Skin Coloured Crayon
Updated: May 26
By Taylor Davis
Ko Taupiri Te Maunga,
Ko Waikato te Awa
Ko Tainui te waka
Ko Ngati naho tōku hapu
Ko Ngaa-tai-e-rua tōku marae
Ko Taylor tōku ingoa.
When my nana went to school she was beaten for speaking an ancient dialect of Māori Reo, one that was passed down from her nana and all nanas before her. I heard somewhere that Te Reo Māori originates from the sounds of birds in the forest. It is a wonder that something so beautiful could be brutally smacked out of the mouths of children by the government following the early 1900s policy among educators. My nana and koro built a house in South Auckland following the post-war urbanisation of Māori and had my dad shortly after the release of the 1960 Hunn Report. The government document was made to record the progress of whitewashing Aotearoa. Then on-Māori minister of native affairs Sir Jack Hunn stated that Māori were "living a backwards life in primitive conditions" whose culture “only the fittest [of] elements would survive" and encouraged us to “fall into line.”
When my dad went to school he was called racial slurs by his teachers. Despite this, he was the first in his family to attend university, and the only Māori in his class when he graduated with a Bachelor in Science majoring in Chemistry. Then he met my Pākehā mother. My parents wanted my sisters and I to have better opportunities and resources than they
grew up with, and gave everything so we could have a safe childhood of abundance and privilege. But privilege isn’t divided equally among races.
When I went to school, it was a white school, with white friends, white teachers and white role models on TV. My whiteness was so ingrained that I drew myself with the ‘flesh’ coloured crayon which Crayola rebranded to ‘peach’ in 1962. It was 2006 and my classmates only ever called it ‘skin colour.’
At a young age, I was aware of my Māoriness in the same way I was aware that my dad went to work. I knew it to be true, but I didn’t understand what it meant, or why it was important. I didn’t realise that while I was ignoring my brown-ness, my teachers, friends and acquaintances were not. I felt confused when a white person would ask me where I was from. I would say “New Zealand,” they would repeat themselves, so I would too. Eventually we would both come to understand that their real question was “why are you brown?” In retrospect, I have never thought to ask a white person why they are white. I’ve come to learn that although my mother is white, my rearing is white, I can speak the white language and understand the white culture, I will never be white. White is an exclusive cultural identity, which bars anyone with melanin-rich skin.
My friend circles may have considered me to be ‘white’ in that I was “not like other Māori.” To the average person in my hometown, I was a brown girl. I was Māori, and my father deeply instilled Māori values and some cultural practices and words in my upbringing, but when I was around other Māori, I suddenly did not feel brown. I felt displaced, I felt ‘too white.’ I didn’t speak the way I was told Māori spoke; I didn’t look the way I was told other Maori looked. I didn’t suffer the same discrimination as culturally rich Māori. I felt stuck in a racial limbo, unable to belong completely.
As I became more involved in my culture as an adult, white contempt for non-white ways of living became more noticeable. I would go to work and white coworkers would complain to me that the pōwhiri in the workplace was ‘silly’ and a waste of their time. Friends would whine about karakia making them uncomfortable, even some classmates would question if their papers really needed to include Te Tiriti O Waitangi. All of them throwing an enthusiastic- ‘right?’ my way, asking me to validate their racism.
I’ve met other people who feel like I do.They call themselves ‘plastic’ Māori, or Pasifika. That because colonisation has affected us so deeply, it has taken our identity and made us feel fake. I am still struggling with the grief that colonisation has and still is causing by severing me from my culture and my people. But because I feel at home when I listen to the birds' korero, I know I am Maori in my heart. My hope is that when my future children go to school, they will not reach for the peach coloured crayon if someone asks “can you pass me the skin colour?”