Reflecting on racism after attending the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide Conference.

I am reflecting on the Healing our Spirit Worldwide Conference (HOSW) that I attended at the end of 2015 in Kirikiriroa, where 1700 Indigenous peoples from all over the world gathered to share their amazing healing talents. There were prestigious presenters with an awesome array of topics, services and movements. The most outstanding keynote for me was the very humble master healer, Kamaki Kanahele, a native Hawaiian who devotes his life to improving the wellbeing of his people. He spoke with the reverence of Nelson Mandela and the wisdom of Mother Teresa. He talked about Indigenous Leadership in action and the creating of a world federation of Indigenous representatives who were actively campaigning to visit every colonial-settler jurisdiction to declare that their occupation was illegal and to return the governance of those lands back to the original owners/occupiers. The response from the audience was deafening and so (beyond words) powerful.

The resounding message from HOSW was as Indigenous peoples, we need to return to thinking ‘brown’ and resist continuing colonisation in the guise of neoliberlism. In the case of Aotearoa, it was in almost every presenters korero that for 175 years, non-Māori have epically failed to work in the best interests of Māori. So the purpose of this blog is to resist openly with tika, pono and aroha for the benefit of whānau everywhere.

One of the key instruments of white supremacy and the oppression/genocide of our people is institutional racism. Racism isn’t always about the overt (obvious) kinds like apartheid, slavery, and assimilation. “Institutional racism is the manifestation of racism within all social systems and institutions and the social economic, educational and political forces or policies that operate to foster discriminatory outcomes. It is a combination of policies, practices or procedures imbedded in bureaucratic structures that systematically leads to unequal outcomes for groups of people” (NASW, 2007:8).

Racism is also covert and because Pākehā don’t experience it…that is if you don’t see/feel it, then it’s not real and people make it up. More subtle forms of racism can be described as symbolic, aversive and micro-inequalities (NASW, 2007).

Symbolic racism is where a non-Maori person doesn’t perceive themselves as racist but still negatively judges a Maori and justifies it because Māori don’t sign up to the traditional values of a Pakeha world-view.

Aversive racism is where people are unaware of their own racism and behave in racist ways. They will attest to being against inequality and injustices but the ever present societal racism is still reflected in their behaviour (NASW, 2007). They also generally won’t associate/socialise with Maori/Pacifica people.

Micro-inequalities are the tiny damaging things that happen in an environment such as a work place where certain comments and voice tones are made, a person is not mentioned, and you might be ignored when you raise an issue. The subtle indicators are a lack of respect for you as part of a roopu or organisation. Some other examples of subtle forms of racism might look like this:

  • A non-Māori supervisor/peer reminds you that he/she is supportive of all things Māori but at the same time clips you (puts you in your place) when you speak up about racism or Māori equality issues.
  • Having your perspective/concerns treated as unimportant but those same pespectives are applauded when a non-Maori raises them.
  • Being hushed/ignored when you raise an issue impacting Māori but the ‘non-impacting Māori’ issues seem to have a flurry of interest/attention.
  • One person being singled out for the racism within a roopu but racism is always about a collective responsibility for it’s manifestation and maintenance.
  • No annual cultural competence/decolonsing training within an organisation. It is deemed unnecessary.
  • A single person (perhaps new to a group) finds him/herself raising issues of diversity/racism without key decision makers/leaders in the group assuming greater responsibility, themselves.
  • Or add your own here……………………………………………………………………….

Or in a gender equality setting it might look like this. Imagine your core business is encouraging people to maintain the health of their reproductive anatomy, including te whare tangata and it’s many contexts. The decision makers of the organisation are almost all male and often the emphasis is on male anatomy because that’s their norm (what they are most comfortable with). All the while attesting that they have the best interests of their female counterparts as heart, which may be heartedly demonstrated through the occasional special feature in the organisation’s magazine.

Part of ‘cleaning one’s kitchen’ is about being able to look in the mirror. Two concepts or issues that come to mind are white privilege and internalised racism. White privilege is a set of benefits based upon belonging to a perceived white group, when the same set of benefits are denied to members of other groups. This is what allows Pākehā to be dominant in shaping the norms and values of our society here in Aotearoa. In contrast internalised racism is the development of ideas, beliefs actions and behaviours that collude with racism against one’s-self. As Māori we conform to the norm of the dominant Pākehā group, we participate and we see ourselves reflected back (NASW, 2007). So for example, one size-fits-all (Pākehā policies, practices, procedures) ways of doing things don’t actually work for Māori, so Māori end up at the bottom of the heap (over-represented in systems) which then confirms the internalised view we so often have of ourselves, that we are a negative statistic, costly to tax payers, violent, criminal, lazy and dumb. White privilege and internalised racism, a deadly dynamic duo.

From a Māori perspective the kitchen is the heart of the whare. Cleaning up your kitchen (organisation) requires a few actions. The first is a self-assessment which is very likely to reveal subtle forms of racism like those mentioned above. If, your organisation can begin to understand how racism is manifested and maintained then it can also create the strategies required to address it. Breaking the silence and ignoring the issue is a big first step, through to recognising how its exists and then being committed to promoting change. Racism and its various forms has to be addressed at all levels from the frontline social worker right through to the decision makers/shakers. There has to be an ongoing analysis of how racism can be reformed or reversed through all facets of the orgainsation. A great resource to do this with is Institutional racism and the social work profession: A call to action report (NASW, 2007). See at http://www.naswdc.org/diversity/InstitutionalRacism.pdf

Simply put, if you are not to true to your cause then it just comes across like a pile of teko to our people. If, you are honest about wanting an equal and respectful relationship with Māori in your organisation, then cease denying/ignoring your own racism (i.e, micro-inequalities). Begin to address this at every level (especially governance) and make it a part of your strategic planning. You cannot call yourself a leader in equality if your kitchen remains paru!

Nga mihi Paora Crawford Moyle

Published by

MoaInTheRoom

I am of Ngāti Porou and Welsh whakapapa and a social work practitioner of twenty five years. I have a wealth of social work experience ranging from children's to adult services and from frontline to management both in Aotearoa and the United Kingdom. I am a social activist and speak to groups about the students about the merits of decolonising the self. I am a also PhD student and I lecture within the School of Social Work at Massey University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s