Confronting the Racist Within.


So for my PhD I was reading about Indigenous hospital experiences that have been shaped by racism and discrimination and the impacts it has on the body.

In a nutshell, racism and discrimination in which there are many forms causes stress affecting our mental health, our hormones, functioning of the brain and heart to name just a few things and therefore affecting the body’s ability to heal itself. I mean jeepers, I knew it had mental, emotional and heck even spiritual impacts but I didn’t really think about the physiological implications… until now. Now of course it makes perfect sense. While readings such as these always bring up different emotions it also leads my mind to think deeply about these issues.

I started to think about my grandparents who I was bought up by and what they had to live through and what they encountered. I look back and think of the positions many of my Indigenous colleagues and myself had held over the years. Many of us who are the Indigenous lone wolf in the likes of government, tertiary, businesses and organizations. I recall and think about all the times we have had to justify, confront, strategize to get Indigenous/Māori in the picture, to stay in the picture or to get more of the picture. Enduring comments and remarks not even about us as an individual or related to our work but about our culture and our people. I think of those sickening feelings I got before and then whilst in various meetings over the years with people in very powerful positions. These people were totally up front about disregarding anything that was different and that didn’t quite fit their worldview. I remember a well renowned Professor saying to me when I put some ideas across at a meeting “I think you are quite in intelligent for a Māori”. I think of the social positions and environments that we are in and feeling these same feelings. We all know the feelings, and have probably felt them all too often. I thought about Nelson Mandela and what he endured but mostly how he chose to combat racism, in a very powerful and forgiving way.

Actually the more I reflected on the many different forms of racism the deeper I delved into my own thoughts, feelings and reactions and was reminded of some of the reactive running commentary that is in my own head at times. Some of that has been verbalized sometimes profoundly and thoughtfully and at other times umm not so much. Just the other day I said to someone (filtered down version) “that is such a white thing to say”. I am also more acutely aware of the various forms of racism and discrimination within the different groups I associate with. So it’s not just something that is out there and done to us, we or rather I am part of the something.

How often have we been with people where the car in front pulls out and someone in the group identifies what ethnic origin the driver might be and not in a good way? Or we identify people and refer to them not so positively by race because of their dress sense, or behavior. Or this one, which is becoming more and more familiar especially when we are put in positions where we are all competing for limited resources across our various sectors… that is, the running down of another who is of the same race. Apparently called lateral racism/discrimination so someone told me. I have seen this and found that it leads to measuring how Māori we are. Comments such as “yeah but she is not a native speaker, she learned it at uni, yeah but she works for this iwi but its not her own, yeah but he doesn’t speak te reo or but she is just newly Māori”.  Conversations I am hearing more and more around the table and have participated in myself. Therefore part of this journey is about having to look at, confront and deal with the forms of racism and discrimination that I hold.

Research does show that the buffer that helps deal with these effects is culture, family, connections and sense of identity. We need to reconnect, which may take many forms (e.g. over kai, hui, conferences, study, mahi), but also with our lands, our whānau, good people both like-minded and different but most importantly reconnecting with ourselves. Reconnection in whatever form is important so we can just be who we are, refill, restock, re-evaluate and restore. Without it we get worn down and feel we stand-alone and it’s easy to get swayed or bogged down when you are around it all the time. Its hard to stand against the grain and much easier to conform but for me I am learning that conforming when it doesn’t align with my values and beliefs has devastating impacts that seem to creep up when I least expect it.

The reconnecting helps me to reaffirm being part of the collective, and if like me you have issues to confront (whatever they may be) and you need some answers, it is almost guaranteed the answers come in some way, shape or form through this process. Through connecting with others, listening to people’s experiences, stories, and their lessons provokes thinking, learning and questioning. How are we looking after ourselves? How are we combating racism and discrimination dealt to us or within us? How do we react to others? How can we reconnect and with whom?

Some references if people are interested

Dominguez, T. P., Dunkel-Schetter, C., Glynn, L. M., Hobel, C., & Sandman, C. A. (2008). Racial differences in birth outcomes: the role of general, pregnancy, and racism stress. Health psychology, 27(2), 194.

Harris, R., Tobias, M., Jeffreys, M., Waldegrave, K., Karlsen, S., & Nazroo, J. (2006). Racism and health: the relationship between experience of racial discrimination and health in New Zealand. Social science & medicine, 63(6), 1428-1441.

Harris, R., Tobias, M., Jeffreys, M., Waldegrave, K., Karlsen, S., & Nazroo, J. (2006). Racism and health: the relationship between experience of racial discrimination and health in New Zealand. Social science & medicine, 63(6), 1428-1441.

Jones, C. P. (2001). Invited commentary: “race,” racism, and the practice of epidemiology. American Journal of Epidemiology, 154(4), 299-304.

One Comment

  1. Manuhiri

    I was listening to a Ted Talk by Aimee Mullins some years ago. As she spoke, I came to a horrible realisation. The realisation that a comment I made in reference to a woman with a prosthetic leg, a comment that I thought in my ignorance complimented her, was in fact discriminatory. It made me face the reality of my own innate prejudices, not just towards the disabled, but ALL of my prejudices including those towards Māori. Your post rings so very true for me, as does your recommendation to reconnect and reaffirm. Thanks for sharing.


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