Are you out there, Mike?

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Snap­shots from a white girl’s past: 1976 – Ot­tawa, Canada. My Kiwi grandma comes to visit and gives my brother a T-shirt with a funny car­toon char­ac­ter on it – a danc­ing man in a skirt with his tongue pok­ing out. “That’s a Mary,” she ex­plains. A few months later we fly to New Zealand and on the plane we get plas­tic toys – lit­tle green mon­sters, again with the tongues. Some­thing else to do with that Mary, I think.

1984 – Christchurch, New Zealand. Our class at my lily­white pri­mary school vis­its a marae. We stand out­side with the par­ent helpers, wait­ing to be let in the gate. A mid­dle-class mum with sun­glasses on her head catches my father’s eye and smirks. “Mary time,” she says.

He gives her a hos­tile stare. She’s picked the wrong guy for a spot of ca­sual racism – he’s a paid-up mem­ber of the PC brigade. A bearded, Springbok-protest­ing, chardon­nay-glug­ging lover of all things in­dige­nous. Later, as we mum­ble our way through our M ori song, the only per­son re­ally put­ting their lungs into it is Dad. And the par­ents aren’t even sup­posed to sing. I’m dy­ing.

But I’m lucky I grew up with that voice in my ear. It was a pow­er­ful counter to the other voices. The jokes: “Tane

and Hori went into a bar...” The views: “They couldn’t even in­vent the wheel.” The rel­a­tives at the Christ­mas

ta­ble: “They were a war­rior race, so when a poet or an in­ven­tor came along they bopped him on the head and killed him.” The thoughts on te reo: “It’s a dead lan­guage.” The in­sults yelled to the few brown kids at school: “Burnt toast!”

May 2018 – New Zealand. Mike Hosk­ing is on the ra­dio, in the news­pa­per and on­line, shar­ing his views on “the trou­ble with te reo”.

Mike, we’ve never met, but I feel I know you. I feel I even par­tially un­der­stand you. I get that in th­ese wishy­washy, pussy-foot­ing times, you con­sider your­self a fresh voice of rea­son. You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to state facts. No one can be both­ered with te reo, you say. Don’t shoot the mes­sen­ger.

But it’s not fresh, Mike, it’s old. Those of us who re­mem­ber the 20th cen­tury have heard it all be­fore. Your views come from a musty place deep in the bow­els of New Zealand. You even made it into this week’s cover story, sam­pling the de­pic­tion of M ori over 200 years. You should be pleased, Mike. As you said, his­tory is a sub­ject you truly rate. And here you are of­fi­cially con­signed to it.

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