It has happened yet again. That moment, not long after an ‘incident’ of some kind – a disagreement due to some form of bigotry or prejudice, and you are running an alternative script in your head. In this script, you don’t hold back, you tell it how it is. Regardless of who you are addressing – your boss, your father in law, the lady next to you in a bank queue, an ex you bumped into. You are forthright, you lay it down, you are uncompromising. There is a shining light that beams right out of your body (perhaps from your mouth, or forehead, or chest – I’m not sure which is best). Everyone around you has to shelter their eyes while taking a step back. You are truly awesome. This, of course, is what you will do next time. And there is always a next time.
My last next time was this: My band was playing a small private gig. An extended family birthday kind of a thing. For all intents and purposes it was a lovely afternoon. We played, we ate cake, we got paid. But before all the singing, eating and paying, we were setting up and pottering around. This is when it happened. A few of us were talking to the host, who had been back in New Zealand for a year after 20 years in Australia. Understandably she was shocked by several things. Our dismal pay rates, lack of range in supermarkets, expensive organics and inefficient transport systems. Yes yes, I understand, I agree, I concur. Nod nod nod.
Then, she got started on her daughters new school. She was shocked about the “mumble mumble something completely unintelligible” the kids are being taught these days in our schools. By gee, things have changed since my day. Changed for the worst.”
I had to really strain to understand what she had just complained about. Then the penny dropped. She had horribly pronounced a few words in Te Reo, so much so, it was utterly impossible for me to understand on first hearing.
Oh dear. My heart dropped. I suddenly wanted to leave. To disappear. There was silence as she waited for more nodding, more agreement from our camp. It did not come. Someone else changed the subject and off they all went again, this time without me. In these situations I have an intense physical response. I feel suddenly unsafe, my ears ring a little, I get flushed and my tummy goes weird. I also often go completely silent. Especially if I am in a professional setting, or feel like I’m going to ‘ruin “it” for everyone else’.
She was aghast at all the Māui stuff they are teaching kids these days. “They aren’t even teaching kids about James Cook.
I replayed this scene in my head on the long drive home, and again as I told several other people, including my Māori partner, who is the Māori father to our Māori children. In my alternative script it goes something like this:
“mumble mumble something completely unintelligible…all the Māui stuff they are teaching kids these days. They aren’t even teaching kids about James Cook, I mean it is just a joke – as if everyone wants to learn about the Māui/Māori* stuff. We shouldn’t have it shoved down our throats”…….*I couldn’t tell the difference between these two words when she was saying them
Lightbeaming self says – “Do you mean that you are offended by the minuscule, largely inaccurate, and badly taught Māori content in most of our mainstream schools? I’m a teacher, and a mother to Māori tamariki, heck, I know what you mean! Wouldn’t it be good to see more in depth critical learning about the whole James Cook thing. You know, all the surveying and occupying, the shootin’ and lootin’. The Treaty, the two versions – which are different, and how we only use the English one in law now, and only when the Government wants to. And how all that land was stolen from Tāngata whenua by force, all the dispossession, the dislocation. But more importantly, how badass, intelligent, diverse, robust, and hardworking Māori are. How they have got through all this colonisation with dignity and strength. How they are still here. How Moriori are a real people, who DIDN’T DIE OUT. How THEY are my own partner, how THEY are my children.
Remember: There is a shining light that beams right out of your body. Everyone around you has to shelter their eyes while taking a step back. You are truly awesome. YOU ARE TRULY AWESOME.
Oh, that isn’t what you meant?!
Well, what about how despite them being targets of bigoted racists like you everyday, they continue to shine and thrive. My kids are really amazing. Just like yours.
And then there is smoke, and dust and more bright lights.
And also an internal dialogue of how I could have been much more calm, could have used some good statistics and quoted some amazing writers and their research. Or how I could have just started speaking Te Reo back at her to really throw the situation.
I mean really. These situations are a dime a dozen right? Someone suddenly lets out a really offensive ripper, whether it be homophobic, racist, ageist – then they wait for the cue which tells them you are in their club. Their shitty, shitty club. Then they feel safe, because you are one of ‘us’ and not ‘them’. “We are us and they are them”.
Boring. Not true. Othering sucks, and we can stop it.
I beat myself up reasonably often for not being ‘lightbeaming self ‘. I imagine many of you feel the same. Imagine us, beaming around the place – laying it down. But I think we can also all take comfort in not ‘being in the (shitty) club’ too. Not nodding along. Stopping our umms and our ahhs. And just letting that awkward silence simmer. That can be effective too. Just don’t join to the club. And sometimes, when you can – let those light beams blind em!