Level of bigotry that can only depress
You wouldn't know it from looking at us, but Don Brash and I have more in common than you might think.
As leader of the National Party in 2004, Dr Brash gave a speech to the Orewa Rotary Club in which he talked about bringing an end to so-called "special privileges" for Maori. As a result, support for him and his party went through the roof.
Last week, I wrote a column inspired by Maori Language Week in which I expressed my embarrassment at how little te reo I know. I also suggested Nelson could do with a public artwork celebrating the region's Maori history and how such a feature might encourage people to learn te reo. The effect was totally Brashian. This week, I apparently became the first columnist to make it to the top of the most read list on The Nelson Mail website and by Thursday, the column had attracted a record 66 online comments.
Just how much we can learn from the 7200 words that make up those comments is questionable. There is nothing to stop excited individuals making up numerous aliases and furiously posting comments in an attempt to make their views appear more prevalent than they actually are. That said, it is hard not to be depressed by the level of bigotry out there.
FC-Shaza: "Most maori couldn't care about maori language and culture, that is why they abandoned it to live like the white man, so keep their culture out of my white man culture."
Scott: "Personally I feel the Maori language or culture has no place in New Zealand today."
Sam: "The only place Te Reo will be useful to me is if I ever get put in prison."
Redge: "Maori is a dead language. It was embarrassing watching TV1 News last week with their pathetic PC attempts at speaking Maori. Why force this c**p on people?"
Apparently, some people think that simply having Maori Language Week "forces" te reo down their throats.
Fortunately, not all of About Town's readers feel that way and some came out fighting.
Andrew Paul Wood: "To the anti-te reo rednecks, how about learning languages just because it is an interesting thing to do."
Molly: "There's nothing like a healthy dose of NZ European ignorance to remind me how bland, prejudiced and closeminded Nelson really is."
Shane: "How about all you white trash mongrels piss off to Stewart Island, or perhaps the Chathams, then you can start your own wee Texas-like society where you can lynch and make babies with your sister all day long."
And while that one made me laugh, my favourite rebuttal came from Lisa, who wrote: "oh nelson. how i don't miss your overt racism. you don't even have the decency to be casual about it! you're so embarrassing to have lived in."
The comments also included an excellent 550-word piece on Maori achievements prior to colonisation by Brent Kerehona as well as a thought-provoking claim by Blair S that Nelson is "a European City". Blair S also wrote: "I am a huge fan of Maori having their culture and preserving but I totally disagree with forcing it down my throat. If Lawrey loves the culture so much then he and his young kids should visit a majority Maori area. Let your kids walk to school in that town and you will see not everything about Maori is fantastic."
For me, though, the most valuable contribution came from Maraea, who wrote: "I am Maori, I was born in Nelson, my first school was Hampden St School. As a young child I loved Nelson – the beaches, the fruit, the sun, the river, and my all-time favourite – PYO peas.
"When I returned to Nelson as a university graduate, I was sad to have to come to terms with the racism I found there. I was followed around by suspicious shopkeepers in every shop, and faced overtly racist comments and covert snide remarks.
"I had not perceived this side of Nelson before I left as a six-year-old, although I know my father was forced to face it daily, and even my sister, at 9, had begun to recognise racism at school. Blair's comments sadly reflect that those attitudes are still held by some in the community. Nelson is not a European city, it is a city of Aotearoa New Zealand, its original name is Whakatu, and the first language spoken there was Maori."