminist oppression, but I am very much still pained by the patriarchal oppression visited upon us by our brothers, and on behalf of our brothers. The internalising of patriarchal power norms must be addressed, NOBODY can assume they are exempt, and it can only happen through allowing this discussion – this messy, painful, sensitive discussion – to take place.

I really want to celebrate our brothers who are engaging in this discussion with each other and are actively seeking to deconstruct their own patriarchal inheritance as a pathway to decolonization.

The deconstruction of the cisheteropatriarchy and its specific impacts/influences for each of us is vital in our decolonization journey.

And sisters. Speak. Defend your sacred. Refuse to be silenced by those who say that costumes don’t matter. Your sacredness matters. Your body matters. Don’t let anyone tell you different. To all of my Indigenous sisters that have helped me along this path of learning, who have bravely shared their pain and journeys – from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. You helped me move from a space of “this is just how the world is” to see not just how it could be, but how it SHOULD be – and from that grew my commitment to making it so for my daughters, and mokopuna.

And to everyone…

Please, please don’t wear us as a costume.

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Smash the colonial patriarchy. Restore the Indigenous Matriarchy.

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To smash the patriarchy we need to do more than say “believe her.” There is a critical need to tell girls to believe in themselves rather than just asking patriarchal systems to believe them. Girls must believe in themselves enough to speak up as soon as patriarchal behaviours attempt to objectify, touch, or own their bodies. No matter the circumstance.

Source: Smash the colonial patriarchy. Restore the Indigenous Matriarchy.

Jason, we need to talk about your apology.

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rape laugh

-_-

I’m writing this as a letter to you, very probably you’ll not read it, but I have recently been through the spectrum of emotions over your comments to do with rape – and I feel like the most healing approach I can take to this hurt, is to step it out – and call upon you to step it out with me. It’s gonna help me (as a one time fan who has struggled with the decision to watch GOT), hopefully it’s also gonna help you, and I’m also hoping it’s gonna help a few others who seemingly can’t make the connection between the use of language and rape culture.

I’ve watched the #MeToo campaign play out over social media. I applaud all of the women and men who have come forward with their stories, and those who have admitted to instances where they have perpetuated rape culture – most especially those who have admitted that this is not just a historical problem, but a pervasive way of thinking – that we all have our blindspots and that they are committed to addressing theirs. I’m thankful for the dialogue that we, as a community, are undertaking and I hope it can continue.

I also saw the twitter post about your rape joke go viral….

… and I read your apology. I get that you are sorry but, like I said… there are a few things we need to walk through. Let’s look at your apology:

jason apology

It’s a good apology – really. I mean – you’re right – it doesn’t take away from the damage of your original comments but I need to share with you what I have seen happening around social media. Women are asking why it took you so long to apologise (and I think that’s a fair question). Why, if you have been severely disappointed for six years, have you only apologised for it now. And in return, we are being revictimised by the men who are telling us to get over it, to stop being so hard, to just accept the apology. Most are instinctively leaping to your defence and not realising that this very instinct IS rape culture, and it HURTS – all over again. The instinct of those who laughed when you made that joke – that’s rape culture. The fact that it can go so long unchecked is also rape culture. The many people who want to tell us, as women and as survivors of sexual assault, how to respond to your apology – that, too, is rape culture. The very fact that I have to expend emotional and mental energy explaining this all to them, and that I even have to write this letter to you – is rape culture. What really hurts my heart is that it is also some of our own who are doing this, our own Pacific men who are defaulting to your defence, who are sighing and shaking their heads at our questions, who are telling us we aren’t being fair, because we have further questions. I am glad you have apologised, but I hope you can see the hurt it is still causing.

And just like an argument when someone apologises but you’re not sure they get what they’re apologising for – you wanna check, right? Well we do… we wanna talk a bit more about it because there were other clues to us – to women who have to put up with rape culture every damn tiring day of our lives. Clues that suggested you weren’t quite clear about the problem. Like when you proudly referred to your character as “the biggest pimp”:

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Yeah you know… those violent abusive  sex industry parasites? Them.

Or that interview you did just two years ago (presumably while you were still very distressed at the previous rape joke you’d made), where you referred to your use of the Ngāti Toa haka, “Ka mate” in your audition for Game of Thrones:

momoa

So this is painful on numerous levels. I think it’s wonderful that our traditions can be used to inspire awe in others – but I am damn near heartbroken that you have associated haka with rape and pillage.

And I feel I need to make this clear:

Rape is not a touchstone for masculinity. 

It’s troubling enough that you went there again, as some kind of measure of primal power – but that you associated it with the haka “Ka Mate” – which actually speaks to the mana of wāhine – just adds another level to the hurt. Don’t talk about our tīpuna like that.

Now I know you made “Road to Paloma” to contribute to the discussion about unreported rape on reservations – and while it’s great that you wanted to address it as an issue – I need to point a few things out about your film:

  1. I can count the amount of speaking roles for women on one hand
  2. Being male centered is ok if it delves into how men carry out, contribute to, and are affected by, the rape of women… but this was a different kind of male centered – The majority of the scenes are of your character and his friend on their motorbikes, with various scenic backdrops.
  3. Your character’s friend casually calls his motorbike “Dirty fucking whore – after my ex-wife”  (did you write that into the script?)
  4. The same character also leads the viewer into seedy stripclubs where he rips off a dancer before getting into another fight. In short – the lead supporting male role is a misogynistic, violent creep but gets offered acceptance and friendship by the male lead. That’s pretty much rape culture in a nutshell.
  5. Women are largely portrayed as in need of saving, or naked, or stripping.

To be honest – watching your movie offered me a fair bit of clarity. You wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to try and comment on the issue if you didn’t care about it. Yet still – the language you chose, and formative decisions you made were extremely problematic.

I came to the conclusion that you may well actually mean your apology –  but what appears to be missing here is the link between being aware of the issue itself – and being aware of how your language is contributing to it.

How your six year late apology is forcing us to engage in debates with men all over again – and sometimes those debates have tipped over into abuse.

How your pimp joke adds to the idea that sexual violence is somehow cool.

How your association of haka and rape perpetuates the colonial construct of our tipuna Māori as primitive thugs when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Can you see, Jason, why those of us who were aware of these instances might want to probe a little further before we simply accept your apology and move on? It seems perfectly understandable to me, and I hope to you, too – that we would like to extend the conversation a bit more, to make sure that sorry means it won’t happen again (as it has).

So all I’m asking is that you really take a moment to consider that you are STILL susceptible to contributing to rape culture – that this was not an isolated incident, but that it is something that you have, wittingly or not, contributed to many times, and make the commitment to STOP. To not just say “sorry I ballsed up all those years ago that’s not me”…. but admit that actually it IS you from time to time (and it’s not just you, believe me, sadly it’s most men including those who jump to your defence) – and that you are reflecting on it, and working on it – so that it won’t be you in the future.

Ok that’s all. I’ve really tried to handle this with aroha – which hasn’t been easy because to be honest – I’m tired, and pissed off at the amount of re-victimising I’m seeing over this. I’ve also seen some wonderful, nurturing, balanced kāne in the past few weeks that have honoured mana wāhine and affirmed my faith, and it’s because of them that I’m reaching past the hurt.

Pōmārie.

Sorryboutit, but Pākeha MIGHT just mean what you fear it means.

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Ok so let’s say from the outset – I’m pākeha, myself. That doesn’t negate me also being Māori, because I don’t view my heritage as being mutually exclusive. I’m not a walking pie-chart, I don’t believe in fractions of people, I am Māori at the same time as I am Pākeha and neither are threatened by the other.

I wish I could say the same for our people. If you’ve lived in Aotearoa or New Zealand (which I consider two completely different worlds) for very long, you’ll have come across the term for white New Zealanders – “Pākeha/Pākehā” – and the debate about what it really means. Mākereti contested it meant “buggerya”, and just like the term “white” it can be applied to describe a system, or to refer to the Crown, or it might just be a descriptor of someone’s apparent ethnicity. Some refer to the idea that it descends down from the term “Pakehakeha” – referring to mythical pale skinned beings.

From certain sectors of Pākeha society, some pretty strange notions arose about it’s meaning including: “white pig” (no idea where that came from), “white flea”, “dirty flea, or that it’s a general insult – likened to the word “nigger” (sorry Mā) but for white people.

And more recently – another term has arisen – that it means “those of a different breath” or “those that changed the essence of what they touched”. This refers to the words “pā” (Touch or affect), kē (rather, instead, or an indication of reversal), hā (essence or breath). Problem is nobody spells it “Pākēhā”. Still – it’s caught on and more than a few times I’ve heard this translation offered to assauge a belligerant Pākeha who doesn’t like being called that. In fact it’s fast becoming the default interpretation of the word and admittedly there was a time, at first, when I thought well that’s nice isn’t it. Let’s run with that.

If we’re being completely honest – I’m pretty sure it’s not that though.

Why? Well it’s a very recent development. As I mentioned we never say “Pākēhā” and even if we did – the words would not lay in that order to express such a concept. I think it’s taken off because 1. It’s a nice romantic notion that refers to mystical life essence and Pākeha love that stuff. And 2. It provides a sanitised version for Pākeha and plays down any negativity about initial encounters and what that might have meant to our Māori ancestors.

Essentially – it’s what we call “patipati Pākeha” – it’s there to make Pākeha feel better.

It may well be rooted in the term “Pakehakeha” – but this wouldn’t be the only time Pākeha explorers have been cast, or cast themselves, as mystical supernatural beings, and sometimes Gods, in the eyes of Natives. It’s a thing – and it’s got a lot more to do with ego than history.

(Watch all of that if you can, it’s mint)

What we shouldn’t automatically ignore though is that it may well also be rooted in the parasites and venereal diseases being carried by sailors, whalers and sealers of these times, after being at sea for months. There are considerable Indigenous sources that refer to the fact that these crew carried “kehā” – crabs, lice, and viruses. Furthermore, it’s an accepted fact that they infected Pacific peoples with these diseases and drove populations down in their wake.

Thing is, I don’t see why it should be interpreted that way now. Gay originally referred to prostitution. Then it meant happy, and nowadays it means samesex attraction. Doesn’t mean all gay people are prostitutes, or necessarily joyous. Words shift in their application over time, and meaning is applied in that social context. I don’t have a problem with being Pākeha and having that word be rooted in a history that may relate to the diseases and parasites some, of the same heritage, brought over with them. In fact I think it’s important to remember that part of our history. I especially don’t consider it appropriate to erase and replace that option simply because it might help Pākeha feel better about the term, and feel better about how history played out (particularly when it is related to current systems of privilege). Nobody needs to feel bad, but it’s important that we are honest in what we do, and not just pandering to fragility.
Most importantly, I will not, ever, change my Reo to apply a word like “European” because someone has decided to inject a perjorative intention where there is none. I will not be forced to use anyone else’s language in lieu of a kupu Māori simply to make them feel better. My Reo has been subjected to more than enough force across history.

So I will continue to utilise the word Pākeha – and it may well be rooted in the unfortunate, harsh truth of our history but that does not mean it needs to be that, today. Unless you want it to be. But that is your journey, cuzzy, not mine.

Tēnā kotou aku cuzzies Pākeha!