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  • Ruiha Evans

Updating our profile: racial profiling in Aotearoa

Published in partnership with Salient Magazine, Victoria University of Wellington student magazine, and Ngāi Tauira.

In today’s modern, technology-centric society, it is not uncommon for individuals to ‘update their profiles’ on social media. Whether it’s a dusty photo-dump of the weekend’s antics, a thirst-trap to inspire a particular someone to message you, or an angry status about how shit the Warriors played, we’re all a little guilty of this daily routine of updating the world on our personal goings-on.

We spend countless hours updating our profiles online, trying to make them look better, so I think it’s time that we invest the same effort into updating our profiles irl, so that the rest of Aotearoa is aware of our updates. I am particularly referring to profiles that are created for us as Māori in society. These outdated profiles have been forced onto us by others for decades and, spoiler alert, they don’t paint us tangata whenua in a pretty light.

Racial profiling has varying definitions, but for me, it’s about making a number of assumed judgements about someone’s abilities, habits, or lifestyle purely based on their race. For those who are privileged or live under a rock, racial profiling is still prevalent in our beautiful country and is in fact a painful reality for a lot of Māori and other marginalised groups who have the pleasure of growing up here.

Racial profiling has many ugly heads that rear all too often, so for the meantime let’s imagine racial profiling in Aotearoa as sort of like Fluffy, the ugly three-headed dog from Harry Potter.

Just a note: For the purpose of this article, I will mainly focus on the profiling experienced by Māori in NZ as it is an issue that I have experienced, and something I know enough about to shed some light on. This is not to say other people within New Zealand do not experience any type of profiling or that it is not as important.

The first ugly head of the dog that we are a little too familiar with, is profiling within the law and law enforcement. Perhaps the most prominent type of racial profiling experienced by us more melanin-infused folk, profiling from law enforcement looks like a few things.

It looks like the brown person walking in a ‘nice neighbourhood’ and getting questioned by police, or having the police called on them by Aunty Karen because they look ‘suspicious’.

It looks like the brown person being pulled over for a ‘routine check’ and then being questioned on who the owner of the car is.

It looks like the brown person shopping and being followed around the store ‘just in case’.

It looks like brown teenage boys being stopped and photographed by police because they “matched the description of people who recently committed a crime in the area” when the only matching descriptor was their skin tone.

These off-the-cuff examples are all real-life occurrences that my close friends and I have experienced at one point or another in life. However, the last example was referencing a report published in the news earlier this year, when police in Whanganui stopped, photographed, and collected the details of two teenage boys who they believed had been a part of a robbery that happened nearby.

The boys were later found to have been “misidentified” (surprise surprise) and reports from Radio New Zealand showed police denying that any sort of racial profiling had taken place from the officers involved (surprise surprise, anō).

Their experience, along with those of others, confirms that this type of racial profiling is not only very real, but still prevalent today, even in New Zealand’s ‘PC’ society.

The second head of the dog is the racial profiling that happens within our schooling system.

The sad truth is that Māori and Pasifika students are still frequently profiled by teachers as ‘slow learners’ and ‘under-achievers’, leading teachers to have lower expectations of these students. Despite being wildly condescending and objectively wrong, this type of profiling is the reality for many tauira Māori.

I had a yarn with a lovely lady named Lucy Te Moana, who is a manager at the Ministry of Education (and also the absolute ledge who birthed me and my siblings), and she believes that this is one of the major hindrances to rangatahi success in education.

She referred to the Te Kotahitanga research project in which Māori students identified teachers and in-class relationships as a “main influence on their educational achievement”, with students from the study confirming that their teachers had low expectations of their ability to achieve academically.

This profiling is detrimental to a students’ success within school, as well as being quite disheartening to students who have aspirations to surpass these expectations which themselves easily lead to disengagement or to these expectations becoming a reality.

“As parents, if we don’t want our kids to have negative experiences or to be judged by our experiences in education (‘oh that’s so and so’s kid, and we know how their parents turned out’) we need to step up and speak up for them and share the things that our kids are great at, the aspirations we have for them and they have for themselves. As hard as it is for some, we as parents need to be visible in our schools to the teachers, principals, and support staff so they know our kids are not alone. More importantly we need to be present.” - Lucy Te Moana

Now this next one might have a few keha confused, but the last head of the racial profiling dog I’m going to shed some light on is backhanded stereotyping. Some of you might think, “how was that offensive?” when a brown person turns their nose up at your question because it was about ‘being good at something’. Well my ignorant friends, let me take you on a journey to *enlightenment*.

While you may think it’s a ‘nice’ thing to assume that I’m good at sports because I’m Māori, assumptions like this still just place people in a box just based on something at face value (in this case, my beautiful chocolate skin). They can also make people feel shitty or inadequate if they aren’t good at whatever you have pre-profiled them to be good at.

Now, Fluffy the three-headed-dog has plagued my people for years on end, and other cultures in Aotearoa have had their run-ins with him too. In response, people have been trying to break the mold, and get out of these boxes that we don’t belong in. We have an abundance of great examples where Māori are not only breaking molds, but absolutely killing it in their respective fields, giving Māori and non-Māori all around the motu (shout out Dr Ashley Bloomfield ;-)) plenty of role models to look up to.

Māori stars like Taika Waititi (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), a Coastie/Welly boy turned world-famous Hollywood director, screenwriter, and actor.

And, as of quite recently, New Zealand’s most decorated Olympian, Gold-Medal canoer Lisa Carrington (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki). Looking at Parliament, with people like Dame Cynthia Kiro (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Kahu), who will become the first wahine Māori governor general of NZ in October of 2021.

Of course we can’t forget about Aunty Debbie and Uncle Rawiri (Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi), our co-leaders of Te Paati Māori who are always putting their best foot forward to fight for Māori and creating their own pathways and breaking molds inside the House (and that’s on not wearing ties and giving the speaker of the house a phat pūkana).

With that being said, people don’t have to be breaking world records, making blockbuster films, or changing the country to overcome profiling. We can also see our own whānau and friends doing all these amazing things as friendly, neighbourhood superheroes and role models. My oldest brother dropped out of high school when he was 17—something that is oddly still frowned upon by people—and is now an operations manager at a large infrastructure and construction company.

My aunty, Ripeka Evans, once labelled as a ‘terrorist’ for her work protesting the 1981 Springbok Tour, went on to work within a multitude of fields and do tons of work for Māori economic development, helping lay foundations for important mahi such as Te Māngai Pāho and the Waitangi Tribunal.

When talking to a few of my Māori peers at Vic about these topics, a lot of them stressed the importance of having Māori role models, especially those who are succeeding in fields we want to be in.

“Seeing wāhine Māori excel in science, a field that is quite dominated by old, white men gives me confidence and self belief that I can also succeed in that field. It also shows me that their knowledge and expertise is valued, which is reassuring and gives me hope for my potential future in science.” - Master’s student @ VUW

Returning to Fluffy, these inspirational Māori are living proof that we have officially outgrown these misinformed boxes.

If we can make society aware of our updated dp’s, statuses, and thirst traps, then we should be able to make them equally aware of the updates we, as Māori, are making to our irl profiles so we can prevent situations like the ones previously mentioned from repeating themselves.

In the same vein, we have to hold those who see our people in certain lights accountable. We can do everything to try and ensure that we don’t fall into these boxes that other cultures and society put us in, but at the end of the day if they aren’t actively working to change and update the lens or filter they are looking through, then they will be looking at our really outdated profiles.

Let’s put this back into social media terms and talk about why this is a bit of a stitch-up.

For Māori, you wouldn’t want someone looking at your Instagram posts from ages ago with all your embarrassing old CamWow selfies, right? So we have to make our profile updates bold and known to everyone so they aren’t hung up on these outdated profiles that aren’t relevant nor accurate.

And for the keha, you wouldn’t want to be out of the loop on the latest Kardashian goss would you? So put some mahi in, update your internal iOS or whatever- the-f*** and get in the know, because we have some updates that we have been making for a long, long time and you need to get up to date.

Time for Fluffy to be put to sleep, for good.


Written by Ruiha Evans (He/Him)

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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