Cultural Competency 101

So it’s been awhile since I’ve hit the blog – I’ve been busy

  • building our first house (8 weeks to go!)
  • working full time (3 months in and I’m enjoying it!)
  • finishing the manuscript for my second book (Cultural Diplomacy)
  • working with my sis on the prep for our NZ Film Commission-funded short SISTA (due out late 2017)
  • being a mum to Ms 6 and Mr 2.5
  • and stepping out as a Green Party candidate for next year’s General Election (choohoo!)

Suffice to say that I haven’t had much time for a social life (lol) but things are good and I’m taking them as they come. And for the most part the people I am meeting everyday are awesome – great conversations, fabulous experiences, deep insights and thoughts into what a 21st century NZ might look like, understanding the stuff that matters to everyday Kiwis – this is what it’s about for me. This is what drives me.

But a couple of recent experiences also highlight for me that there is a another driver to continue to stand up and speak out. And it’s the fact that despite many many years of knowledge-understanding-education around the nasty/ugly/hideous  impact of colonisation in this country and throughout the Pacific region, there are still many people who struggle with basic cultural competency when it comes to ‘getting’ the way in which Māori and Pasifika see the world. Two recent examples –

I was asked to say a prayer at an important dinner (which is like a really big deal in Pasifika culture). When the person who asked me introduced me, they said – in front of everyone – “Oh, you don’t have to stand up”. Now this might not seem like a big deal to some people – but it’s like a super big deal to us. With my upbringing and culture, if you’ve been asked to say a prayer (or speak) for any kind of important occasion – you get off your butt and stand up, face the people and do your thing. To do otherwise is kinda disrespectful to them, yourself, not to mention Atua. Right, that’s lesson number one.

Number two – at a function last night, I needed to leave early because it was getting late for the kids. My bag was still in the main area where the meeting was taking place with a guest speaker. Rather than interrupt I took a moment to think about how I could discretely get my bag so stood back to assess how I might go about that. Then a dude (someone I dont know and have never met – non-Pasifika) said to me – rather aggressively – “just interrupt, just get it – go on” when I (very politely) said “I dont want to interrupt” he rolled his eyes at me. So I thought I might clarify why for him “I’d prefer not to. It’s my culture.” (meaning culturally it’s not really cool to just interrupt or walk in front of the guest speaker at a meeting – that doesnt mean it’s impossible, it just means that a bit of thought to how it’s done can go a long way, rather than just barging on in – it’s kind like a bit of diplomacy, I guess?) Anyhoo, back to the rude dude. So then he turns around and says to me “well, it’s not MY culture” rolled his eyes (again). I then shot back “you know what, we’re all different – we dont have to be the same” – then he gave me a dirty look and turned his back on me. Bro!

Ok – you can imagine that I was looking for that jandal of mine (lol!). I mean like seriously? Is this Aotearoa in 2016. Having at the very least a basic understanding of Māori and Pasifika tikanga (protocol) is not too much to ask in this country. All I can say is that there are some peeps out there who could do with a bit of “Cultural Competency Training 101” – or at the very least accept that diversity isnt just something you pay lip-service to, it’s something you live.