Sometimes kids would say racist things and I used to try to ignore them a lot. I played rugby for our town and there were some boys in my team who’d call us racist names. One day at training a boy called me a dumb N***** and I had enough and ran at him and punched him.
Well I got in huge trouble. The coach had heard it all but told me it was all my fault for reacting and I need to just ignore it, as usual he never told off the boys who said racist things. I walked off and was crying. My Dad came out onto the field and told off my coach. My coach kept trying to blame me but my Dad told him he was useless and shouldn’t let the other boys abuse us and then expect us to take it.
It was around this time me and my cousin used to be picked on by a group of boys at our school. They’d say racist things about us and we refused to take it, we fought back. Teachers didn’t really do much, we were told to ignore it but it’s hard to ignore someone giving you a hiding. At lunch they’d just chase us and fight us, sometimes 10 to 2 so it was never a fair fight.
One day my cousin left some 4 x 2s in the bushes. He never told me what he’d done but that day at lunch when they were all chasing us he shouted at me to follow him to the bushes. We ran out of the bushes with these pieces of wood and all the boys who’d been about to bash us started screaming and running away. They were very fast and we didn’t even hit any of them. We ended up in the principal’s office and we were the ones in big trouble not the boys who’d been bullying us for ages.
My Dad came in and he argued with the principal and told him that if the school couldn’t guarantee our safety then our family would send in people to the school to make sure we were safe. He meant it and so from then on the school made sure the bullying ended. I left soon after to go to another school anyway and I remember being terrified as I was going to a much bigger school and assumed the bullying was going to be way worse. But when I got there the culture of the school was great and there was no bullying like what we had gone through.
When I started college I didn’t know why but I kept getting put into woodwork and metalwork option courses that I’d never signed up for. I had won an academic scholarship in Year 9 and ended up getting excellence in NCEA 1, 2 and 3, but for a while someone there decided I needed to do a trade. There is nothing wrong with tradie work, I actually love it – that’s what I do during the holidays - but it’s unfair to look at me and decide: Oh yeah OK, that brown kid he can do woodwork even though he asked to do Financial Management.
After I got excellence in Year 11, me and a mate got an invite to start going to meetings for excellence students. Well we turned up and the lady asked us what we were doing there because this was a meeting for excellence students. A lot of the Pakeha kids who were there started giggling at us. I can’t remember what we said to her but she never really welcomed us into her meetings. I’ve got to admit we paid no attention in her meetings. A few more times when we’d turn up she’d look at us and ask if we were in the right place. She never remembered our names. We were the only Maori and Pasifika boys there.
Over the years I’d get used to having to defend everything Maori, during class discussions other kids would argue that the Treaty is racist or that Maori scholarships are racist.
Once I got up to say that my scholarship came from my tribe not from the Government and someone shouted out “Hone Harawira” from the back of the class. Being a Maori kid in a mostly Pakeha world, yeah. You’re often put on the spot whether you like it or not. One minute you’re defending your tribe in class. Next minute you get told to lead the haka or speak at a powhiri for the school.
During college our rugby team got used to being racially abused, a lot of us in our 1st XV are Maori or Pasifika. One school in particular, it is a private school in Wellington and yeah we would play them and regularly their players and even some parents would call us apes and monkeys. I thought that was pretty shocking stuff even coming from their mums on the sideline. We always beat that team as they were never that good at rugby so perhaps being bad sports also meant they thought they could use racism to try to win.
Sometimes we would travel out of town and when we were in New Plymouth a car load of white guys drove past us and screamed abuse at us and called us monkeys. We weren’t doing anything bad, we were with our coach, wearing our number ones and about to go across the road to buy some tea. Once we were down in Christchurch and walking around a man came up to us and started calling us bloody black apes. He really surprised me as we were in our number ones, behaving ourselves and not being loud or anything. We told him to go away and leave us alone. Then he said he had as much right to be there as we did and he said he was going to call the Police on us. When the Police came over they told us to just ignore the man and we told them we were trying to but he wouldn’t leave us alone. Eventually he went away.
I was in Year 13 and went to the local university open night with mate. One of the things we noticed was that we were the only brown kids there that night, I knew some of the Pakeha kids. Every university department had a desk set up in a big room so we started walking towards the desk with information about the course I wanted to take the next year. There was an older Pakeha lady standing behind the desk and I got a bad feeling as we approached her desk because the moment she saw me and my friend she turned and looked away. We were standing right in front of her for ages, not sure what pamphlets to get and there was no one else at the desk but she just kept looking away. Eventually I asked her politely what pamphlets we needed and without even talking or looking at us nicely, she handed us both a folder. And then turned away. I felt really embarrassed and at first my friend said, nah bro she’s probably just grumpy. But I didn’t think she was just grumpy so I went and stood by the wall and waited until the next group of people went to her desk. They were some Pakeha boys I knew and they hadn’t even made it to her desk when she started smiling at them. She asked them if they’d travelled far, what schools they went to, what courses they were interested in. As she was standing there nodding and talking nicely to the other boys I felt stink. The next group of Pakeha kids also were treated the same nice way by the lady, I could hear her voice and also realised she had some kind of British accent. So this polite, welcoming behaviour went on for ages and to test my hypothesis I went back. And the lady frowned at me when I told her I wasn’t sure if I had all the right pamphlets. She just handed me another folder and looked away.
Just last weekend I went into a supermarket to buy some lollies and a bottle of water. As soon as I walked in I noticed an older lady who worked there staring at me quite angrily. I tried to smile at her but she kept staring. As I walked through the store I realised she was following me, I kept turning around and she was there behind me and at one stage she was talking to someone on her walkie talkie and I think she was talking about me. When I got to checkout I paid for my lollies and water bottle and she was still right behind me and as I started walking out she screamed out:
“HEY! HEY! STOP!”
She was shouting at me and saying I’d made the scanner beep or something like that. I felt so ashamed. Everybody was staring at me and I am sure they all think I am a thief now. I am not a thief. The lady kept shouting at me and at first I wasn’t sure what to do because it was all so embarrassing. She made me walk through the scanner and nothing beeped. Then again, nothing beeped. She made me walk through the scanner lots of times and was talking loudly at me. By this time lots of people were just staring at me. The scanner did not beep because I had not stolen anything so eventually she just frowned at me and waved me off.
As I walked out lots of people were staring at me and I felt shamed. I will never go back to that store again. I was dressed tidily, I didn’t have a gang patch or anything like that. Neither had I ever had a run in with people at that store. That lady just took one look at me – young Maori guy – and decided that I was a thief and let everyone in the supermarket know that she thought I was a thief. Later the supermarket told us that their staff felt they were “amicable” to me and that I had misinterpreted what happened. They said I looked like one of their regular shoplifters. I thought that was an ironic thing to say.
On the funnier side I remember this time a lady at primary school told us that there were no real, full blooded Maoris left. Now this I found a weird thing because whakapapa is something my family talk about a lot. So I knew lots of people whose whakapapa trees did not have any Pakeha whakapapa. Well when this lady said this to all the kids it got me thinking and so I went back and said to her: You know what you need to meet my Uncle. He is a real Maori and he has no Pakeha whakapapa. I can get him to come to meet you he lives by the marae with us. The lady didn’t think that was a good idea.
When I read through my story I know it will shock some people but this is the stuff that’s happened to me in my everyday life. It’s not all a bad story either, lots of those boys who used to bully me at school are my mates now, we grew up. But the real problem is when adults, teachers and coaches tell us to ignore racism and bullying and don’t tell the other kids off.
I am only 18 so I hope things get better for younger kids. They shouldn’t have to just ignore racist stuff, ignoring it is no good. Adults need to check themselves because in these things that happened to me, I’m pretty sure the adults really think the way they treated me was OK. I don’t think those adults are bad people but they need to know the things they say, the way they treated me is really wrong and unfair. It’s racist really.