My sister and I share awkward side glances and field off questions with half laughs, and half jokes. “But you must have different dads or something right?” people question, struggling to comprehend that something as insignificant as the difference in our skin colour is what makes our sisterhood less viable.
They are right, we are not biological sisters; second cousins by blood, an aunty and niece on paper, but sisters in bond – she couldn’t be any more my sister even if we did have the same parents. This being said, people’s judgement on the fact that we aren’t is purely cosmetic.
So this isn’t a rant on casual racism, nor is it me trying to make a play for sympathy. It’s me letting you know that regardless of blood, skin, or paper; we are sisters.
This has been a common theme in both of our lives – each experiencing different ends of the spectrum – being subconsciously judged and marginalized because of our appearance. Her feeling “too brown for white friends, and too white for brown friends”, and me being made to feel like a fraud for the Ta Moko I possess. My question is: When will people realise that asking me which one of my parents is Maori, or “how much Maori though” isn’t an inquiry, it’s an insult. Admittedly, out of the two of us I definitely struggle less with the internal conflict on the matter because in the world we live in being fair skinned still gives me the advantage, which is nothing to be happy about. Feeling like I have to justify or defend myself in order to ‘earn’ the right of my heritage is something I hope my children won’t need to do in the future. ‘Well meaning’ and ‘curious’ people are no exception either – don’t play the victim when I become defensive; stay educated in your inquiries, and reflect on whether you would be equally as offended if I asked the same of you. After all, you wouldn’t continue to question a dog owner on their breed after asking – “Are you absolutely suuuure he’s a husky? I don’t know man, he looks more Malamute to me…” You wouldn’t ask a fruit grower: “but what percentage of this is water, and what percentage melon?” No, you take it at face value, because it is still a dog, still a melon, and I am still human. WITH VERY HUMAN FEELINGS.
We are more than happy in the lives we live, in the skin we inhibit, willing to educate on the right and wrong ways to treat people, and meeting everyone we come into contact with love and acceptance – no matter who they are. Being subjected to prejudice is undoubtedly a negative and should 100% not happen (in an ideal world), however there is always a positive lesson to be learnt. In light of me being constantly challenged, or my sister feeling alone within her circle, it has made us better as human beings. She is one of the kindest people I know, soft and caring on the inside, fierce and steadfast in her beliefs on the outside. It shouldn’t matter what colour you decide we should be based on our race, or how we should be acting in accordance to a stereotype. It does matter how you decide to treat us because of it. Is she more deserving of her Ta Moko than I because of skin pigment? No. Should she be criticized and compared to others for not making an effort to korero Maori? Again, no.
Being Maori in the modern world means a lot of things to me. After being made fun of for pronouncing Whangarei (faa-nga-ray) correctly, I became a protector. Admittedly it took years to do this – ashamed of pronouncing my middle name for people that asked, repeating place names again and again to a chorus of laughter and repetitive mockery “all in good fun though”– but as I got older (and a lot wiser it seems) I learnt to take pride in my language. When I got told to call my Ta Moko ‘Maori Designs’ because “it’s disrespectful to the culture when white people call them that”, I became an educator and a canvas. Being identified as a race is nowhere near as important as nurturing my culture and everything that comes with it – the songs, the language, the religion, and the people within.
This is when I realized that as much as I am offended by people questioning the colour of my skin, and as much as it saddens me that my sister feels she cannot find a middle ground because of the colour of hers – it’s all trivial in the end if you let your culture die.
We need to stop compartmentalizing as a way to process the world of differences and ‘unknowns’ all around us and learn to openly accept them without question. I will be the first to admit that I am also guilty of this – questioning people based on my own opinions and views of the world, but what matters is I’m trying to change those perspectives and open myself to the never ending world around me. It is the time of nurture and acceptance.
Live and never stop learning, keep an open mind, and let love in.
See with your heart,