“Half cast” was the term used to categorise my identity as a child, and as it was used fairly freely by everyone back then – including teachers & elders, pastors & people in the community – I accepted that I was neither one nor ‘t'other, and learnt to apply a percentage to my makeup – depending on which situation presented itself, to best fit in.
“What are you” was the question put to most people back then – so that they could figure out where they stood with or against you, to see if you were ‘better than’ or ‘lesser than’ or ‘the same as’ them. It was certainly the question asked of me through the 70’s & 80’s, all the way through to today – whereby people for some reason feel the need to ask my pedigree. Being half cast apparently came with some benefits; “Oh aren’t you lucky dear to have olive skin”.
Olive skin? The only olives I know are green or black, and growing up in Te Atatu North and Mt Wellington through the Muldoon & Lange years, we certainly didn’t know what olives even were. My situation was further compounded by the fact that I never knew nor met my father until I was 18 years old. My Mother was so affected by the brief and abrupt relationship between she and my father, that I was never allowed to know who he was, and the subject was a no-go zone.
So now – I am a half cast, but don’t actually know ‘what’ the other half was, which made for a vast curriculum of survival and communication skills needed to negotiate my way through a plethora of racial and societal challenges as a young person. That’s another story. Back to the dissection of my make up – whatever the other was, I was at least able to be semi-identified through colour, and it was clear that I was half white.
Although I am all grown up now, and can affirm all those many and mostly negative experiences, have netted me plenty of scar tissue and tools of the communication trade, they did, for many years – have an effect on my personal self-esteem and confidence.
Through being categorised as half cast it was difficult to fit into either the Pakeha world, or the Maori world. On the Marae, there was the underlying innuendo of who I ‘really’ was, and ‘could she be trusted’, or ‘who does she think she is’ if typical childhood banter came up.
In the school grounds, I was labelled with the ‘darker persuasion’, and was automatically classed as Maori if ever the requirement came up. In fact, back then, you were either Pakeha, Maori or Islander (they hadn’t yet evolved the category Pasifika at that stage). School was at times hard and horrible. You had your trusted close friends, still today, but generally you were looked upon as a potential threat that meant you were always wanted on the sports team, but never in the ‘close circles’.
Forward through to teenage years and as a young adult, you soon discover that the ‘blend of blood’ is still restrictive, and although one may be classed as being attractive, the possibility of possessing any real intelligence falls away with the sly smirks and the eye rolls. This behaviour isn’t just limited to the various colour grades but also within them. You’d imagine that there would be empathy between say Pasifika & Maori, but not so.
My former husband, who incidentally is another half cast was raised Samoan, and his mother referred to me once in front of me to her fellow family members as “Paki” in thinking that I couldn’t understand her, as she didn’t want to call me Palagi as she was making reference to me not giving up our first daughter to her as we “Pakis” didn’t agree with ‘their way’. I remember that so clearly. I thought to myself, I had put up with this type of rubbish my entire life and here, a woman who had struggled her entire life, was dismissing all the good in me, and throwing me under the racial bus. I might as well have been an anonymous surrogate.
Although it is wonderful to now know about one’s lineage, it is a shame that this draconian ‘thing’ (I don’t actually know what to call it) of identity and racism still exists. It is also a shame that people know ‘exactly’ what they are doing and saying in their day to day lives, and that they chose their behaviour and words and actions. I believe that if people invested more into themselves and adopted a more understanding and accepting approach to their own self first, this would eventually start to melt the fear and prejudices that fuel the racial gaps.