Navigating Unwritten Stories When Your Story Has Always Been Written
By Andrew Broadley | Illustration by Yi Jong
I am Pākehā. I am male. I am heterosexual.
When it comes to unwritten stories, mine are few and far between. For as long as modern history has been told, history has been mine. My conquests, my achievements, my point of view. For years these stories have not only been shared, but taught, ingrained, and held as the baton of truth. We are told there are two sides to every story, but our stories have always had one.
Not too long ago I could have sat here and written an ‘unwritten story’. A story of the oppressed told by the oppressor has been commonplace in the past. This is beginning to shift, and I say beginning because I in no way believe that we are where we should be yet. Voices like mine are beginning to dwindle and voices of diversity are beginning to grow in volume and stature and acceptance. And this is nothing but positive. Allowing a platform for these voices is long overdue. But this does not mean that my role, or our role, as Pākehā, as men, as heterosexuals is over. We are the ones that are perpetuating racism, sexism, homophobia, and we must work to fix it. That does not mean it is us who should tell the stories, who should organise the call to march; this is no time for the white saviour or the male hero. But we must be strong allies. Because we are the ones that have held power, and still do hold power.
A look at the demographic of almost any business or governmental organisation will tell you that people like me have unfairly deemed voices like mine to be of more worth than others, so the least we can do is use that voice to support those without. Feminism is not a female issue. Racism is not a black issue. Homophobia is not a queer issue. The common thread in all of these is the oppressor, not the oppressed. We do not blame the child pushed over on the playground for being pushed. We blame the bully. And as the bully, it is our role to listen, to learn, and to correct ourselves and those around us. The job of the oppressed should no longer be what it is. They have petitioned, they have rallied, they have protested. They have shared and shared their tales. Tales of their ancestors, tales of their culture, tales of their experiences being victimised and abused by the system we have created.
By now we should have taken these tales and welcomed them. We should have taken these people and welcomed them. We should have worked together to create legislation and law, not only on paper but in our thoughts and actions, and in our social circles. But we have not. We have continued to ignore them, to tell them systems are in place. That when ‘one bad cop’ or ‘one bad man’ steps out of line it will be dealt with. So they listened to us and they tried it our way. And when we pushed them they did not push back. They used the proper channels. They got signatures on a piece of paper and they peacefully gathered. And we ignored them. And when we hit them they did not hit back. They used the proper channels. And we ignored them. And when we knelt on their necks so they couldn’t breathe they shouted back and they threw their fists into the air and we had the audacity to tell them that’s not the right way to do it. So still they petition and still they protest and still we ignore them. And despite us making them run hurdles while the rest of us run sprints, they have worked their way into roles in our government and as our lawmakers and our influencers and they try to do it our way. And we continue to ignore them. We give them a holiday when needed, we post a black square or a rainbow background and we continue to shove ear plugs deep into our ears. We sympathise with an individual but ignore the masses. We explain how saddened we are by George Floyd, such a horrible tragedy, while we fail to recognise he is a victim of a system. A system that on our own soil has locked up and prosecuted Māori in staggering numbers and denied them equal opportunity.
We give our condolences, we condemn open acts of xenophobia and we cut back its branches but we continue to reap the rewards of its roots. More subtle hidden in soil, but stronger and more resilient. We stay silent. Out of fear. Out of fragility. Saying the wrong thing leads to uncomfortable conversations, so we don’t say anything at all. And the system continues to function as the system always has. Meeting our silence with opportunity and meeting their noise with a lack of.
And this is why we can have silence no longer.
This is a process and there isn’t an end goal of ultimate wokeness and enlightenment. We are all learning everyday. We are all human beings and we are all growing and making mistakes and fucking things up in our own little ways and that is all part of what it means to try and to be better. And I know it can seem daunting and I know it can feel as if it sucks when your black square though posted with good intention, wasn’t so good in practice. You will get it wrong. You will make mistakes. Accept that and move beyond that. Because it’s the risk you take and that is no risk at all. Because risk suggests a potential consequence. And there is no consequence, not compared to the ones they face. I have not always been a good ally. I have spoken over and I have ignored. I have acted in ways that have asserted myself over others and I have justified the oppression of those around me. I will continue to, at times, fail to be a good ally I am sure. I can only hope these instances are rare. We are not expected to be perfect, but we are expected to be earnest. And that is what I, and we, should aim for. To be an earnest supporter and friend. To be willing to listen, learn, grow and be willing to correct our behaviour when needed. We can never feel what they have felt. But we can understand the reasons for why they may have felt this way and we can empathise with human suffering. And we can understand the facts. The evidence of our oppression is there to be seen.
We have a role to play. That role is not to tell the stories, but to help in hushing the crowd. We can tap the microphone,
Check Check 1,2.
We can scribble the ballpoint pen on the bottom corner of scrap paper to check it has ink. And then we can pass the microphone over. Or pass the pen and give the paper.
Then, Maybe we will really hear some unwritten stories.