Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A teacher teaches

Racism is a funny (not ha ha) old thing - race is a discredited concept so how does racism work? - based on generalisations about what people see and/or hear and the misconceptions that people have about the groups being generalised. Denigrating people by ridiculing them and disrespecting them, and for indigenous people, doing the same to their culture too, creates distress for the people unfairly targeted. The Green Island Postshop/Kiwibank, just out of Dunedin, has got a few questions to answer after this appaling example of disrespect. From ODT
"Asked to provide the name of the account by the female teller, she answered "Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Otepoti".
"She just laughed. And then she got her manager and said, 'Come and listen to this'," Miss Amiria Stirling said.
She repeated "Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Otepoti" to the pair, and then a nearby cafe worker was invited by the bank staff to listen as she repeated the school's name for a third time.
To add further insult, when asked her surname to complete the transaction, she was told it "was much better" to understand, before being farewelled with "kakariki", which translates to "green", as she left the building.
This is just appaling - I am going to give them a point for attempting to say goodbye in te reo because at least they tried. And it is fair to say that the first time you hear Otepoti (awe-tay-paw-tee) it can sound a little funny to uneducated ears - but still that is no reason to insult the woman. These people never considered that their actions were hurtful, it just didn't enter their head. Are they racist? No more than many others, certainly they are culturally insenstive and I hope they feel ashamed and tidy up their act, but I suspect they may be going, "What is the problem", "I have lots of maori friends", "People are just too PC and oversenstive", "It was just a bit of fun".

Anyway, what has been the result so far
"Miss Stirling said she was stunned by the incident and, after consultation, decided to write letters of complaint to the bank and members of Parliament, stating, "Our school chose Kiwibank because it's a bank for everyone.
"A founding belief of our school is that all languages and cultures are precious. All languages and cultures should be uplifted and celebrated, never laughed at."
The letter finished with an open invitation for branch staff to come to the school, which has a roll of 10, and to participate in free Te Reo Maori lessons.
Miss Stirling said the incident would serve as a lesson for the schoolchildren on conflict resolution, and the school was likely to continue using the branch in the future.

I would be very happy for Miss Amiria Stirling to teach my son - a brilliant example of mana and how to make lemonade from a couple of lemons. Thank you Amiria for this lesson.

Hat tip - Halfdone


Mike said...

Hi Marty. Certainly very rude if it happened as reported, that's for sure. It's not something I'd expect from any company or organisation such as Kiwibank.

I read the statement of "All languages and cultures should be uplifted and celebrated, never laughed at" and with respect, I'm not sure I agree with it.

I think people need to be able to laugh at language and probably culture, and it shouldn't be restricted to their own. Laughter and joking about things is another form of analysis. It's how we understand who we are and what we have, and who others are. I reckon Billy T James was one of New Zealand's best ever comedians, and in many ways comedy's one of the best ways to understand ourselves. But if I went out and made half the jokes he did, lost of people would call me a racist because they'd outright assume I was mocking their culture rather than seeing a funny side of it, purely because I'm not part of it, even if I said and did exactly the same things. I don't think simply laughing or making a joke about a culture makes someone racist, though.

Nobody should have to put up with others being outright rude or derogatory, but I'd hate to actively encourage a society where it's the norm for people to immediately complain about offence and racism simply because another person has found an aspect of that culture they think is funny. If that were the case, we couldn't make jokes about English either, and I really want to make jokes about all the silly things in the English language, and my own culture for that matter. But that's what the phrase "never laughed at" says to me, and I don't like it because it's as if it's telling me what to think and defining some kind of thought crime. It should be actions that matter, not thoughts.

The part of this that really disturbs me, if it's been described accurately, is with how the staff acted. It sounds as if they were laughing at Miss Stirling, into her face when she was trying to be serious with them, and (whether they realised it or not) making her feel worthless or stupid because of the language and the culture she was coming from. I mean, come on---inviting someone from next door to listen and laugh at the woman??

I dunno. Sometimes I might give those staff members the benefit of the doubt and say they may have been doped up on caffeine, been laughing and joking about all sorts of random things all morning, and may not have picked up that Miss Stirling was in a completely different mood when she walked in when they should have.

If there racism here (and I want to be cautious about using that word because it's so powerful and I think it's overused), it's in the insensitivity that the bank staff showed to the customer (over whom they had some power), not in their seeing a funny side of Te Reo. They saw something they weren't used to seeing that they found a quite unusual and funny on first impressions, but they then didn't control their outbursts in front of a person who felt deeply offended because she was taking it so completely seriously, and very personally, and who could blame her considering her reason for coming into the bank. It was just plain rude.

Marty Mars said...

Kia ora Mike - yes i agree that it seems more rude than racist but the effect on the young teacher was the same.

The humour issue is interesting _ I agree that we should be able to laugh at each other and ourselves and that it is healthy but I can't say the environment is conducive to it at the moment, unfortunately without equality or context the humour becomes all one way and a bit more laughing at rather than laughing with.

I was not a fan of Billy T, when I think of his classic jokes - the lands for bags one and the newsreader skits - I struggle to see the humour? - that he had stole the bag or couldn't pronounce the words? Obviously there was a bit more to it in that he was playing to stereotypes and fulfilling expectations and that was part of the humour. Perhaps I am a bit precious but humour is like many things - very personal, for instance I really enjoy slapstick humour and Seinfeld.

Like you, I'm also a fan of word-play in english and it works because most understand english, I'm sure the richness of te reo would shine forth if we could all korero.

I also agree about not wanting to be controled - I see it more as consideration. The overuse of the term racism is concerning - it's the default choice for editors and it is unhelpful and destructive plus no one knows what it means if it actually means anything now.

I hope the staff and manager take up the offer of some te reo lessons - they'd probably like it.

Mike said...

Hi Marty. Okay, point taken about Billy T. I'd need to go back and re-watch some of his comedy to be sure about what I think. It's been a while and I was young in the '80s. I remember really enjoying a lot of his TV skits, but perhaps I'd see it in a different light if I saw it today.

Anyway, it's late. :)

Marty Mars said...

You're right mate that it is late - I can't really remember too much of Billy T - he did the job and I admire his ability and tenacity - I wish him all the best.

Steve Julian said...

I wonder if they tried to make an excuse for their behaviour. A number of years ago in this Province of Manitoba, an Indian woman came in to the city for an operation. The doctor took the beads she had and tied them to her operation stitches on her stomach. He brought other people around to look at the beads and laugh. She did not speak English. Her family complained. The Doctor said he was only trying to bridge the gap between cultures and he wasn't intending to be disrespectful. Nothing happened except a story in the local paper. But hey it's all okay.

robertguyton said...

Steve - the 'beads on the stitches' story is very good. That's smething I would never have imagined.
Regarding the woman from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Otepoti, when asked to repeat the name of her school for the amusement of the staff at the bank, she missed the opportunity to slip in a little joke of her own - perhaps she could have replied, 'He pirau tou korua ha e hoa ma' or something similar and laughed along with them!
(Excuse my rough attempts with te reo)

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Marty,
I think there is a tremendous difference between "laughing at", and "laughing with". Theses clowns were simply laughing at and should be taken to task.

pollywog said...

Thats about par for the course in Otago and just about what i'd expect.

My pet hate is in listening to commentary on the all blacks and how palagi/pakeha commentators go right out of their way to pronounce every other nations players names correctly but don't even bother with Pasifikan ones inclusive of Maori.

it just shows their ignorance and eurocentric cultural bias.

Marty Mars said...

Kia ora koutou - thanks for the comments :)

No excuses so far Steve - looks like they want to brush this under the carpet too.

Agree with you both - Rob and Robb.

And yes polly that really irritates me too - it just doesn't seem like it should be so hard for them to make an effort. Having grown up near dunedin I can confirm that there are a number of people with pretty poor attitudes to maori down there.