Catherine Delahunty

Pakeha – a reflection on Ethnicity

by Catherine Delahunty

Filling in forms is almost fun, but also annoying because very few of them allow me to tick “Pākehā”, which is actually my identity. I have never been able to tick NZ European let alone “Caucasian”, because Europe is ancestry but not my ethnicity and I have never been quite sure where Caucasia starts and finishes. All I know is that an awful lot of people allegedly come from there.

I usually just write Pākehā because I am making a point. The point is we live in Aotearoa and we have a nationality and an ethnicity, that ethnicity is ours to define.

The much debated “Pākehā” ethnicity has a fascinating and disturbing history because colonisation is ugly.  However there is one reason “Pākehā” is a great word. It’s essentially a kupu Maori which allows us to have a distinct identity while also acknowledging Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Despite various paranoid interpretations of this kupu I stick with the definition which inspires me, “Pākehā – of a different breath”. Being of a different breath to Tangata Whenua feels like an accurate description of our distinctive, historically challenged, unique identity which stands out to all except sometimes to ourselves.

The opportunity of being “Pākehā” is the opportunity to own losses we have sustained when we left ancestors on the other side of the world and the losses we imposed when this country was “settled”.

However we have to grasp the whole nettle of our culture and our relationship with Tangata Whenua and other cultures. This is not about appropriating moko or tikanga; it’s about respecting ourselves and others in the unique context of this country. Whether its birth, death, food, hospitality or language, we have our own customs as Pākehā, some are hybrids of European history and Māori norms.

We have something to let go, our racist inheritance, but something no one else can claim, our relationship based ethnicity.

And for all those out there who want the same experience and resources of “those privileged Māori”, I invite you to the wonderful world of statistics and facts around privilege, institutional racism and injustice in this country. As a “Pākehā” I am happy to share with you the long journey towards dominant group self-awareness so that everyone benefits.

Published in Society & Culture by Catherine Delahunty on Mon, July 15th, 2013   

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