Since release of the I, Too, Am Auckland videos (all three of which can be viewed here), a number of questions and critiques have been raised, which this post will attempt to address.

Jean Lee final

Issue 1: Was there an over-representation of Pacific interviewees relative to Māori interviewees?
In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. With respect to the raw number of interviewees, there was a disproportionate number of Pacific students interviewed. Listed below are some basic descriptive statistics of interviewees:

Māori* Pacific**
Female students 10 15
Male students 3 14
Female staff 2 0
Male staff 1 0
Total 16 29

(*”Māori” includes interviewees who identified solely as Māori, as well as those identifying as Māori and any other ethnicity, including a Pacific background; ** “Pacific” interviewees expressed identifying as Cook Island Maori, Fijian, Niuean, Samoan, and Tongan).

Leo final Tejay final

In terms of raw numbers, there was an over-representation of Pacific interviewees, especially with respect to students. If excluding the 3 Māori staff members, about 31% of student interviewees were Māori, and 69% Pacific. This may be a ramification of willingness to be interviewed and/or the production team’s ethnic composition, which included 3 individuals who identify as Samoan, 1 as Cook Island/Vanuatuan, and 3 as Asian (2 Indian; 1 Japanese American).

Representation, however, can be viewed in other ways, including how much speaking time interviewees had in the 3 primary videos (i.e., excluding the 90-second Trailer).

Video 1: “Experiences” Minutes Percentage
Māori students  6 min, 18 sec 42.6%
Pacific students 8 min, 8 sec 55.0%
Combination Māori and Pacific students 0 min, 3 sec  0.4%
No interviewees 0 min, 18 sec 2.0%
Total “Experiences” video 14 min, 47 sec 100.0%
Video 2: “Targeted Admission Schemes/Tuākana”
Māori students 0 min, 7 sec 1.2%
Pacific students 1 min, 9 sec 11.7%
Māori staff 8 min, 10 sec  82.9%
No interviewees 0 min, 25 sec 4.2%
Total “Targeted Admission Schemes/Tuākana” video 9 min, 51 sec 100.0%
Video 3: “Solutions”
Māori students 2 min, 28 sec  41.2%
Pacific students  2 min, 43 sec  45.4%
Māori staff 0 min, 33 sec 9.2%
No interviewees  0 min, 15 sec  4.2%
Total “Solutions” video  5 min, 59 sec  100.0%
All 3 Videos Combined
Māori (students and staff) 17 min, 36 sec 57.5%
Pacific students 12 min, 0 sec  39.2%
No interviewees 0 min, 58 sec  3.2%
Total 30 min, 37 sec  100.0%
Māori students, all 3 videos  9 min, 26 sec  44.0%
Pacific students, all 3 videos 12 min, 0 sec  55.9%
Total, students only 21 min, 26 sec 100.0%

Although more Pacific students were interviewed than Māori, Māori were featured more in terms of speaking time across the videos when including Māori staff. If only accounting for students, Pacific students did have more time in the videos – roughly 2 and 1/2 more minutes than Māori students. Unfortunately, Pacific staff were not present in videos despite the “I, Too, Am Auckland” team’s requests to a few Pacific staff who were asked. Due to time constraints, further requests to secure Pacific staff representation were not made – a significant limitation.

Lee final

Faculty representation and level of study amongst student interviewees is also worth presenting:

Faculty Major(s) Number Students
Law/Arts combination 13
Arts 7
Medical & Health Sciences 7
Law 4
Commerce 3
Creative Arts & Industries 3
Engineering 2
Law/Commerce combination 1
Science 1
Science/Arts combination 1
Undergraduate 28
Postgraduate 14
Total 42

Notably absent are students from the Faculty of Education, where a disproportionately high number of Māori and Pacific students study.

Given the descriptive observations presented above, it is important to highlight that the “I, Too, Am Auckland” project is not and has never been framed as scientific research. Rather, it is based off of scientific research, which has been published in two peer-reviewed academic articles thus far (see here and here), which conveyed the same themes covered in these videos.

KJ final

Issue 2: Why were Māori and Pacific students grouped together, and why were other ethnic minorities not included?

Māori are recognised as indigenous, tangata whenua (“people of the land”) in Aotearoa New Zealand, whereas Pacific peoples are nga iwi o te moana nui (“people of the Pacific Ocean”); there is an obvious and important distinction. Despite these differences, Māori and Pacific students were grouped together because as expressed in the previously mentioned research, students from both groups experience very similar forms of everyday racism. One key difference is resistance by some majority-group students to discussion in courses over The Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which more adversely affects Māori students, being a form of everyday colonialism. Still, Māori and Pacific students must share coping with racialized stereotypes tied to a range of areas (e.g., alleged criminality, poor educational capability).

Additionally in some faculties, Māori and Pacific students can both gain university entry through an admission scheme, which fuels much of the backlash driven by some majority-group students towards Māori and Pacific students. The University’s Tuākana Programme is also used on occassion by some majority-group students to disparage Māori and Pacific students’ educational successes. To this end, there were more similarities than differences with regard to everyday discrimination, and it made sense to group students together in spite of existing heterogeneity.

Nick final

It was also due largely to the targeted adminission schemes and Tuākana Programme, which frequently apply to both Māori and Pacific students, that this project did not include students from other ethnic minorities, who surely experience their own forms of racism. “I, Too, Am Auckland’s” focus on Māori and Pacific students does not dismiss the experiences that other ethnic minority students face, but that was not this project’s focus. Furthermore, Aotearoa New Zealand is part of Polynesia, giving Māori a regional connection to Polynesian and Melanesian students.

For a MaoriPicture credit here.

Issue 3: Does the “I, Too, Am Auckland” project bring negative attention to Māori and Pacific communities, who should “harden up” and not present themselves as “victims”?

The “I, Too, Am Auckland” team contends that no student should ever need to “get through” discrimination, or “harden up” in order to prepare for life after uni. Ethnic minorities should not have to shoulder the burden of coping with or preparing for racism. Instead, majority-group members who do discriminate should stop doing so, and those who do not discriminate should step up as responsible citizens and bystanders to end racism (just as men should step up to end sexism).

Gabby final Ginka final

Furthermore, racism is not an issue to be solved strictly by individuals, and certainly not strictly by students. Within the university context, the university as an institution must follow its principles to be the critic and conscience of society, to address discrimination both within and beyond its walls. Hence even if the institution itself is not racist, when racism seeps in, the institution has a responsibility to act as an institutional role model for the rest of society and address it.

Students partaking in the “I, Too, Am Auckland” videos have engaged in consciousness raising. They are not bringing negative attention to themselves, their families or their broader ethnic communities by speaking up about a serious issue. Instead, they demonstrate courage in speaking up about a sensitive issue that has been ignored for far too long. Whether one agrees or disagrees with these students’ viewpoints, the students should be recognised as leaders who stepped up to speak publicly on an issue they felt strongly about, rather than remain silent and let discrimination persist, thereby impacting future generations of students.

Atelaite final

By speaking out, the student interviewees are recognising that they are not simply individuals. They are part of a collective, tied to their families’ prior sacrificies and future Māori and Pacific tertiary students’ well-being. As students who (1) publicly confront a social problem, (2) present solutions, and (3) discuss turning discrimination into educational motivation, these students are not passive victims. For more on this issue, see here.

Emerald Final

Issue 4: The discrimination Māori and Pacific students face is not a big deal.

Racism and vestiges of colonialism are always a big deal. They are reminders that ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples are still considered second class citizens, and this has serious implications for some students, as expressed in the videos. Racism and colonialism should never be trivialised.

Shannon Final Tara Final

ITAA
For the past six months, six University of Auckland students and I have been working steadily on a video project inspired by African American students at Harvard University who initiated the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign. Building off research I conducted in 2013 with three colleagues, our “I, too, am Auckland” project presents Māori and ethnically diverse Pacific students who offer their perspectives on dealing with everyday colonialism and racism on campus.

Though of neither Māori nor Pacific heritage myself, this project has been very personal for me, as I know it has been for our entire “I, too, am Auckland” team (pictured above), not only because of how much work we put into it, but also because our team holds a strong commitment to social justice. Additionally, this project has been special because it merges rigorous academic work with activism in a way that aligns with Māori and Pacific values — emphasizing oral traditions and privileging Māori and Pacific voices.

As our project attempts to demonstrate, Māori and Pacific students frequently face what Derald Sue and colleagues term racialized microaggressions and Philomena Essed terms everyday racism (for Māori students who are indigenous to Aotearoa, the term “everyday colonialism” applies). Students in the above video explain how microaggressions materialize in multiple forms and stem at least in part from Eurocentric curricula that too often presents Māori and Pacific content from a deficit standpoint. The ramifications of these microaggressions are hardly trivial, influencing some Māori and Pacific students to question their own abilities, and drop out. But as the interviewees also assert, they and many of their peers turn the racism they absorb and use it as a motivational factor, showcasing an unfair but powerful resilience.

In our second video, above, students detail how many of the on campus microaggressions are tied to “targeted admission schemes” that assist some Māori and Pacific students entry into select disciplines (many are admitted through general admission). However, this video also profiles three Māori academicians, who along with students, explain why these programs exist, accounting for historical and contemporary factors in society at large. As Dr. Elana Curtis rightfully points out, these “affirmative action” policies are actually forms of restorative justice.

Finally, we close our project with interviewees providing solutions for change, stressing that as an academic community, we can no longer ignore the significant consequences of everyday colonialism and racism, and that true change can only come if those who enjoy privilege support anti-racism movements. It cannot only be minorities who are burdened with fighting the fight.

So proud of the students and staff who bravely spoke up to address this matter, as well as our “I, too, am Auckland” team. Ku’e!

“I, too, am Auckland” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/i2amAKLD

More than two weeks past George Zimmerman’s acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin, the story is losing significant steam. Though decreased coverage is inevitable, fractured activism and a lack of sustained attention will only allow history to repeat itself. As expressed by President Obama, “the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.” Writing as a non-African American, but still a person of color, it is important to stress some common ground.

In the 1990s while competing in track and field for the University of California, Riverside, I remember one of my teammates, Paul, approaching me after practice. Though we were neighbors and teammates, Paul and I did not know each other well. He was a long jumper and I a 400-meter hurdler.

Paul asked me if I wanted to go jogging later that night. I agreed, and for the next few months, we would jog for about 30 minutes after the sun had set. As our friendship grew, Paul eventually disclosed why he asked me to go running with him.

Previously when Paul had gone jogging, he was stopped three times by Riverside police, who asked why he was out running at night. Paul was Black, and hence, had committed the violation of “jogging while black.”

Standing about 6 foot, 2 inches tall with a lean, athletic musculature, Paul had an intimidating presence. But within America’s cultural landscape that so often associates blackness with danger, Paul’s skin color intensified the way he was stereotyped as a potential criminal.

UCR Track and Field

Paul, me (upper left-hand corner) and some of our U.C. Riverside teammates.

Paul asked me to go jogging with him because he knew I would serve as a preventative buffer, insuring that police would not harass him while he was attempting to improve his athleticism. The dozens of times we jogged at night, we did so without police aggravation – my white privilege served its function.

Race beyond black and white

The thing is, I am not white. My father is Japanese American and my mother Caucasian, resulting in my skin having a tannish hue, not un-similar to George Zimmerman’s. People across North America frequently assume I am Latino.

My experience with Paul was a mild introduction to race relations in Southern California, illustrating the ever-changing complexities that shape racialized privilege and oppression. However, two decades removed from this experience, now teaching sociology at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal tell me dimensions of race privilege and oppression have changed very little, if at all.

Young Black males are encouraged by society to enhance a fierce, physically imposing athleticism. Perhaps more than any other demographic group, they are tracked into sports requiring explosive athletic abilities (basketball, football, track and field). Yet when Black males present a daunting physicality, they increase the risk of being stereotyped as violent criminals who threaten the social order.

“Most Black males are encouraged to do either sports or something in entertainment as a career goal, not to be in law enforcement, a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer” said Mike Wright, an African American high school teammate of mine who also competed at the university level. “We are influenced heavy on athleticism and usually start building ourselves physically our first year in high school. Over time it becomes more and more common to see a group of Black males physically fit walking through public places and society will view these males as ex-cons.”

This was the pervading stereotype that drove George Zimmerman to – with gun in hand – stalk Martin, characterize Martin as a transient thug, and kill him. Likewise, when my friend Paul was following the conventional rules, improving his athleticism, he was hassled repeatedly by police. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I have gone running at night, how many dozens of times police have driven by and never stopped me.

This is not to say that non-Black ethnic minorities have it easy, but the contextual circumstances that shape racism’s intensity differ, and point to the fact that America is far from a post-racial society. Recent polls in the United States have framed Zimmerman’s acquittal in black-white terms, noting that substantially lower proportions of African Americans than Caucasians feel the shooting of Martin and subsequent verdict were justified.

verdict opinions

Framing public response to Zimmerman’s actions and acquittal in this way has its merits, but leads to critical problems. America is, and never has been simply black and white. Diverse Latino reactions have only been marginally dissected in the press, despite Zimmerman being half Peruvian.

Historically, Asian American groups have been pitted against African American communities on a variety of issues in ways that mask their common struggles. Certainly Muslims, Latinos, and Native Americans can identify with the hardships that accompany racial profiling and biased justice systems. And although polls show most Caucasians are satisfied with Zimmerman’s acquittal, very large proportions are not.

Furthermore, by presenting reactions to the Zimmerman verdict in black-white terms, the multi-faceted, messy ways that race is constructed are forgotten, making problem solving unrealistic.

Yes, central to this tragedy are racial profiling and as President Obama said, a systemically problematic criminal justice system. However, this tragedy also speaks to the conflicting messages society sends to young Black males – be big, brash, aggressive and physically menacing as entertainers, but in public spaces that are predominantly Caucasian, revert to embody the subservient house-slave. These inconsistent, discriminatory messages must be confronted if society can truly enact positive change.

Sustained multi-ethnic action required

In May 1961, seven Black and six Caucasian activists boarded busses in Washington D.C., headed for Alabama and Mississippi. These freedom riders were testing court orders, which mandated that interstate transportation terminals be desegregated. Without protection from state law enforcement, the freedom riders were attacked multiple times by mobs, wielding rocks, lead pipes, baseball bats, and chains.

Coverage of the freedom riders’ victimization exposed Americans to the ferocious racism that existed across America’s deep South, but also illustrated that the fight for civil rights did not rest solely upon African American communities’ shoulders. This is a lesson we can all reflect upon now.

From a legal perspective, Zimmerman’s acquittal renders his killing of Martin legitimate. However, this is not a viewpoint everyone shares, including many non-African Americans. Without co-opting African American leadership, it is crucial that non-African Americans who disagree with Zimmerman’s actions and the attendant verdict continue to speak out.

As my old teammate Mike Wright argues, “The only time the United States has ever excelled as a nation is when the American people have come together against a common cause – the end of slavery, the marches with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, all the way up to this Zimmerman case. Many Whites and other ethnic groups have fought side by side with Black people throughout history but the American government and media will have everyone thinking that everything is Black and White.”

Vehement dissent with Zimmerman’s actions and acquittal are not reserved to Black communities. If the United States is to truly evolve, if laws like “stand your ground” are to be ousted, if cultural trends are to be altered that do not send harmful mixed messages to racialized groups, non-African American activists must fight side by side with Black communities in the push for equity over the long haul.