“What is colonisation all about? I mean that kinda stuff happens all over the world, it's just what people do, it's always happened. And it was so long ago.. You can't really do anything about it.”
This was part of the conversation I had with a young gay asian man while a small, staunch and chipper group marching for decolonisation up Queen St, to the (re)occupy Aotea campsite. And it's been on my mind ever since.
What I would have liked to say in addition, would have been that “Yup, I suppose it's always been happening. That the powerful, for a long stretch of current historical re-memory, have taken, oppressed and subjugated those less powerful. Taken and occupied land, resources and people.”
So the question, or statement rather, in response to that kind of thing said to people opposing colonisation, is “Yeah well, it comes down to whether and how you care about, and want to do anything about social justice.” And many people don't.
People have probably always beat up, set on fire, hung and killed other people, whether just because they want their stuff, because they figure their god said it was all good, or just because they lived and expressed differently in some kind of way. That is an observation. It's not a justifcation, for not doing anything about injustice.
We live in a time where the seductive and manipulative system of belief is that if you put your mind and energy to it, you can do anything. Inequality and inequity is merely bad luck or circumstantial, but once you actively engage in the fair and level playing field, you can achieve anything.
It's a pretty handy belief system. Also because it feels pretty empowering to a certain point.
It's one that the Model Minority (usually Asians) and many middle class gays, lesbians and queers happy champion. The possiblity of social mobility, being poor and then getting richer, combined with civil rights, do not mean that a system is fair and just and level. But many people think it is. And many people are pretty ok with the current system as it works pretty well for them. Until it doesn't.
The way we live is far from just. It's not close to serving most people most of the time. But we'd like to believe it is, because it's less work and less scary that way. We'd like to ignore rates of rape and sexual abuse, family violence, intergenerational wounds, poisoned rivers, toxic lakes, shrinking old forests, animals suffering, people living in poverty, poor mental and physical health, youth and adult suicide rates, and the ever widening gap between rich and poor. They are just unfortunate, circumstantial, and not indicitive of the way we live.
Its a great belief system because we don't have to do anything about it, and when anyone fails, it's just bad luck, or more likely because they haven't tried hard enough. So it's their own fault really.
Its hard to see, or want to see, structural oppression. It's hard to explain structural oppression to someone with an individualistic liberal framework, in a tasty soundbyte. It's because structural oppression is the whole platter, the table, the kitchen, the house, and the very land the house is on.
And that's hard to fit in a soundbyte.
But how about a story.
There is a family. Who lives in a house. One day another family turns up and moves on in, and forces the first family into the back shed out the back. The new family then takes over most of the vege garden and nine out of the ten fruit trees. The new family then moves in lots more of their cousins. The new family poison the rest of the vege garden they didn't take over, and chop down the fruit tree belonging to the first family.
The new family don't allow the first family to speak their language and do their own way of health care. When the first family protests at being kicked out of their house, their vege garden being taken or poisoned and their fruit tree cut down, they are thrown in the cellar. They are then told they've breached laws the new family made up and wrote in the new families own language. It's their own fault really.
Many years pass.
The new family's great great great grandchildren still live in the house, have most of the vege garden, and write the new laws in their language. The great great great grandchildren of the first family still live in the shed.
There are many more great grandchildren of the new family. They don't call themselves that though. They call everyone, including the first family descendents, New Housers. The descendents of the new family let the first family descendents have some veges and visit the house every now and then. They can't understand why the descendents of the first family suffer worse health than they do. They figure it must be about the first families descendents attitude to life.
And while we're telling tales, here are a few more.
Our fair and level “justice” system convicts Maori at higher rate than Pakeha for the same crime.
Our fair and level housing system favours Pakeha and European applicants.
Our fair and level job system favours Pakeha and European applicants.
And to all those Asians that love up the Model Minority Myth, those gays, lesbians and queers that think things are pretty level and fair, and if you don't “succeed” you're just not trying hard enough; here are some tales for you.
The Youth07 report that surveyed nearly 10 000 high school students, tells us that only a bit over 50% of Chinese youth are proud of their ethnicity. It also tells us that queers are over-represented in much of the negative stats including suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and all forms of bullying.
Shakti Community Council, that tends to Asian survivors of domestic violence is run off their feet.
We might think we are “ok” but we can't pretend our youth are.
If this feels like wet-blanket-party-pooping-negative talk, I will happily identify as all those things, if that's what telling our societal ostrich to take its head out the structurally oppressive sand is doing.