Hi, New Zealand. I’m a Minority.
I am such a Minority, in fact, that there’s only me. Yup, just me. Only one. I’m pretty small, aye. Can’t even form a political party.
Maybe I’m not so much a minority as I am a label. Female. Gay. White. Middle class (according to IRD, although my monthly budget suggests Poor Starving Student.) And I am concerned with a few of the labels being flung around lately. Because reading about them - the ones that apply to me and all the character traits and flaws that supposedly go with them... those labels have all the subtlety and permanence of a forehead tattoo.
There are ones who follow the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” worldview, ones who say there is no “clamour” for gay marriage, and that a “family” has only one definition. There are people that think women, pretty much, primarily fling themselves at anything that moves and therefore do not, for god’s sake, need any more contraception. There are people that think that other people who do not have the same incomes that they do are inadequate and feral beings, who, frankly, should have their kids taken away and be steralised.
Minorities, as ever, seem to be doing really well in the world.
My best friend in all the world belongs to a minority too. Maori. Not in a “some of my best friends are” kind of way. We have more of a “you screw with her you screw with me, I can-tell-her-she’s-a-dork-but-you-bloody-can’t” arrangement.
So reading this article in The Herald made me wild. It is an interview with Louis Crimp, the person who gave the biggest donation to the Act Party. This was the bit that did it for me. “Asked if his political views could be labelled racist, he said: "I don't give a stuff what I'm called. You have to look at the facts and figures. This is the problem with New Zealanders. Most of them dislike the Maoris intensely - I won't say hate - but they don't like to say so."”
Joris De Bres, race relations commissioner, said "There is a difference between affirming freedom of expression and taking money from people who express ... repugnant views.” Which is good to reaffirm, in case anyone was wondering. My colleague Chris Ford also wrote a great piece in the wake of the article.
Here is my problem. A rich, white, New Zealand male (who presumably holds a relatively larger ability to shape policy within the Act party, than say, a not-so-rich, young, female) is assuming he is speaking for all New Zealanders. “New Zealander” is a label, a minority, a group to which I belong by birth and by patriotic sentiment.
So I am using the platform that I have, for the five people who read this blog, to say this:
To politicians, policy-makers, article and blog What’s-Your-Opinion-commenters, big donators, Prime Ministers. To those in the media who are not always objective. As I do not speak for others, you do not speak for me.
To the women who read recently the outrageous commentary from some that their sexual activity (and by strong implication their moral character) was indistinguishable from a proposed policy of free contraception.
To the parents on WINZ benefits who are genuinely just trying to get from one day to the next- who love their kids and want the world for them, and who read that they themselves “have neither the intellect, the empathy nor the responsibility to ever be anything other than they are.”
To men and women, who, like me, read the GayNZ article where John Key said that gay marriage wasn’t something that people wanted with incredulity and bone-deep sorrow.
To those in minorities who feel like no matter what they do, they are never going to belong to this wonderful and (increasingly, to my mind, mythical) group “New Zealander.”
To the ones who sit and think “This is what my countrymen think of me?”
To those people, a reminder (because sometimes I need to take a breath and remember): not everything you read can be attributed to all “New Zealanders”.
What do I think, when I read this stuff, especially from people in positions of power?
This is what the leaders of my country – the ones I have voted for, entrusted with my vote and my confidence – this is what they think of my minority. This is what the leaders that I trust to be objective and fair, the ones who should be leading, treating those they lead as equals, think of me. They see me as The Gay Vote. The Female Vote. The White Middle Class, Sit-In-Your-Box-Love-And-Stay-There Vote.
Who are the “majority of New Zealanders”? Maybe “The Majority” is just a faceless voice, given words by people who know the value and power of belonging somewhere. What is more seductive than to belong somewhere there is safety in numbers, right?
I know what my friend would say. “Why should I care? I don’t belong in the box he’s putting me in.” She worries more about whether she is doing right by her loved ones, about whether she is achieving her goals, about her career and her long term plans, than about one person ranting vitriol about one of the infinite things that make her up. That person, to her, is not worthy of her time. She would say to me “Let it go,” and wouldn’t be able to understand my anger now. It would never occur to her even to take offense, and she needs no one to fight her battles for her should she choose to.
But I can’t help but think – these boxes that we keep putting everyone in – they contain people.
My friend’s family are not no-hopers. In fact, her family are the only family I have ever known- including my own - who have made me feel welcome, instantly, without judgement or reserve. I could have a nervous breakdown in the corner of her Nan’s house and she’d never blink, except to maybe give me a hug or tell me to get my arse up and go feed the chickens. Her family also aren’t perfect. Neither are mine. How is it right that someone can be interviewed in a country’s national newspaper and say “New Zealand is poorer for you?”
My experience as a New Zealander and as a human being has been richer for my friend. And my friend’s family. And how dare anyone say otherwise.
I would suggest this holds true for a lot of us. I think for every person that they meet themselves, or more likely hear of from a friend of a friend that has reinforced a minority stereotype, the label, there’s three someone else’s they have encountered personally that have challenged it, made them question it...wiped it out.
People are not black and white – they are made of shades of grey. I am not a white female middle class voter. I’m a 26 year old female who likes musicals and coffee, and other chicks. I have feminist views, mostly regarding how females are potrayed in The Media. I love the beach, for the sound of the waves. I am not a morning person. I work six days a week in a job I’m not passionate about, and work much less than I should on doing what I love. I firmly believe the potential for people to love one another-most of the time I try to convince myself I don’t, because it takes courage to hope, and I’m not always brave. The only minority I have very strong negative emotions towards is Politician. I am a walking mass of contradictions. I have been told that donkeys have nothing on my stubbornness. I burn salad, but make a mean banana cake. And that’s just the beginning.
I’m a minority, yes. I’m also a human being. So are all the other “labels” out there. Do I have solutions for any of the issues that led to so much hate coming through in the last few weeks? Do I always agree with everything either a minority or a majority group comes out with? Nope. But I have a suggestion.
Anyone can stand on a soapbox, and shout. Anyone can have an opinion, and anyone who has been watching the US presidential elections can gather that the person with the most money, connections and power are the usually the ones that shape, but not always perhaps voice verbatim, public opinion.
Words have immense power. They are used to start wars, cite reasons for unjustifiable behaviour. They are used by victors to rewrite history, and they are used by us, now, to reclaim our past and envision our future. They soothe and hurt, incite, inflame. Wound, irreparably. Heal, irrevocably.
I’m guilty too. I sit in judgement, sometimes without all the facts. I let my emotions rule my head a lot of the time. I hold prejudices, some inherited, some concluded from limited, one-sided information. I don’t have any answers. I do know, however, that hate, ignorance, intolerance, in any form, never did a country any good.
So to those five dear readers who read this little rant, if you sound like this, or you happen to know anyone that sounds like this:
“I am entitled to have my own opinion, and what’s more, everyone I know thinks the way I do. The books that I read, the television I watch and the people that I hang out with all reflect the same opinions and thoughts I have, and therefore I’m justified in judging other, smaller communities. Because I’m in The Big Group, you’re in The Small Group, and this both justifies my power and soothes my fear of losing it.”
Congratulations – you are what is known as a majority.
You’re right. You can have your say. It’s a free country. You can tell others what you think of them – often anonymously, through donations or through press releases or by clicking the comments button.
But if you can’t be what you can’t see, the reverse must be true also. You are what you see, read, hear. If a person is told enough times the sky is bright purple, surely will come a point when they begin to doubt what they know to be true.
So perhaps you could stop and remember this little blog next time you’re about to cuss someone out.
Because this is what a Minority thinks of you.
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