Needless Absurdity

“Theoretically, education is the avenue for upward mobility for intelligent members of lower strata.  But, in reality, education operates a gate-keeping system of certification and credentialing, which keeps the structural relations of inequality in place. P.161. Ngā pepa a Ranginui Walker. 1996”*

Today was odd, almost absurd.

To begin with I should point out that I am, whether I like it or not, the product of imperfect, imperialist, white male privilege. Here in New Zealand I am Pākehā and to myself I am Welsh. Most recently I embarked on a journey to reconcile my relationship with Māori and Te Tiriti as part of my voyage toward a fairer world. I make mistakes, failing through ignorance and cowardice at times, but I will keep trying. Here’s me trying, and falling into a very strange scene.

Being amongst the senior staff at Ivory Towers Inc. I’m expected to make contributions at things like academic boards. Today was one of those days. I’m sat in the meeting with 12-15 others, only a handful of us were under 40, one wasn’t Pākehā and our only Māori member of staff wasn’t there. About halfway through the meeting we have a bit of a moment. In the course of an audit it becomes clear we haven’t been particularly explicit in meeting our own goals of including Mātauranga Māori in our teaching programme. There’s a bit of ducking and weaving, more than a bit of pass the hot potato (kumara?). The conversation moves to a side-line of no instrumental action addressing the issue; at which point, I and one other grey fella get a bit uncomfortable. We argue for what we think/believe is the correct approach, deliberate documented actions that create accountability in our world view. This ends with a passionate but barely comprehensible outburst from me on disenfranchisement. But wait! Wind that back a moment………. The absurdity is two old male Pākehā arguing for what they think Māori need.

How we got to this point is for later, but few of points need to be made here;

  1. It shouldn’t be necessary for two Pākehā to be making best guesses for Māori.
  2. It is not the job of our one Māori member of staff to monitor all cultural stupidity and be the font of all knowledge as required. This is still tokenism.
  3. While it is a step forward, the answer isn’t in having a different Māori member of staff (however special) come and talk to us for an hour or so in order to help us (maybe) make more appropriate decisions. This solves an immediate problem in a Pākehā way, but it doesn’t build the relationship or culture which is needed.
  4. The answer I think is to make sure the board has a compulsory seat for Māori (yes I will check). For this to be sustainable we need more Māori staff. Which means enacting policy that deliberately specifies Māori as the first requirement of an appointment. Not just a nice to have. There, I’ve said it, you must pick the one that isn’t a Pākehā subject specialist.

Enacting that final point will be difficult in Universities as they are. Māori with PhD’s are rare, sufficiently rare that we need support the development of our own. This faces a number of institutional as well as cultural obstacles. Initially, we may have to lower the basic level of qualifications required for such a role for example. But I must admit, the idea of sharing in an education that escapes mono-cultural credentialism excites me more than it challenges me these days.

*Special thanks to Karaitiana Taiuru at for putting these quotes up on line.

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