‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori and is generally insulting

More on Simon Bridges and the ‘Māoriness’ debate at Stuff: Debating Simon Bridges’ ‘Māoriness’ hurts Māori

Is it a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, for Simon Bridges?

He’s the first Māori leader of the National Party, and that is no small thing.

Māori culture appears to be on the cusp of a much-needed renaissance in New Zealand – it will require a country-wide effort and recently it feels like more of the country is getting on board.

But Māori is still an incredibly intimidating culture to dive into, as proven by the at-times rabid response of some commentators and opponents in relation to Bridges’ “Māoriness”.

In part the ‘rabid responses’ were racial, but in parts they were more petty political – some people involved in politics jump to atack those they see as political opponents without caring about double standards.

Bridges has never tried to trade off his Māori heritage. It’s others who have made it a controversy, though if asked about it he has to provide a response.

He can earnestly say that he hopes it would inspire more Māori to reach for higher education, higher office, to vote National, or to simply think that whatever it is they want to do, they can achieve it.

That sounds like a good thing to me. Inspiring non-Māori is not ruled out either.

Some commentators have effectively already said: “Why would they? Are you even that Māori.”

Or Bridges could say ‘look, I’ve never grown up on or near a marae so I’m not going to be pushing it’.

To which those same pundits would respond: “You’re not proud of your heritage, you’re just pulling the ladder up behind you.”

While it might seem like a lose-lose argument for Bridges, it could also work in his favour.

A cynic might argue it raises his profile in a similar way to what Ardern had to endure by being asked about future baby plans, shortly after she became Prime Minister.

Possibly. Time may tell how much Bridges keeps being bashed over his ‘Māoriness’, or claimed lack of.

There’s a tinge of racism (either overt or unintentional) in every society but New Zealanders on the whole are fair.

On the whole that’s probably a fair comment but there is quite a bit of racism in New Zealand. And there is also quite a bit of political intolerance and politically motivated reactive attacking. When combined it can look quite ugly.

And any fair-minded New Zealander is bound to see that the blood ratio of any leader makes no difference to the policies they stand for or the seriousness with which they approach Māori issues of deprivation, health and education.

But to distil that debate into the strength of Bridges’ bloodline is reductive and insulting to Māori of any fraction, whatever part of New Zealand they live in.

It could be reductive and insulting to any fair-minded New Zealander. I have no fraction of Māori genes, but I thought it was reductive and insulting – however it wasn’t surprising in a political environment where ignorant insults are common.

I deliberately left the identification of the author of this until the end. It was political journalist Stacey Kirk, who, similar to Bridges, would be classed as ‘urban Māori’ disconnected from their roots:

I say that as a Māori of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi descent. And one, like many in New Zealand, who had a very average Kiwi-European upbringing.

I’m very fair skinned, whereas my sister is very dark. We look alike, it’s just that one of us has mum’s (German/Scottish) colouring and one of us has dad’s (Māori). And no one ever questions her Māori heritage – in fact, it’s assumed.

When people find out I’m Māori – and after we clear up that yes, we’re full sisters, same parents, neither of us are adopted – invariably the very next question is ‘what percentage are you?’ Putting aside the racial undertones of that, it’s just an incredibly thick question.

It is a thick question, and an insulting one. I’ve never been asked what percentage of any cultural or ethnic mix I might be. It shouldn’t matter.

Zero Māoriness, Pākehāness in question

Barry Soper has raised issues over what ethnicity and culture one might identify with.

My Māoriness is close to zero, but my Pākehāness is also in question.

I decided some time ago that I didn’t mind being referred to as Pākehā – see The soft and loud of “Pākehā” – but I don’t identify as ethnically or culturally Pākehā.

So what am I? My Europeanness feels pretty much zero – I visited a few countries in mainland Europe, once, but have never been to the UK.

I live in Dunedin but my Dunedinness is by location of home rather than a feeling of belonging. I have lived here for about half my life, but that is on five different occasions (I’ve moved around quite a bit),  but when I was a child Dunedin was a remote, unusual place, rarely visited.

The closest I am to Scottishness, supposed to be a thing in Dunedin, is I have three grandchildren who are half Scottish, sort of – they have visited Scotland once or twice.

I don’t feel particularly Lowburnish, the place where I grew up until I left for the big smoke when I got my first career job (that lasted a year). I returned to live there thrice more at different times, but Lowburn doesn’t seen very Lowburnish now, since heavy machinery demolished and remodelled it, and it was then split in two by a lake. It is nothing like it was.

Perhaps Otagoness is my thing, having lived here nearly all my life, apart from a few years in Auckland in the seventies before I packed my life into a van and drove south again. But it’s difficult to identity what Otagoness means.

My father was born in Dunedin but moved to Central Otago when he was very young, living inland (in four locations) for the rest of his life, apart from a tour of the world with the NZ Army in WW2. My mother was also born in Otago, living in four places also, but also living in three parts of Southland.

I may feel some southernness, whatever that may be.

But further back it gets tricky. One grandfather was born Invercargill and lived also in Bluff, Port Chalmers, went to Europe for WW1 and remained for upskilling afterwards for a while, then  Dunedin and Clyde before going to Christchurch to work for the Army in WW2, where he died. But my other three grandparents were born and grew up on the other side of the world. In New Zealand they all lived in various places, mostly in southern New Zealand.

I’m just 1/8 Kiwi if I go back to my great grandparents, so can I claim any Kiwiness?

New Zealandness or Aotearoaness are stretches given that Christchurch seems like quite a different place to me, let alone the other islands south, east and north.

Maybe Earthness is my thing, I do feel some affinity with the planet I and my ancestors have lived on all our lives.