Black Lives Matter In Aotearoa
In Conversation with Lulu Tekeste
By Ruby Clavey
On June 1st, 2020, roughly 4,000 people gathered in Aotea Square to stand for justice and equality in Auckland’s Black Lives Matter march. Lulu Tekeste and her friends organised the march in a matter of days after protests began to erupt across the U.S.
The protest focused on support for the U.S BLM cause and the steady militarisation of the New Zealand police force, specifically on the armed response team trial. Upon the announcement of the trial, Māori and Pasifika communities called for an immediate end due to concerns of structural racism and profiling they experience with police. Figures obtained under the Official Information Act found the armed response teams had been attending more jobs in an average week than what the Armed Offenders Squads were sent to in an entire year, further causing concern. However, a week after Lulu Tekeste and other advocates marched down Queen St, the Armed Response Team Trial was ended.
As of March 2020, Māori people make up 52.8% of prisoners in New Zealand prisons, while only making up 16.5% of the population reported in 2018. Māori and Pacific children were more likely to live in households with low-income or material hardship when compared to Pākehā children. Māori people are almost eight times more likely than Pākahā to experience police violence.
I spoke with Lulu about New Zealand’s history of oppression towards Māori, Pasifika and other communities of colour and how this discrimination is present and dangerous in 2020.
Just a week after the protest the armed response team trial was abolished. How does that feel?
Lulu: I was very emotional at work, it's really good. It’s only a small step but it’s a good step in the right direction. I was just wondering, had New Zealand not shown up in such large numbers in all the different cities that rallied over the weekend, would the results have been different?
What are the immediate issues with race in NZ today?
Lulu: Where do I start? I think at the root of it all is acknowledging that New Zealand is a nation founded on colonisation and a lot of people have this misconstrued idea of colonisation as a single historical event, like something that happened in the past but if we come to understand colonisation as what it actually is, which is a continual process then I think we’ll do a lot better at actually addressing the issues.
A nation founded on colonisation is bound to get everything else in terms of race relations wrong along the way. First and foremost, our Māori population are oppressed under a system of colonisation that continues to disadvantage them in every possible way. Whether that be in education, in criminal law, in socioeconomic status, in housing, in health care.
As a result of white supremacy other ethnic immigrant groups that come to New Zealand such as Pasifika Islanders, Africans, Asians, Middle Eastern, whatever the case may be are immediately subjected to oppression as well.
Absolutely, we aren’t so different from America.
Lulu: No, we like to think we are but that's a problem in itself because it stops us from actually addressing what's really wrong.
What does the future of activism regarding inequality and race in NZ look like?
Lulu: The future are our kids, it’s the young people, because the oldies have had all this time to try and figure it out and let’s be honest, not much has been done. Being at the protest and seeing that kids and babies were there, that was just the most heart-warming thing but also really sad as well because kids of colour don’t have the privilege of waiting until they’re mature enough to understand before they’re exposed to reality. A lot of white parents don’t want to have the conversation about race with their kids because “they’re not old enough, we want to preserve their innocence” but kids of colour don’t have that choice.
It’s equally heart-warming and heart-breaking, but those kids that were marching with us in Auckland, they’re the future.
How can people help?
Lulu: Local organisations that are continually fighting for justice and fighting for what's right. Donating money wise is really important but you can also just approach these organisations and see how you can make yourself useful. Some of them might need volunteers.
I think above and beyond that, the most important work anyone can do is on themselves, it’s to educate ourselves on what’s going on, take the time to listen to people of colour and really understand their experiences and do some soul searching and introspection and see in what ways are you complicit? In what ways are you contributing to the problem? What steps are you taking in being actively anti-racist?
A lot of that work begins with us, and when that inner transformation happens then we can actually really make ourselves useful in these organisations and protests and gathering together and working towards a solution.
How do you feel after a very emotional week?
Lulu: The week leading up it was just a lot of darkness really, I felt really sad. I almost felt bad because I wasn’t shocked by the news because we are so used to seeing it that we are almost numb to it. But the feeling that stood out the most to me was a feeling of helplessness, like not being able to do something, not having a healthy outlet to channel what I was feeling inside and I know that a lot of my friends and family here who are black were feeling the exact same way.
That march was such a release of all those emotions, it was a really healthy way to channel those emotions and a lot of people have hit us up saying “thank you for allowing us the space to collectively grieve and to feel that we could voice our grievances.”
It just felt that we were seen, being black in New Zealand can feel quite isolating and quite lonely. The vast majority of the population don’t know we have a black population here in New Zealand. We just felt seen and the love we felt during the Haka outside the consulate’s office. That was the most moving thing I have ever experienced in my life and people were just generally there in the right spirit and driven by love. To see that was really encouraging, really, really encouraging. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.
How do you feel about the current BLM protests in the United States?
Lulu: It’s really scary to have, for lack of a better word, a lunatic running the American Government. An inexperienced moron deploying the army and the national guard, inciting violence, letting regular civilians know that he’s basically given them the permission to go and assert some sort of authority over the protestors and seeing all those scary, scary white men with bats and guns they’re just throwing around their weight. It’s really scary. I have black friends in America, I studied abroad in America, In Washington DC, so I have plenty of black friends in DC, and when that DC blackout happened it was scary.
When I see that, the number one feeling is fear but also hope because I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a united global movement for Black Lives Matter. People in Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, Melbourne, New Zealand. All these cities and countries coming together. And like we saw today with the police’s announcement; people actually have a lot more power than we give ourselves credit for. I’m hopeful, I’m really hopeful as well.