The third Young Marist Neighbours group for this year travelled to Te Kura Toitu O Te Whaiti Nui a Toi. Our group was made up of people from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds – Māori, Samoan, German, Sri Lankan, Fijian, Australian, Afro-Tobagonian, Canadian, as well as several combinations of European ancestries. We were a textbook example of multicultural New Zealand. But by law, Aotearoa New Zealand is a bicultural nation.
Although it may seem otherwise, these terms are not mutually exclusive. Multiculturalism refers to the acceptance of cultural difference, whilst biculturalism is an acknowledgement of the primacy of Māori culture in relation to any other group of people. It does not disempower or invalidate people of non-Māori descent, but pays homage to the fact that “the Māori dimension is basic to New Zealand society and this must have profound implications for all social policy.” Other cultures, be they Italian, Vietnamese, or Tahitian are seen in relation to the tangata whenua.
This discussion about biculturalism soon turned into dialogue about real world examples of racial profiling and inequalities within our very own country. Our guide for the week, a Tūhoe man named Chaz asked us to:
To look around that room was to acknowledge that white privilege exists. You see, every person who was not from a ‘white European’ background had raised his or her hand. We were stunned. And then we looked at the statistics.
15% of this country’s population is Māori. Yet Māori account for 51% of New Zealand’s prison population. I’m no stats major, but those numbers seem to indicate an unusually high proportion of Māori being (mis)represented in the prison system. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be judged for the colour of my skin, and not for the content of my character.
But then, my skin is white.