The world is more connected than ever and hundreds of racist attitudes are just a click away. From well-meaning to outright hateful, when you’re a young Māori journalist working in the mainstream media, the sheer volume can be overwhelming.
My alarm goes off. Still half asleep, I rummage around the side of my bed until I feel my phone. It’s buzzing with notifications, so I start scrolling. I ignore the voice in my head reminding me it’s not healthy to look at your phone right after you wake up. I’ll only be five minutes, it’s all good.
An hour later I’m still scrolling through Facebook when one of my best mates tags me in a video that’s going viral. An old Pākehā guy is yelling at a Māori lady. The man asks her, ‘haven’t you got a job?’ alongside other racist outbursts. I scroll through the comments, many of them defending the Pākehā guy. One of the comments is explaining that we don’t know his side of the story. ‘Oh yeah, and what side of the story is that, Karen? How do you excuse someone making a racist comment?’ I think irritably. I feel angry and want to take her down with my words but think, better not. Instead, I react to my mate’s comment with a sad face. Today, it’s a story. Tomorrow, it will be forgotten.
My Facebook messages pop up. A message from a friend of a friend asks me if I would be interested in an exciting business opportunity working from home. She mentions ‘financial freedom’ and being my ‘own boss’. I leave her on ‘seen’.
My dad texts me, asking if I’ve checked my oil and reminds me not to speed. I text back, ‘Okay, love you Dad’ ignoring his question about the oil.
I open my emails and blink twice at the first subject line I see.
I wonder who Seamus is and if he’s ever had to experience racism. I write out a response on my phone, delete it all, and then write another response.
I feel a little bit better and hope Seamus will read my response with an open heart. Or am I just naive? I check my other emails. There’s one from Graham, a guy who is low key obsessed with me because he seems to email every week. The subject has three questions marks at the end of the world pilot. I’m guessing for emphasis?? ? Not sure.
I think about deleting his email before I read it, because honestly, I’m already tired. But I open the email.
I think about how hard it was for Angela to do this story, how she kept telling me she was whakamā and ‘nothing special.’ How I had to remind Angela she was the first and only wahine Māori to graduate from the Air Force and become a pilot. I told her more young Māori need to see people that look like them in mainstream media, in stories that aren’t to do with crime or child abuse stories.
So I get mad that Graham has turned a positive Māori story into a ‘New Zealander’ story. Because I know that if the story was about a criminal who happened to be Māori, Graham and people like Graham would be fine with her being singled out as Māori. Isn’t that how it goes? If you’re successful, you’re New Zealander of the Year. If you’re anything else, only then do you get the honour of publicly celebrating your Māori culture or [insert any ethnic minority here]. And of course if you are from a migrant or refugee background, you’re told to go back to your own country.
I want to reply to Graham but I don’t. Instead, I throw my phone on the bed and remind myself never to end an email with ‘cheers’. Because, gross.
I meet up with some of my colleagues for breakfast. The topic of gangs comes up. One of my Pākehā colleagues shakes his head as he talks about a Māori boy he knows whose dad is in the Mongrel Mob.
‘What a shame’ he says, sipping his latte. ‘That boy has so much potential.’
They continue to talk about the Mongrel Mob while they sip their lattes. I sit there too, uncomfortably, stirring my lemon and ginger tea. If only they knew my dad was once in the Mongrel Mob too. I want to ask them, did I turn out all right? But I don’t say anything. I keep quiet.
Later on that day, another colleague asks me to translate a segment of his interview he’s working on from te reo into English. I’m appreciative of this colleague doing his best to cover Māori stories and I want to help him. But I tell him I can’t; my reo isn’t good enough. He asks me why? He doesn’t understand why I can’t speak my native tongue (fair, enough). I want to tell him because of colonisation, because my grandparents were beaten for speaking the language, because of our terrible history, because I try to learn but feel like a failure every time I get a word wrong but now I just feel embarrassed. I stay quiet.
I send a recording of the interview to my brother who studied te reo at university and is now the head of Māori at Rutherford College. He sends back a translation in five minutes.
‘Thanks bro’ I reply, feeling guilty that I always use him as my Māori dictionary. He sends me another message, ‘how’s your te reo classes going?? ’ I leave him on seen.
I start to work on a story about Tauranga City Council wanting to gift back a $1 million section to Ōtamataha Trust, which represents Ngāti Tapu and Ngāi Tamarawaho, the local iwi in Tauranga.
The Council called for submissions from the public on the transfer. There were 775 submissions, 58% of the submissions opposed to giving the land back to iwi.
I read through the submissions, many of the comments from the Tauranga community are not only hurtful but incredibly racist.
“Please don’t gift this land to Māori – no no no! – no more freebies.”
“The whole Bay of Plenty is being given away and it is never enough. The burglaries, rapes, child murders and car theft will continue unabated.”
I speak to local Māori and share their outrage and hurt. They don’t understand what burglaries have got to do with gifting back a building. Neither do I.
I do more research; I find out that the building on 11 Mission St once belonged to local iwi. In 1866 however, the Anglican Church Mission Society sold 423ha of Māori land to the government without seeking hapū agreement. This led to a public apology last year to local iwi from the Anglican Church.
I find out that the most vocal opponent to the deal is a Western Bay of Plenty mayoral candidate. She was quoted in a Stuff article saying Māori can’t be trusted. I give her a call but she refuses to be interviewed because of a previous story I covered about her mayoral campaign. She said my headline ‘Mayoral candidate insists she isn’t racist’ was misleading (it really wasn’t. That’s exactly what she said). She tells me she’s getting a lot of hate mail from all the ‘mowries’ from that article and I don’t know why but I start to feel sorry for her.
She emails me a response, claiming again she isn’t racist because she has two friends who are Māori. I really wish people understood that just because you have Māori friends, you don’t get a free pass. You can still be racist.
I write the script and send it to my boss. In the meantime, I go to cover another mayoral candidate for the local elections. He greets me and I introduce myself. He asks me in a jolly voice, ‘where did you get your colour from?’ I’m a little stunned but reply back, ‘I’m Māori?’ He shakes his head. ‘You don’t look Māori, you’re attractive.’
I pretend I don’t hear what he just said even though my expression is probably telling him I did. I stare down at the ground and fidget with the tripod and then we get on with the interview. I sigh with relief when it’s over.
I get back into my car and check my emails. My boss says he’s read my script about the transfer of 11 Mission Street and that I need to be more balanced. I re-read the script and wonder how, when I am stating the obvious, that the comments made about Māori are blatantly racist. And how do I not take this personally? Then I think maybe I’m not a good journalist after all because I don’t know how to be objective when it comes to stories like this. Maybe I’m not cut out for this industry after all. I want to call someone for advice but I don’t know who to turn to so I stuff my face with Whittakers and binge on Chinese dramas until I fall asleep.
After a good night’s sleep, I watch videos of Mihingarangi Forbes to feel inspired. I rewatch her interview with Alasdair Thompson on Campbell Live from almost ten years ago, where Forbes asks him about the gender pay gap. He gets up and shouts in her face but she doesn’t back down and gives it back to him. I fist pump the air. If ever in doubt, be like Mihi!
I answer a phone call from Angela Swann-Cronin, the pilot. She tells me the feedback from the video has been overwhelming and she’s accepted invitations to speak at high schools. Many young wāhine have reached out to her, asking for advice on the Airforce and her job as a pilot. I fist pump again, and we both rejoice. I check Angela’s video on Facebook, it’s going pretty viral. There are over 10k likes and almost half a million views. I read through the comments and most are surprisingly positive. I remember my purpose, why I am a journalist. To tell the truth, to tell the stories that matter. And challenge the negative stories about Māori that we often see in mainstream media.
I collapse back on my bed and check my emails. I redo the script on Ōtamataha Trust and try to make it more objective. I send it to my boss. In the meantime, he suggests I cover a story on the sprinkler ban in Tauranga. Perhaps there’s a family or small children who aren’t able to use a sprinkler this summer? Usually, I would rather watch paint dry, but today I jump at the chance. A story about sprinklers is a welcome relief. My purpose for being a journalist can wait until tomorrow.
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