The following content may offend some readers.
Be warned. I sit down on a sunny morning, surrounded by a slumbering household, as nothing more than master of this keyboard. An over-weight, balding, arthritic, white, middle class (I suppose) male. And somehow, I am supposed to be apologetic for that.
Because I am white, older and was born and bred in the South Island, I am racist, sexist, misogynistic, ultra conservative with a big red streak emblazoned across the back of my neck.
I am the victim.
The victim of pigeon-holing. I have been labelled, my persona apparently so on display, the role I play in society can be summed up at a glance.
We all judge and are all judgmental. I get that. I do it too.
Everyone does and there doesn’t have to be any harm in doing so. If nothing else, it is a protective mechanism, one designed so we find ourselves in the company of like-minded people. An attempt, on the most part subconsciously, to group ourselves among our peers and avoid those with whom we may have some form of conflict. Sure, it is contrived, constructed, part of societal ‘norms’ we are conditioned to accept and rarely, if ever, question.
It means, because I hail from the south of this split nation and therefore my accent is different, I must be racist. It means, because I am of a certain age and skin colour, I must be conservative and materialistic.
It is assumed I am educated, have a job, am not divorced. It is assumed I drink Speights, when the reality is I have been steadily working my way through anything and everything crafty with a medal on it. I still like a cold Speights after a hard days work but given my middle aged spread, quality over quantity is a notion driven by health, as well as budget.
I am supposed to drive a hulking, modern, bright and shiny 4WD I don’t need, while the wife bops around in something eco-friendly, European. We might even have a boat or a bach or a combination of the two. Maybe even stocks and bonds, whatever that means, a rental property or two. Mum and Dad investors.
Our kids go to good schools and always have shoes on their feet and jackets to ward off the rain. They do, I was there when we purchased some of that stuff, but you try getting them to wear their protective layers when they are needed.
Basics, our budget is capable of that at least, even while we are not driving flash cars or taking island holidays.
Essentially, as my hair turns a distinguished shade of peppery gray (ok, what is left of it), because I can read and write, because I can spell and count, because I know how to communicate in full sentences using the English language, as my generation and the ones before recognise it, I must be a National Party voter. Or something like that.
One of my big regrets in life to date, is my inability to fluently speak another language or two, be it Te Reo or one of the romance languages. (If you can’t look sexy, why not sound it?).
No great dramas then. No real stresses. If I all I have to worry about is the my inability to babble away in another language, then there can’t be too much going wrong. Right?
Because, good people, their isn’t. Not really.
Of course, this process works just as well in reverse. All Maori can sing. All Maori have rhythm and can dance. (I can play the drums, meaning I know and have rhythm, as white as I am, but man you don’t wanna see me dancing!)
Generalisations like this make our little clusters of society struggle to mingle. Instead of celebrating differences, we look to segregate and marginalize and the fault is as much with the so called minority, as often as not. I witnessed it with international students attending Otago University. There was a reticence to socialise outside of the small cultural circle these groups bought with them. If they did, it was with other students from foreign cultures.
New cultures can be daunting. Language barriers can seem insurmountable. Establishing yourself in a new and foreign environment, even if it is just the neighborhood across town, a new town, or on in a whole other island, is no easy thing and of course trying to be a part of an already settled group structure, the new kid on the block, is a daunting task.
We have moved around enough over the last few years to note it is the new kids on the block who have the least issue with the new and the untried.
They don’t see colour like we do, don’t hear a foreign tongue like we do.
Kids aren’t blind and deaf to differences, but they are far more accepting, less concerned about the difference and far more interested in common ground. Play, sport, the classroom are all great levelers and children find their fit in no time.
There is always the loner, the one who doesn’t fit, who stands out via their desperate attempt to do exactly the opposite.
Don’t worry about them until the the teen years and in this country, don’t worry too much. Our loner, social misfits don’t have access to automatic weapons.
Adults find it harder to meet and greet for some reason. Caught up too much, maybe, in the preconceived and the contrived.
Workplaces provide an avenue to find new faces but mostly, it is done through your children, around the school and the community which comes from that. You meet parents, teachers and principals and bus drivers and neighbours.
All these new people might see you as this or that or the next thing. They judge you.
Just as you are sizing them up at the same time. First impressions and all the stigma which comes with them.
Yes, I am Caucasian and I come from ‘regional’ New Zealand.
Yes, I have a level of tertiary education and I have full time employment.
Yes, we own two cars and yes, every now and then we can head out for lunch.
Am I a conservative capitalist? No.
I am a left of center idealist, one who would go a lot further left if I wasn’t cynical enough to realise it probably wouldn’t work.
Am I racist, bigoted, aggressively or even just assertively hardcore in particular view or assertion? No. I am too busy for any deep thought, any particular take on any given issue. Four kids remember. Have I ever mentioned that?!
Am I ignorant or worse, abusive of other beliefs of cultures. No.
Confederate flags and muscle cars and sexist ideology aside, Dukes of Hazard was a cool show. I love pick-up trucks (utes) as much as the next man and will stamp my foot to country music if you’re going to play it.
That school community, those neighbours, will most likely see my wife and me as we are. First and foremost we are parents. Hard working, dedicated family folk.
Just like the ones sitting across from us at any given table, no matter where we came from and how we got there.