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March 17, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Maori Matters

‘Us’ and ‘Them’. Sounds like, S&M. Or J&M’s. They’re practically synonymous, too, all involving at least pain and humiliation – no one can escape that salt-overload stomach ache our beloved post-town haunt brings, and you know everybody’s seen you walk in there – shame! Anyway, I’ve got your attention now, so kia hoki au ki te kaupapa, let me come back down to earth!

I joke, but being defined by majority society as either ‘us’ or ‘them’ is an alarmingly unjust affair. Mainstream society can unwittingly cast judgment upon anyone who, for any reason premised by its group, represents some element of difference. Enough so, that they need to be defined as different, as if that element of difference defines them in totality. It’s the bondage mask of doom.

Us/them configurations are easily spotted, because they’re black and white:

– Black/White

– Outsider/Insider

– Māori/Pākehā

– Labourer/Intellectual

I could go on. What’s tricky, though, is that it’s hard to know when you’re being defined as the ‘other’, and whether that treatment is intentional/unintentional, wanted/unwanted.

Kia mātaara mai, Māori mā. We are multidefinable people who exist in a vacuum of eternal them-ness. The daily grind of Māori students entails being involuntarily classified, unclassified and reclassified. Already, many new tauira here this year have noted their being treated differently, because their appearance isn’t that of the stereotypically ‘us’ group. I myself am constantly defined by ‘us’ as ‘us’, because I’m academically adequate and white-skinned, features the ‘us’ group won’t allow Māori to possess as it can’t be a ‘them’ trait. But I am also ‘them’ because my opinions and bilingualism are atypical to those of majority New Zealand society. Ironically, majority us-and-themness is totally separatist, which majority culture hates.

Sadly, I have also been ‘classified’ in this way by Māori students over the years. On several occasions, Māori students have approached my social groups to ask for help. Upon offering said help, I am often refused, noticeably based on the assumption that due to my ahua Pakeha I am unable to relate, to help. Don’t get me wrong, our entire lives revolve around making judgments about people. I know that, I accept that. Problems arise, though, when we allow our judgements to rationalise behaviour in our heads that we wouldn’t otherwise accept of ourselves.

No reira, e hika ma, in your daily lives as tauira Māori, majority society expects nothing from you but failure, and the occasionial equity-funding applications. But use that positively. Ko koutou katoa nga ihoiho o nga whatukura, o nga mareikura rangatira o ukiuki. If we refuse to be defined as dunces, we can only ever fail as giants, and in that there is true mana. Ki te tuohu koe, me maunga teitei.

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