Black and white

I have a confession to make. I am not color blind. When I take my daughter to ballet class – I notice that she’s the only brown child in the entire academy. When SD is busted for an episode of rough play(aka :bullying) – I notice that the unfortunate little boy who ran crying to hide in the bathroom is white. And SD and his friends are all brown. Hmmm…When JB tells us about his new friends at school, I ask – are they ALL islanders? Are they ALL brown? And when he says yes – i roll my eyes at him and say, ‘Well, you need to make friends with some white ones, and Asian ones too. You hear me!‘ (Especially Asian ones…i hear they’re really academically focused and brilliant and you need some of that to rub off on you…)

No, I am not good at ignoring what ingredients people in our melting pot are. Maybe its an inherited trait. When my sister comes home with a very white boyfriend and we all go to the beach – the rest of us siblings watch them together and croon ‘Ebony and Ivory…sing together in perfect harmony!’ And when they strip down to their swimsuits and lie down on the sand for a little sun, we hum Michael Jackson’s ‘She’s black! He’s white!’ And we ask my sister – why in heck are YOU suntanning for?! And we think its funny. (okay, she got a little annoyed, but shes our sister and so she accepts that its her turn to get picked on this week and next week it will be mine…) And we tell our little brother that the only reason he plays on a rugby team made up entirely of Indians – is because everybody knows Indians cant play rugby and so he wants to make sure his brawny Samoan self will stand out. And we think its funny.

Our mother ( who is brown on the outside but white on the inside) goes to regular ‘Contact’ meetings. This is a support/network group for non-Samoan spouses of Samoans. And when she invites us to go with her, we reply – “Oh no we cant go to Contact, we’re not white enough! We’re not worthy!” And we laugh. We tell our mother she’s being too palagi – when she serves a little portion of food for dinner. We tell our dad hes being a ‘typical’ Samoan chauvinist – when he washes dishes with the lights off because he’s worried people will see him from the road and be shocked that his family would let a matai do such menial labour.

In a roundabout, twisted way, what Im trying to say, is that stuff like race and ethnicity and all that jazz, was never really a big serious deal to me and my siblings. Maybe because we were very mixed up brown people and raised to be totally at ease in our own mixed up skins – and totally at ease with everybody else and their skins. We joked about it, teased each other about it and generally thought everybody else thought it was no big deal either. We were mixed up brown. Some people are whiter than white. Some are blacker than black. And the list goes on. So what? It was never important enough to be anything more than a passing thought.

Well. Now I am living in NZ. And in this country, questions of black and white and brown are no longer funny. When I talk about Maori ‘stuff’ my niece gets a horrified look on her face. And tells me that Im not pronouncing the word right and I sound like a colonialist. And of course what makes my mistake even more awful is that Im a quarter Maori. Oops.

When a co-worker at HRH’s sheetmetal shop saw his Holden, he exclaimed, “Man, how can a black fella like you afford a car like that?!” HRH thought it was funny. My family thought it was hilarious. But more cultured, refined and politically correct individuals were disgusted, “Thats outrageous! The racism! The ignorance! The insult!” Oops.

When I read about a 4 yr old found wandering in the mall alone who then has to hang out at the police station for an entire day before someone realises shes missing and comes to look for her – i exclaim, “ohmigosh, i bet you they’re islanders!” And my NZ friends look aghast. “How can you say that? That’s so racist!” And i say, no Im not. Im just guessing at the most obvious choice. Were they brown? SEE! I was right.And they all shake their heads at my political incorrectness. Oops.

So I have been chastened. I am trying very hard to be on guard now. To be more sensitive. To be more politically correct.To not offend everybody and anybody. (Except after reading this post, most of you are probably utterly disgusted with me…) It is not easy to be appropriately serious about matters of race and ethnicity when youve been so used to it being ‘no big deal’. Its not fun.

And you know what’s really not funny? In spite of all its multicultural awareness and politically correctness – New Zealand is the ONLY country where i have ever been given a straight up racist insult. Out on the town one night back in my Varsity days and some white idiots screamed out – ‘you black b – i – t – c – h!‘. And i wanted to correct them – umm actually Im a brown bitch thank you very much…

Obviously they had a little bit of color blindness going on there.

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