February 01, 2022
HE WHAKAARO | OPINION: What are Pākehā trolls really afraid of?
I’ve been thinking about the anti-Māori vitriol that infests social media. A lot of the noise is generated by, ahem, men of a certain age and certain cultural heritage. You all know the stereotypes these trolls perpetuate and the abuse they spew.
In short, it’s not constructive dialogue that helps build a nation. It’s deliberately racist and aims to divide.
That leads to me a question: What are they so afraid of? Let’s be clear: their bluster is about fear. Are they frightened at the shift of (some) power to Māori, manifested in the growing number of Māori parliamentarians and initiatives like the new Māori health authority and Te Kāhui Tātari Ture, the Criminal Cases Review Commission?
Are they scared that our numbers will swell to the extent that we’ll take over, crush them and subordinate them?
Are they frightened that all the carefully curated, one-sided colonial narratives about the history of this country are going to be blown apart and rock their comfortable sense of who they are?
Or are they scared that they’ll find that they have no identity apart from their opposition to Māori and might float off, unmoored, into space, forever lost in a vacuum where no one can hear them scream?
Are they frightened that if they learn about the Māori world, rather than keeping it at a defensive distance, that they’ll be eaten up by feelings that scare them?
Fear is a primitive but powerful emotion; it alerts us to the threat of physical harm. But fear can also arise from deep-seated, irrational and imagined dangers.
Psychologists say that people can get over irrational phobias through repeated exposure to the thing causing fear. The idea is that by confronting the thing that causes such dread, you get past the panic to the point that you realise that you’re fine and that the threat is in your head.
With that in mind, I wonder what would happen if the trolls had the guts to sit down in a wānanga with Māori so everyone could talk about the ways in which colonisation affects every single person in this country.
Late last year, I attended a webinar at which Tina Ngata, an incisive commentator, pointed out that we “have to provide opportunities for colonisers to heal” and talked about the value of wānanga as powerful “forums for truth” that allow us all to have important anti-colonial conversations.
Wānanga, she said, are important tools to “unpack our complicity” in the colonial enterprise – and here she was talking about all people.
The challenge is getting our Tiriti partners there, particularly the noisy, misinformed, prejudiced ones stoking their own fear by painting Māori as some sort of national handbrake.
There are some brave allies out there who have done the hard yards in looking at themselves, and I hope they are getting some traction in communicating the value of that to others needing an attitude adjustment.
One to admire is self-titled “recovering racist” Andrew Judd, who made headlines for confronting his own prejudice, not long after he became the mayor of New Plymouth.
The crisis point came when he attended Sir Maui Pomare Day at Owae Marae in Waitara. Sir Maui, the first Māori medical doctor and a politician, was at Parihaka in 1881 when 1500 police broke up peaceful resistance against land confiscation, arresting protestors and destroying their homes.
“At the marae, they re-enacted the waiata, poi and the beating of the drum that they could hear in the distance as the troops approached Parihaka,” said Judd in an article in War Cry, the Salvation Army magazine.
“As I sat there, watching the tears falling from the eyes of the Māori people, something happened in me. It was the realisation of my ignorance … ”
All his usual deflections welled up. “Deflections like, ‘Well, I didn’t do it. I didn’t steal the land. I didn’t stop the language. At least we’re not as bad as Australia’.”
He told TVNZ’s Breakfast late last year that “I had to take a journey that took me on a challenge within myself … why did I react towards anything Māori? Te reo Māori, our past, our history? … That journey had to be honest and brutal within myself.”
He added, “I was, in a way, raised by my country to react with ignorance, with an attitude, dismissive, rude, and quite frankly and honestly, racist. So I had to unpack myself. What triggered me? It was ignorance … right next to that ignorance was fear, and fear fuelled my racism.”
Now there’s an honest man. Do the trolls have the courage to face their fear?
Radio Waatea and its board would like to advise that the opinions posted are those of Atakohu Middleton and not the views of Radio Waatea, its management or its board.