Image: Rotorua Māori fence design / Philip Morton / Flickr
First published on Monday the 18th of April, 2016, this piece comes in at number 3 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
Aotearoa. A beautiful name for a beautiful country. To me, the names Aotearoa and New Zealand are equally important. I love both, just as I love the magical place they denote. But when people object to me using the word Aotearoa to describe my homeland, I’m rather taken aback. I mean really? Are we still here in 2016?
Over the past days (since I wrote a column about water rights), I’ve had people tell me there’s “no such place” as Aotearoa, and that “our country is called New Zealand”. I’ve been called a supporter of “apartheid”, a “white saviour” and a “racist”. I’ve had people tell me that they would like to “declare [themselves] Māori,” so that they can “benefit from the privileges”.
Privilege is a word that inspires strong reactions. It flies in the face of deeply held notions of human fairness. It’s an essential concept to grasp, if a challenging one. In basic terms, it describes a societal structure in which certain groups receive arbitrary unearned benefits, while others struggle through no fault of their own.
If the commenters on my social media accounts this weekend were to be believed, Māori is one such “privileged” group. Because everyone knows that Māori earn the highest salaries in New Zealand. That Māori voices are the ones we hear the most from in the news. That Māori occupy all of the positions of power in our Government. That Māori are buying up all of the expensive houses in Auckland. That Māori have the best health outcomes, are the least likely to be arrested and have the lowest levels of unemployment.
What we do know is that Māori earn a median annual income of $22,500 while Pakeha earn a median annual income of $30,900. That Māori perspectives are scarce at major media organisations. That there are 14 Māori MPs in a Parliament of 121, and only five of those are in Government. That less than half of Māori who have lived at the same address for the past five years own their own homes, and that Māori home ownership is lowest in Auckland. That Māori have a life expectancy of seven-eight years less than Pakeha, are prosecuted at higher rates than Pakeha when suspected of the same crimes, and have an unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent, compared to the Pakeha unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent.
Those Māori privileges… don’t they sound great?