Maori? Did Someone Mention The Word Maori? Dealing With “Challenging” Talkback Callers – Newstalk ZB, 2012

Maori? Did someone mention the word Maori? Sometimes on talkback it feels a bit like that, none more-so than on Saturday morning’s show with the flare-up of the water rights issue. The topic is draining (average pun intended) for many reasons, but from a talkback point of view mainly because for some reason it gives people an excuse to let loose on everything they dislike about Maori. Just as soon as the word “Maori” is mentioned you get flooded (pun #2) with calls and text messages from listeners who despite what they think, aren’t really remotely interested in explaining anything to do with the topic.

The thing is, we are all entitled to disagree with the Waitangi Tribunal’s stance on water rights, but only a handful of callers took even a vaguely informed take on that position. The rest, well it was a pleasant mix of, “please tell this 78 year old insomniac just one good thing Maori have done in this country,” to, “I knew someone who got a scholarship to university who didn’t even look Maori,” and, “the worst thing about this country is limp-wristed, white liberals who pander to Maori.”

Really? I thought the worst thing about this country was shaky ground, hungry children, bad weather, low-wages, an inability to pronounce vowel-sounds and a tendency to oppose any kind of progress. Undoubtedly there is a minority of Maori who are living in a narrow-minded la-la land, oddly oblivious to multiculturalism (only dealing in biculturalism) and the necessity of cultures to respect and honour the past while still being able to move with the times.

But the vitriol from white rednecks who somehow think the reason their life turned out like a pile of Jurassic Park-sized dino-effluence has something to do with Maori is startling. One thing I’ve learned is that negative people (of any race) with almighty chips on their shoulders and few life experiences beyond their own town or suburb don’t tend to have too many doors flinging open for them. To Neville in Christchurch, this has nothing to do with Maori holding you back. How could it Neville? You don’t actually know any Maori.

If Neville did know a Maori or three (and not just those happy-go-lucky “ones” from the 60s), then he’d understand that the Harawiras are no more representative of modern Maori thought than Michael Laws is representative of Pakeha. I got into radio because I loved music and current affairs, not because I had a chip on my shoulder and certainly not because I wanted to reinforce negative racial stereotypes.

As I said to good old Neville, I welcome your difference of opinion, but when the motivation for your opinion is so vein-poppingly bigoted as to obscure your original argument, I’d rather talk about something else. All of this in a country where compared to much of the world, race-relations are still something we can justifiably be proud of.

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