#SLW2020 Learnings Part 2: The ‘knee on the neck’ effect.

To be honest, like many of you, my Samoan language week ended with a heavy heart over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

That video. The injustice. No words could explain. Or Justify any of it.

But not to my surprise many still are. Trying to explain and justify it all. And is probably why social media and all the keyboard warriors seem to be mirroring the rioting and protesting happening in America, online at the moment.

I can see why so many of us have been affected by this one event.

We may have been victims of racism #TriggerAlert. We feel the need to defend our positions #Racist=BadPerson #I’mNotABadPerson. It violates our own values and belief systems #THISIsWrong. Or it supports our own values and belief systems #THEYAreWrong. Or just knowing the atrocities of racism, how it never ends well, is heartbreaking and #Needs2Stop.

After an interview for my book Teine Sāmoa last week, off-air, the journalist and I shared our thoughts on the death of George Floyd. Combining our dark sad clouds overhead, we agreed that racism is in fact the ‘knee on the neck’, restricting air and freedom to be and breathe. Also that the whole situation highlighted the need for real conversations and education to happen to fight racism at all levels.

The journalist asked what type of education I believe was needed. My reply was based on personal and professional experiences as well as what I’d seen online:

“There are real gaps in knowledge around the different types of racism – there isn’t just one type and many don’t realise this. There is also a need for self-examination as well as listening to those not like ourselves. But the biggest thing is having these hard conversations – around privilege, (which always comes at the expense of others), diversity and colonization (the realities and impact of this) – and keeping these conversations going.”

Then like an exclamation mark to prove my points above, two national events intensified the race conversation here in Aotearoa, which shocked some due to its ironic timing and maybe because it was #TooClose2Home. But for many of us it was just highlighting the racist undertones that have always been evident because like Taika, many of us already know #RacismIsDefinitelyAtHome.

There was National MP Judith Collins and her reaction to questions about the treaty partnership and Government procurement. Her response was, “Oh Jesus Christ, stupid questions”, which was later followed up by her “‘sick of being demonised’ for her ethnicity.”

Then in response to questions regarding National not having any Māori MPs in its top 12 #Representation #MaoriVoice&Perspectives, Judith Collins pushed back, asking reporters, “Is there something wrong with me being white?” and then emphasising that she is just focused on people who can get the job done #ObviouslyNotAnyoneWhoIsMaoriThen.

Next the Westlake Girls High School student, posting herself in blackface with the comment “wassup my n****” and then later defended by her friend who posted, “black face has nothing to do with Polynesians so go back to your state housing.” #WowHappySamoanLangaugeWk!

Upset students from Westlake Girls High anonymously reported to the New Zealand Herald newspaper that the school has “victimised the girl who painted her face black and tried to make us feel sorry for her because she apparently didn’t know any better.” The student added, “It stinks of white privilege ” and that “the school should talk to us about it and reiterate that racism, no matter how casual, is not okay”, clearly unhappy at the school’s request to not talk about it.

So I believe silence is definitely not the answer and in some situations, silence can be worse than giving a response. As a teacher and dealing with student behaviour, being silent can translate to allowing it, enabling it and teaching it – which is why I’m sure we all hope that Westlake Girls High and all the other schools around the country take this teaching opportunity to explore the history and impact of racism.

I also firmly believe that in any form of education, especially culturally responsive teaching, culture is central to learning. You cannot escape it. Some try but resistance usually leads to perpetuating explicit or casual racism and discrimination, which then usually reinforces it becoming normalised.

For instance, as an educator and facilitator of cultural responsiveness workshops for teachers and schools, I’ve had a school principal tell me that Pasifika students cannot achieve due to their parents low expectations. I’ve had teachers tell me that they shouldn’t have to teach anything Maori or Pasifika in their classrooms because they don’t have students who are Maori or Pasifika and plus THEY, the teachers, think its not really important. I’ve had a mother tell me that she doesn’t want her child knowing anything Maori because it will actually ‘work against’ her child in the real world.

My response to each of these situations was going there. Having the difficult conversations which uncovered ‘back stories’, understandings and led us all to a place of ‘thinking globally and acting locally’ together – Developing cultural understandings for the principal and facilitating more effective relationships with his Pasifika aiga. Helping these teachers to remember their primary roles – preparing all our students for the world beyond school, where their students will encounter many Maori and the world’s biggest Pasifika population that live right here in Aotearoa. Holding a mother’s hand as she cried to me about her own eye witness experiences of discrimination and racism towards Maori – her reasons for not wanting her child to be ‘demonised’ by knowing anything Maori.

Ultimately, racism is a disease. In my opinion, deadlier than Covid-19. Just look at our histories. And our realities. It has survived over centuries, carried in the beliefs, thoughts, words and actions of people all over the world. So in searching for its cure, we need to actively respond.

In America, the #BlackLivesMatter response is a result of centuries of injustices and a history of inequitable treatment where Black African American lives did-not-matter. Every colonised country needs their own response, yes, to unite in support of what happened to George Floyd and to bring about real reforms and change.

But we also need a response for what is happening in our own countries and here in Aotearoa – so that we can work towards more equitable outcomes and treatment for all, stopping racism on our own home ground #ThinkGloballyActLocally.

So my personal response?

Education, continuing to support and have these hard and many times difficult conversations to help develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and others – because this is not a problem that one side or one culture can solve alone. We need to develop cultural understanding and confidence for all in this on-going war, where everyone is enabled and well equipped with the power to end it.

#Time2Respond #On-goingConversationsNeeded #NoMoreSilence

Author: Dahlia Malaeulu

dah·li·a (dah-lee-ya) / noun: a flower that is widely cultivated for its impact and coloured personality / adj: abundant, bright, bold, fresh, ready-to-bloom / human form: daughter, mother, wife, educator, problem solver, creative, teine Sāmoa / working on: creating more brown spaces in the world / currently: moving in the write direction.

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