We're better than Henry likes to think we are

Last updated 09:29 08/10/2010

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Someone on Facebook commented that Paul Henry reminded him of the kids that soil their pants in school to get attention.

OPINION: The scene between him and John Key did take me back in time, but not to those using excrement to seek attention.

Rather, I was sent straight back to third form at a high-decile all- girls' school.

To my surprise and delight, the coolest girls in class welcomed me into the most exclusive pack, even though I didn't have many of the right accessories, skin colour possibly being one of them.

We were sassy as a tween- version of Sex in the City, with a few more gal pals and absolutely no sex. I vividly recall an incident when we met as a group for the first time outside class.

We were a well-dressed flock of 13-year-old alpha females, wearing $100 Reeboks, clutching plastic shopping bags that showed you where we shopped, in case you missed the gaudy labels sewn all over our bits and bobs.

We were roaming around town when one of the ringleaders turned to us all, shaking her long mane of honey-coloured hair, and said loudly, "I'm so glad there are no Maoris in our class."

She suddenly turned to me, wide-eyed and, in front of the others, said: "Sorry, Karlo, if I offended you? I didn't mean you, of course."

It was one of those moments in which you have to make a choice. I clearly had an in - if I sucked it in. But to let something contrary out would mean I was absolutely out. Did I let it slide or did I take a stand? Martin Luther King once said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

My decision in that anxiety- ridden situation was made quicker than a flick of an eyelash. "I don't mind," I said. "Why would I care?" My voice was very cool. "I'm not Maori."

The words vanished into thin air. Situation deflated. She smiled at me, all teeth and friendly eyes, flicking her long blonde hair. Triumph. Disaster averted. White privilege intact.

The "us and them" lines clearly drawn - me jumping hoops and cutting ethical corners to try and keep on the right side of it - the white side of it. It wasn't my proudest moment. My cowardice remains fresh in my memory more than 20 years later.

To return to the soiling of the pants or excrement metaphor, I am fairly uninterested in Henry and his ability to let it hit the fan and spray on prime time. It takes a certain kind of talent. He has it.

I'm much more interested in the ways we are complicit in enabling the crap.

From the prime minister to the state broadcaster, to the interesting assumptions that we want to consume these conversations, that we have a taste for exclusion and rejecting Kiwi-born people as real New Zealanders because of their ethnic background, regardless of their contribution or role.

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Such assumptions from a state broadcaster suggest it has its finger on the reactive redneck pulse of internet trolls, rather than the heart and state of the nation.

The record number of complaints to TVNZ appear to demonstrate that in 2010 we do imagine ourselves much more inclusively and expansively.

I wonder when Anand Satyanand was growing up in New Zealand in the 40s and 50s, if he ever dreamed he'd one day be governor-general. I wonder if, as a small boy, he thought this was possible, or whether such aspirations would have been met with assertions of being a cheeky darkie and trying to rise too high above his allotted station.

It is to our collective credit that it was possible, that it is possible, and that it will continue to be possible.

This is exactly why Irene van Dyk is our flag-bearer at the Commonwealth Games.

I would like to think that, if she were six foot and black, instead of six foot and blonde, she would still be waving our flag and not a single one of us - especially not a state broadcaster - would publicly question whether we should have a flag-bearer who is more of a New Zealander.

Just as absolutely no-one feels the need to ask that question right now.

- The Dominion Post


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