Words are thrown around so often that their full weight is lost somewhere between the tongue of the giver and the ears of the receiver. There’s a grey area we all find ourselves in every now and then when it comes to racism. What is a little bit racist? What is racist full stop? Who gets to choose which words we can say and which words we cannot?
I experience second hand racism on a daily basis, meaning that the people around me are subject to racist slurs and racial discrimination while I’m in their presence. Being a fair skinned Maori definitely means that I experience ‘white privilege’, which I will acknowledge exists, but I refuse to indulge in, because I find it completely immoral and inhumane. I feel sick to my stomach when I see my friends and family being marginalised based on skin colour, despite our lineage being similar.
The racism they experience is mostly verbal. My friends are called ‘hori’ (NZ slang which degrades Maori people), ‘brown’ (which is used condescendingly, for example, I was talking with one of my mothers friends, she asked me, “are you going to be hanging out with your BROWN friends?” implying that there was a clear difference between my Maori friends and my Pakeha friends) and other terms that are far too inappropriate to mention in this blogpost.
This brings me back to the initial questions I posed – What is a little bit racist? What is racist full stop? Who gets to choose which words we can say and which words we cannot? When people call me and my friends hori, can we take ownership over that word, and use it amongst ourselves? If so, does that mean that certain people can use the word and certain people cannot?
I think that when words are used so frequently, people begin to forget the negativity and the history that is associated with that word. The word becomes less heavy and over time, it becomes a household term. Does this make the word any less racist though? If the word itself no longer offends the people it did initially, should the word continue to be deemed racist? I think that no matter how much you dilute a word, its origins must never be forgotten. I do not believe that mainstream use of any term gives everybody the right to decide that it no longer holds historical significance.
So, when my friends and family begin to reclaim words that have previously been used against them, I praise them. It takes a great deal of strength to be the victim of harassment and an even greater amount to overcome it. If their way of overcoming it is to remove the power of a word from the attacker, then so be it. They are the only ones that I think are rightfully capable of removing the offensiveness of a word, because it was them who had to suffer through the offense of it in the first place.
In saying that, I don’t think it is right for the people who haven’t experienced the trauma related to racial slurs to then use those words. The mana of the word belongs to those who understand the history of it and can use it with full acknowledgement of its impact.
About Matariki Star Holland Bennett
Matariki is a 16 year old Maori & Pakeha student attending Nga Puna o Waiorea School in Auckland city. As well as a writer she is also a poet and has performed her own work at the ‘Auckland Speaks’ National Poetry Day, NZ Poetry Conference and the ‘WORD: The FrontLine’ inter – NZ high school slam poetry competition n 2017.
Like her father the award winning film maker Michael Bennett, she is also an aspiring script writer and penned ‘Huia’ a short film. Matariki is passionate about issues facing young Maori woman, her beliefs and traditions and how these come into conflict with Te Ao Pakeha (the European world). As an active performer who also performs much of what she writes, Matariki will also be linking many of her blogs with her up and coming performances.