To preface: my culture is something I will never part with. It is as close to my heart as the fried chicken I use to blanket my emotional traumas. But I haven’t always felt this way. Indeed, the biggest problem with being ethnic is not our platter of socio-economic depravities (courtesy of our melanin malnourished friends), but the jagged knife that is judgement from your own kin.
My blood links me to Ngāti Hine in the Far North and Mangaia in the depths of Cook Islands. I’m an honorary double Māori if you will. But as I’ve learnt, blood has no relevance in your ability to fulfil your cultural quota. You see, people neglect to tell you that you will be graded on your performance as a person of colour. Can you speak the reo? Did you grow up on the marae? Can you haka? NO! I can’t you fucktards. I grew up with a non-reo parent, in and out of CYFs, learning the routine to ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy’ while planning my future life with Adrian Grenier.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I would honestly kill to be that person who is so fully consumed in Te Ao Māori, I have Tikanga coming out of my ass faster than bad curry. But the opportunity was never there for little Tama. Sure, adult Tama has the resources to start fixing these problems, But I’m not about to begin my journey to be the ultimate Māori in the stench of that bitch Rona and her 2020 pandemic.
There is an elitism within culture itself, a clique full of judgement from those who’ve maintained their authenticity in the quake of colonisation. A clique so consumed in their pride it alienates those who don’t meet the measure. I’m not dogging cultural pride, I want that shit as the front page of everyone’s lives. But when it is weaponised as a method of fulfilling someone’s superiority complex, it loses its beauty.
Little Tama could never meet the measure. I was the boy who couldn’t haka. This was in large part due to my voice; which even post-puberty is still two octaves higher than it should be, my awkwardness around the male species and my overall effeminate personality. I’m gay; what the fuck did people expect? On a scale of Dumbledore to Trixie Mattel, I was a solid Billy Porter, which is to say my version of the taiaha involved jazz hands and a full choreographed musical number. I was and still am different. And I hated it. We tend to associate the word different with being abnormal and this was how I saw myself. I felt abnormal.
Let all of us reading this right now be honest for one second. We just want to fit in. We want to be accepted and loved for who we are and assured that our miserable existence is worth as much to someone else as it is to us. I was dragged to filth for my incompetence as a white Māori and people would never let me forget that deep down, I was a failure of an ethnic. I was being devalued by my family, my peers and worst of all, myself. A scary part of being young is being impressionable and believing what people say about you. Thus, for a moment in my life, I genuinely believed that being myself would never be enough.
Like any good narrative, we now come to the moment of self-discovery where the protagonist realises that they’ve had the power within them this whole time to reach their ultimate goal! So how did he do it? I know you’re all so eager to know how I, the boy who still can’t Haka to save his life, has self-internalised a sense of cultural pride. Well my friends… I stopped fucking caring. That’s it. I just decided to do me and if this wasn’t enough for others… well, that sounds like a ‘them problem’ to me.
Now, as someone who is estranged from his parents, this approach is admittedly a lot easier for me to pull off than most. But part of growing up and earning your own independence is being able to detach yourself from the security of your whanau and with them, their ideals. Learning to be yourself will be the most challenging thing most people of colour will face in their lives. Because even if you are the patron saint of authenticity, you still have no place in this Eurocentric climate. Being the king of the haka won’t stop you from being racially profiled by the police and knowing the reo means nothing if you can’t use it in public without being persecuted by some monolingual Karen.
We all have way too much shit to worry about in our lives to be concerned with the petty whims of some self-absorbed cultural experts. Because when shit hits the fan, the only thing that truly matters is that you were a decent person. I’ll learn the reo one day and I’ll do it in my own time. I may not go home often but I know where I come from and when people call out for help, I will always be there. I probably wont ever be that great at the haka but that won’t stop me from trying.
Whakamā. The loose translation of the word is to feel embarrassment over something. You should never be Whakamā of who you are, where you come from or the way you were raised, because we’re all being equally persecuted as people of colour regardless of how well we score on the cultural index. So, fuck it. I’m not going to be Whakamā over some glorified expectation of who or what I am meant to be. And while saying ‘fuck it’ may be easier for me than it is for others, remember that people’s words and people’s expectations will only affect you as much as you let them. So, eat that fried chicken, be a rebel and do what makes you happy! Because that bitch Rona won’t discriminate either way.