Christchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.
In this episode Sally talks with Sharon O’Brien and Federico Federici of INTERACT (International Network on Crisis Translation) andJ. C. Gaillard and Jay Marlowe (University of Auckland) on the issues, challenges and strategies around communicating important information to diverse communities during times of disaster. Talking points include –
Interpreting vs translating
Importance of translation and interpreting as means of inclusion – first language use and access to information as human rights
Risks to crisis translators / interpreters
Importance of disseminating info to everyone before, during and following disasters
Importance of building relationships before disasters occur
Vulnerability and strength of minorities – what they can bring to disaster prep
Importance of allowing minorities to formulate their own policies – not just “participate” in outsider-produced policy
This is a slightly odd blog. I don’t know a huge amount about Reni Eddo-Lodge, and because of the way her session at the upcoming WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View series at the Christchurch Arts Festival is titled, I want to go into it with as open a mind as possible and without too many preconceptions. Additionally, I’m a few places down the holds list for her book so won’t get to see it before I see her.
However, I can tell you about why I want to listen to her. I vaguely saw the title of her book and WORD session, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, on Twitter and then came across a book review in The Guardian and the concept piqued my interest. I’ve been reading quite a lot about diversity, racism and colonialism and also getting my head around intersectionality, so when I saw that Reni was coming to Christchurch I jumped at the opportunity to listen to her. I want to leave my white privilege at the door and make the most of a chance to gain insight into someone else’s perspective.
In this day and age, listening may be one of our most valuable tools.
Some of the first Indians to settle in Christchurch were Anglo-Indians. They arrived as domestic servants with John Cracroft Wilson in 1854 where they were employed on his estate which later became the suburb of Cashmere. They married into the local populace and some of their descendants still live in the Canterbury region.
It was a New Zealand Anglo-Indian who, in 2001 at the triennial World Anglo-Indian Reunion held in Auckland, selected 2 August to be a day of celebrating Anglo-Indian culture, culminating in World Anglo-Indian Day.
A pan-Indian community
Anglo-Indians (originally called ‘Eurasians’) are an Indian community who are the descendants of a historical union between a European father and an Indian mother.
The community often traces its initial origins to the arrival of the Portuguese merchants who settled in India in the 16th century. The British were the next major European power to arrive in the subcontinent, with the British East Indian Company gradually expanding their authority beyond the trading ports where they had initially settled. Originally the officials of the Company encouraged their men to marry Indian women. In the early days of the Company, it was common for British men to integrate themselves into Indian culture, with some converting to Islam, adopting Indian fashions and practices, and raising families with their Indian wives, essentially becoming what historian William Dalrymple has termed “White Mughals”.
Yet by the end of the 18th century attitudes began to change. The loss of the American colonies made the British wary of allowing a community, whose loyalties were not always certain, the responsibility of administering their most prized colonial possession. Measures were taken to restrict Anglo-Indians to lower ranks of the civil service and military in order to prevent them from gaining positions of authority.
By the dawn of the nineteenth century, racism and religious intolerance by the Company board of directors in London also led to the cohabitation of British and Indians being actively discouraged. Relationships between British men and Indian women still continued in secret, but the children were often no longer publicly acknowledged by the father. British regulations meant the Indian mothers had no rights to their children, and many were taken off them and abandoned in orphanages where they were raised to become British and Christian.
During the era of the British Raj (1858-1947), Anglo-Indians often worked in roles where they could act as intermediaries between the British officials and Indian employees. One traditional form of employment reserved for them was the railway department. As such the railway came to play a central role in the identity of Anglo-Indians and even led to the development of certain dishes such as railway mutton curry.
Although they dressed in the manner of the British, had British names and were Christian, they were still not accepted as equals by the British who ruled in India. In order to escape the prejudice they faced, many assimilated into British society by covering up their Indian roots, often attributing their looks to a “Spanish ancestor”. Others, when immigrating to new countries, hid their origins and simply pretended that their family were “British who lived in India”. As a result of this, generations have grown up cut off from their roots and cultural identity.
Because of their identity as subjects of the British Empire, Anglo-Indians continued to arrive in New Zealand throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially in the decades leading up to the independence of India in 1947. Although the community in India is estimated to be between 300,000 to 1,000,000 strong, the diaspora following Independence led to many settling in former British colonies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Today, many New Zealanders of Anglo-Indian heritage are now reconnecting with their culture and heritage, often in the form of making trips to India for the express purpose to research their family’s origins.
The subject of this ‘renaissance’ of Anglo-Indian identity in New Zealand is currently being researched by Dr. Robyn Andrews of Massey University. The oral histories of Anglo-Indians in New Zealand is also the subject of the book, Raj Days to Downunder by Christchurch based scholar, Dorothy McMenamin (an Anglo-Indian originally from Pakistan). Work has also been undertaken by Dr. Jane McCabe of Otago University who has examined the history of the ‘Kalimpong Kids’, Anglo-Indian children who were brought out to New Zealand in the early twentieth century to work in domestic duties.
Famous Anglo-Indians include writer, Virginia Woolf, comedians, Billy Connolly and Alistair McGowan, and musicians, Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Tara Moss has worn many hats — model, crime writer, journalist, and now author of two non-fiction titles, The Fictional Woman and Speaking Out. Where The Fictional Woman is part-memoir, Speaking Out is designed as a handbook for woman and girls, full of practical tips on how to speak out and how to deal with the backlash if you do. There’s a whole section on surviving social media (don’t let the trolls get you down), which unfortunately gets more relevant every day.
So why did a crime writer choose to write a nonfiction book that isn’t about death? Well, she says, here’s a powerpoint presentation I prepared earlier. There followed twenty minutes of increasingly depressing statistics about the lack of voice and representation of women in media and politics. Suffice it to say, we can do better. (Except Canada, phwoar: fifty/fifty representation in parliament! Be still my beating heart.)
When we are silent or unheard our ideals and perspectives, our needs, our pain, and our struggles remain unknown or unacknowledged; and often for this reason, unchanged. — Tara Moss
This just emphasises what I’ve been hearing from many of the other panels. If we don’t hear indigenous voices, if we don’t hear LGBT voices, then we’re not representing our society. As someone who’s been nosy all her life I’ve never quite understood why we haven’t figured this out yet. Listening’s not that hard, is it? We might learn something.
The reality is not that women talk more … but that we want and expect them to talk less. — Soraya Chemaly
Oh, right. That’s why. Even about issues that you’d expect women to have an equal say — birth control, parental leave, women’s rights — we’re still deferring to male opinion. And let’s not even talk about violence against women. No wait, let’s. Did you know a woman dies almost every week in Australia at the hands of a current or former partner? Did you know one out of five women experiences sexual violence, worldwide? That violence against women and girls remains unchanged despite a downward trend in all other crime?
This can all seem incredibly depressing (it is), but at least things have changed since the 20th century. We can improve this situation; it’s not static, it’s not just the way things are.
The more we speak out, the less easy it will be to silence others … Toxic silence does a lot more damage than oversharing; silence has never solved anything. — Tara Moss
So here’s your homework: read Speaking Out. Speak out more, and listen to those who are already. Comment on this post. Tell your own story. Once we have an equal voice, everyone will be better off.
Do you remember the excitement of finding a true friend in high school days? When you were lost but then found yourself by finding a friend? When you realized there is someone else out there, who likes the same weird books as you do, listens to the same music and shares the same humour and passion for so many other exciting things? The one you could talk to late into the night and (nearly) never run out of things to say? And when you did, it was nice and comfortable to just be quiet. Together.
I came across such friendship at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. Though it revealed to me on the stage, it was clearly not staged. Christchurch born poet Tusiata Avia and Maxine Beneba Clarke, Australian poet and writer, were like two shy girls, who have gathered in their hideaway, somewhere far from the adult’s world, to share their most precious and beloved sweets with each other. Sitting behind the coffee table on the stage, they were begging each other to read another poem. And another. And another – almost forgetting about the presence of the audience.
There was something truthful and playful in their relationship, in this game of exchanging tiny little gems. In the era of authorship and general egocentrism, it is very rare to see such genuine friendship amongst authors. Most of the time, we read about one single author, we listen to her or him speak on the stage about their work. So having two minds and hearts tripping on each other with such sincerity was really refreshing.
Maxine and Tusiata read poems from their award-winning books. There was a big stack of them on the table, with stationery stickers in various places, marking pages populated by voices that wanted to be heard. Gifts that Maxine laid on the table included her newly released poetry collection Carrying the World, a collection of short storiesForeign soiland three other collections of poetry. Tusiata brought along her Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Bloodclotand freshly launched Fale Aitu | Spirit House, all poetry collections as well.
Voices captured in their work are voices of diaspora. Many different voices, who speak many different Englishes. But for Maxine as well as Tusiata the main reason why these voices need to be heard and their stories told lays in the human experience and not in the cultural aspects these voices bring with them. So they are both getting a bit tired of culturally and racially focused receptions of their work, when their intention is to show something universal, something human. “It is not a great position to be in,” says Tusiata. “If you are a ‘writer of colour’ you are pigeonholed at the beginning of every presentation. People need to identify you before they engage with your work.”But at the same time, she confesses, that identification is unavoidable, as “poetry is so personal and our personal paths are about where we are from.”
They are not the only ones raising their concern about the biased reception of work from ‘writers of colour’. During the Sunday session titled The Diversity debate, Marlon James declared, half jokingly, half serious, that he will not be attending any sessions about diversity any more. Pettina Gappah earlier that afternoon talked about the burden that sort of labelling gives to ‘coloured writers’: “This label comes with expectations of what you talk about in your work.”
I could feel myself being challenged after each of the sessions. They made me think of myself as a reader and my own reception of work written by ‘writers of colour’. And they also made me wonder, if true friendship happens, when we look at the world above and beyond pigeonholes of colour, sex, race, ability, language, culture, age and socio-economic status. According to Maxine’s inscription in my copy of her book, that may as well be true. “From my heart to yours”, it says.
Which, when read again, it could also sound like a tutorial on how to read.
New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth. It is also one of the most peaceful. Our biggest challenge is how we choose to live our lives and what kind of country we let New Zealand become. This Race Relations Day we are asking all Kiwis to welcome and get to know the people in your community. What you do makes all the difference.
In New Zealand we are lucky to be able to enjoy and celebrate our diversity, but this is not so in many other parts of the world. In 1966 the date of March 21 was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations to be The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the reason this date was chosen is because this was the date of the Sharpeville massacre.
Sharpeville is in South Africa, and on 21 March 1960 police opened fire on a crowd of about 20,000 people who were protesting against the apartheid “pass laws”. Some 69 people were killed, including children, while around 180 were injured. Apartheid in the Rainbow Nation has since been dismantled, but the fight against racial prejudice and discrimination continues around the world.
Cook Islands Language Week – Te ‘Epetoma o Te Reo Kūki ‘Āirani celebrates the languages spoken by the people of the Cook Islands; Cook Islands Māori, the Western Polynesian language Pukapuka, and the distinctive mixture of Cook Islands Māori and English spoken by the people of Palmerston Island.
There is nothing quite like finding a new author whose book you fall in love with instantly. When the book you read is that author’s debut novel you are both disappointed and excited. Disappointed because you can’t gobble up everything else the author has written (because this is their first novel) and excited because you’ll (hopefully) have more of their stories to look forward to. I was overcome with these emotions when I finished Leah Thomas’ debut YA novel, Because you’ll never meet me.
Ollie and Moritz are two teenagers who will never meet. Each of them lives with a life-affecting illness. Contact with electricity sends Ollie into debilitating seizures. Moritz has a heart defect and is kept alive by an electronic pacemaker. If they did meet, Ollie would seize. But turning off the pacemaker would kill Moritz.
Through an exchange of letters, the two boys develop a strong bond of friendship which becomes a lifeline during dark times – until Moritz reveals that he holds the key to their shared, sinister past, and has been keeping it from Ollie all along.
Because you’ll never meet me is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a long time! This book is unlike any book I’ve read and I struggle to express how truly wonderful it is. The story is original and intriguing and the characters are two of the most interesting teenage guys you’ll ever meet.
The story is told in alternating chapters, by Ollie and Moritz, two very different guys who could never meet but find solace in the letters that they write to each other.
Ollie lives in America, in a cabin in the woods with his mother, far away from civilisation and everyone else his age. He has known nothing but this isolation for as long as he can remember. Ollie must live this life because he is allergic to electricity. Whenever he gets close to anything electrical he starts to see loops, swirls and plumes of colour, which trigger crippling seizures.
Moritz lives in Germany, was born without eyes and sees using a form or echolocation, like a bat. He also has a heart condition and is kept alive by a pacemaker. He is ignored by his peers and tormented by the school bully.
Through their letters to each other they share their experiences and their unique lives, giving each other strength when they need it the most. Leah Thomas hints that there is some connection, other than through their letters, between the two boys, and when this is revealed the story goes in a different direction. I won’t talk about this as it is a great twist in the story.
I got completely caught up in Ollie and Moritz’s stories and put myself in their shoes. You know it’s a great book when you want to know what’s happening with the characters when you’re not reading their story. My heart was in my throat so many times while I was reading and I just kept on hoping that Ollie and Moritz would make it through their tough times.
One of the things I love the most about Leah Thomas’ book is that she tells this incredible story in just one book. Everything comes together perfectly at the end and there is a real sense of hope. You don’t need any more books to carry on the story of these two characters. They stay with you and you can imagine where their story might go next.
The New Zealand Diversity Forum is a unique national convention, now in its seventh year, at which people involved in race relations, human rights and cultural diversity come together to share ideas and good practice.
A highlight for the event was seeing Deaf Aotearoa receive an award for their work in producing a National Anthem DVD featuring all three of our official languages.
Here are some suggestions on how to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the diversity arena in Aotearoa:
Join the mailing list of the Human Rights Commission to receive their newsletters. You can choose from 9 different titles – some relate specifically to the Diversity Action Programme and race relations, while the others deal with disability, transgender and Treaty issues