Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: Rangatahi lead amazing kaupapa and deserve to be heard, not stood over

OPINION:

This is the time in the calendar when we reflect on the year that was: winners, losers, goers, stayers. What was, what wasn’t, and what should have been.

The last day of Parliament for the year was full of just that, highlights, bloopers, jokes, playlists, a lot of self-congratulating but not much self-awareness.

I am thankful my tūngane Rawiri was able to hold it down in the House for our last week while we were dealing with a community outbreak at home.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to have platforms to express my views on most subjects. I’m mindful of the privilege of my age group when it comes to being heard.

It’s so easy to close this year thinking we’ve reflected on all that needs to be reflected upon.

I recently saw a post doing the rounds on social media about a rangatahi (teenager) who had shared her story of being racially profiled by a retail worker in Farmers. While shopping with her cousin in Tauranga, this young woman was approached by a store worker, told she looked “undesirable” and needed to leave.

It was incredibly disheartening watching the young wahine relay the humiliation of being called “undesirable” and profiled in one of our biggest retailers because of her race.

What made it worse is, despite the affront, the young wahine took time and care to explain why she was shopping in the cosmetic area and appealed for reason from the retail worker. Still, the retail worker continued with no consideration for the lasting impact of her actions on this young wahine and her whānau.

I cried with and for this young wahine. I cried that she needed to defend herself for doing something so normal. I cried that as a young wahine she was humiliated by an adult, and I cried because many Māori, young and old, know how it feels to be profiled, watched, followed when shopping simply for being who we are … Māori.

For a lot of Māori, browsing without buying is almost as bad as stealing. This is the example we refer to when we say, “privilege is never being profiled because of your culture”.

When it comes to rangatahi, we are dealing with the group that has the highest suicide rates. It is hard for young people to speak up. They are at an age of extensive peer pressure, online and off.They’re an age group who are often afraid of what others think.An age group who often do not want to get caught in the crossfire, so to keep safe, avoid the drama and choose to say nothing … to us at least.

I saw many comments complimenting this young wahine for being “brave and courageous” in being so vulnerable. But why does she have to be brave? Standing up to cowards is brave in a society that is full of them. We shouldn’t need to continuously have to armour up against profiling, against behaviour like this that exposes children and rangatahi to racism.

Rangatahi lead amazing kaupapa, just look at the global climate actions and the social justice movements they have built. They deserve to be heard and not stood over.

Let’s end this year with some genuine reflection, and contemplate this as adults: when was the last time a rangatahi spoke up to you? Do you create an environment and opportunities to encourage that? If you do not, why not?

When we do not provide space for young people to speak up, we are allowing others to get away with speaking down on them. And as this young wahine has demonstrated for all of us, if we empower our rangatahi we can change the world for the better. As we prepare for summer breaks, I ask that we reflect on how we project ourselves to rangatahi around us.

When I think about what this wahine had to go through the whakataukī, he mokopuna, he tupuna, comes to mind. The respect we hold for those who came before us is meaningless if it does not extend it to those who came after.

Thank you, for giving not just rangatahi a voice but for all who have been marginalised in silence. For starting this conversation in our homes with our tamariki. For sharing your experience so that no one else has to experience the same. Your tupuna are proud.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader of Te Pāti Māori.

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