The term ‘plastic Māori’ makes me SO ANGRY. It’s an insult directed towards a Māori person who isn’t ‘Māori’ enough. It’s a term that is used to make somebody feel inferior about themselves as a person, that they aren’t good enough for their own culture. Whether that be because of their lack of knowledge of te reo / tikanga / whakapapa, their upbringing, their behaviour or their lifestyle, they are criticised for not being a ‘real Māori’. In our efforts to revive our language and culture some of us have resorted to bringing each other down.
Our culture has had a rough ride. New Zealand is a pretty young country in comparison to many other parts of the world in terms of colonisation, and it wasn’t too long ago that measures were in place to ensure Māori assimilated into European culture as much as possible. My grandfather was beaten at school by his teacher for not speaking English. It is no wonder many in that generation felt that for their children to succeed in a white man’s world, they were going to have to embrace the white man way, whether they liked it or not.
The 1970’s / 1980’s saw a huge revival of people reasserting their identity as Māori, and the importance of our language and culture. But the legacy of all those years where our culture was devalued lives on. People felt too afraid to pass on their knowledge. People moved away from their marae and into the cities to find work. For some families, the damage has been done. There are people who don’t have a clue about who they are and where they’re from, but would never know where to start looking or whether they even should. It is not their fault!!! It is the result of a Pākehā world that told us we were irrelevant in a modern society. So what on earth could possibly be achieved by making people feel embarrassed about it??? Terms like ‘plastic Māori’ cause shame that does no good for anybody.
On Sunday night there was a bit of craziness on Twitter (isn’t there always?) when a young woman made a joke about South Aucklanders which backfired BIG TIME when the recipient of the joke didn’t find it funny. And quite rightly so. The joke was basically making a mockery of South Aucklanders and the way they speak, implying that they are uneducated. In the girl’s defence, one person said, “But she’s Māori, she’s not being racist.” But the point is (as my bloggy friend Leah pointed out here) if we reinforce our own stereotypes by making it ok to tell racist jokes, then we are opening the gates for people who really ARE racist to say the same things. Even South Aucklanders themselves reckon they are uneducated, I knew I was right for saying so too! I think the same logic applies here.
It is difficult enough trying to get other people to value Māori culture without us bringing down each other too!!
By telling people there is such a thing as a ‘plastic Māori’ we are not only discouraging our own people from seeking out their identity for fear that they won’t be accepted, we are also unintentionally helping to reinforce the idea that anything Māori is pointless because well, “there are hardly any real Māori anyway”.
Why bother teaching Māori language in schools? Why bother keeping the Māori seats in parliament? Why bother recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi as an official document? Why bother sending our kids to Kohanga Reo? Why bother when even Māori people reckon there aren’t many ‘real’ Māori people?! There aren’t any full-blooded Māori left anyway!! What a waste of time!!
Insulting labels like these do not strengthen our people. Asserting how much better you are as a Māori in comparison to another also does not strengthen our people. It weakens us and creates division.
And I’ll tell you what, Pākehā people who haven’t had much to do with Māori culture aren’t exempt from hearing about terms like ‘plastic Māori’, and they start believing the same ideas too. Negative ideas spread very easily. I know this because I went to a pre-dominantly Pākehā high school. I had never been made to question my identity as a Māori until I went there. People had a certain stereotype in their head about the way a Māori person is supposed to speak, dress and behave. I didn’t fit this stereotype and for some, this was confusing. Add into this my white father and what many would call quite a Pākehā upbringing, and my whole identity was being brought into question. Could Courtney even really consider herself to be Māori at all?
I struggled with this. I struggled trying to figure out who I was supposed to be. I don’t act Pākehā enough to be Pākehā, I don’t act Māori enough to be Māori. Who am I???
It wasn’t until I left school, developed new friendships, attended university and took up Māori studies that I realised what bullshit all of that was. Nobody cared about all that superficial crap; how I acted, how I spoke, how much Māori blood I had. Nobody cared about how much I knew or didn’t know. I was accepted for me exactly as I was, and that acceptance made me enjoy learning more about my people and my history. It’s a shame not everyone you come across shares the same attitude.
This is in part why I wouldn’t send my girls to the same high school that I went to. Don’t get me wrong; it was a good school, I did really well there and I made some great friends along the way. But in terms of cultural diversity, there wasn’t much. Perhaps it has changed since I was there but I want my kids to be at a school where they can meet, learn about and find value in people of ALL cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. And I certainly don’t want them being told they aren’t Māori, Pākehā or Rarotongan enough (not that I’ve ever heard or come across that attitude within Cook Island culture, would be interested in someone’s perspective on that).
E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea. I will never be lost, I am a seed sown from Rangiātea. This is a whakataukī I have tattooed on my body to remind me: It doesn’t matter what ignorant attitudes I may encounter, I am Māori, I am in charge of identifying myself, and nobody can take that away from me. If anyone asks how I identify myself, I say I am BOTH. I have a Māori mother and a Pākehā father; why should I have to identify as one thing when I am not?? People tried to fit me into a box and I thought that was how it was supposed to be. I know now how wrong that was.
So if you use the irritating term ‘plastic Māori’, please stop. We face enough crap from people who see no value in our culture at all without discouraging our own for not being good enough too. Nobody will want to be a part of something in which they feel they won’t be accepted. There is no strength for our people in that.
Nb. I can’t find the original source for this photo. If anyone knows, it would be much appreciated x