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  • "Those Maoris! Why are they always complaining about how hard they have it? Why do they think they deserve special treatment? They have exactly the same laws, the same opportunities, the same university entrance criteria, and they are only required to pay the same percentage of tax as us Pakeha, so why do they say they are discriminated against?"
    At least, that is how I thought of the situation as an ignorant youngster. With my blond hair, blue eyes and an upbringing amongst a predominantly white-skinned circle of friends, family and neighbours, I had little exposure to the very real discrimination experienced by the darker skinned sector of New Zealand society.

    Later, when I entered the workforce and I was exposed to a wider variety of people, I met a Maori man named Tamati*. Tamati opened my eyes to a parallel society within - yet separated from - the society in which I had lived my 22 years. In this society there was a subtly different set of values. People were valued in an entirely different way. The collective was so much more valued than the individual. There were new concepts like 'mana' (respect, prestige, value) and 'wairua' (spirit, essence, soul) that opened my mind to the concept of words that were incapable of being directly translated into English. I realized that a people's language was a framework on which hung their beliefs, values and ways of thinking.

    Tamati accepted me into his family in a way that no white person had ever done. He and his family truly treated me as though I was at home. If I was at a white person's house and it came time for dinner I might be asked to stay, but in a Maori household if I happened to be there at dinnertime I would just be handed a plate filled with delicious food - one of the many subtle, yet powerful, differences that truly made me feel valued as a human being with no expectations or pressure of recompense, just no-strings-attached love.

    My friendship with Tamati also opened my eyes to racism. I saw the way people reacted to dark skin - they hid their money, locked their cars, and drew their children and animals closer. Everywhere there was a suspicion displayed towards Tamati that made me ashamed of my white brothers and sisters. Sure, Maori made up over half the prison population in a country in which they accounted for only around 12% of the total population, but when I saw the treatment Tamati received merely because of the colour of his skin and the race of his ancestors, I could also see the reason for those angry young men and women that languished in the prisons. To be judged by the colour of my skin and not my deeds would make me angry also.

    To see the true picture of reality and the human heart we must travel inside of outside. Sometimes we think that because we have spent many days sitting at the window looking at the outside that we know it well. Instead we really must actually go outside. Only then will we feel the chill wind blowing and realize that our brothers and sisters outside need us to pass out a warm coat so we can all play together in comfort and happiness.

    *Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
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