Forewarning: This article relates to the current scholarship situation in New Zealand. Also, due to the original audience for the article (Uni magazine), it features some rant-like qualities. The article was written to inspire thought and inquisition, and as such features few factual references, intending to rely instead on self-examination. Futhermore, I have only addressed Maori issues, as I am unfamiliar with cultures from the other Pacific Islands. Maori have often been criticised for relying on the Treaty of Waitangi to 'con things out of the government'. For instance, rights to part of the radio spectrum, land held under customary title, etc. This flows on into the area of scholarships, where Maori-specific scholarships make up a significant percentage of those available. This is then attacked by non-Maori as being discriminatory and racist. This article, then, is my attempt at levelling that playing field.
There’s been an issue that people have been griping about since forever that’s always gotten up my nose. It’s like a horrible piece of cat hair you finally manage to locate and pull off your nose, and then some asshole comes and shoves it right up there again.
Anyway, this isn’t about cat hair. It’s about scholarships. Particularly, people's issues with them. I’m about done with placidly listening to people go on about how discriminatory it is that there are a number of Maori-specific scholarships. For God’s sake people, what is the problem here? Have you even looked at the scholarships list lately? Hell, I’m the most discriminated one of the whole lot! Not only am I not Maori, but I am also not female, not blind, deaf, nor disabled in some other way. I am not fresh from high-school. I am not a first-year student. I am doing neither graduate, nor post-grad study. And I sure as hell wasn’t born in the Waikato.
But that doesn’t give me the right to complain. Why? Because that’s what scholarships are there for. They were created to assist those who are disadvantaged. It goes back to the minority thing, I suppose. I mean hey – find me a middle-aged lesbian Maori woman with six children, one foot and three fingers, and I’ll point to her and say “That’s what I bloody well mean!” We’d be looking at the prime scholarship candidate. And you know, I bet there still aren’t enough scholarships out there that would make her say “Well fuck, I’m lucky”.
Scholarships are not made so that everybody can just go and get one. They’re there for special purposes. They’re there for people that need them. Not for the advantaged groups in society. Sure there are a lot of Maori-specific scholarships. But I have never heard anybody say that Maori are the advantaged group in New Zealand Society. You learn it in first-year law school: the entire system has historically been based on the supremacy of the white, middle-aged male who was raised in a nuclear, religious family. I’m serious. Don’t believe me? Take Legal Systems. It’s there, it’s real, and it’s changed a lot, but there are still repercussions. Ask a woman, most still feel it. Ask a Maori, most of them still feel it too.
It interests me, however, that most of the people who complain about race-based scholarships … come to think of it, that’s absolute rubbish anyway – it’s not based on race, it’s based on need. A specific genealogy is just part of the entry criteria. Anyway, it interests me that most of the people that I’ve heard complaining about these scholarships are women! Girls, really. But they don’t complain about the ones that are only for females. And you don’t really hear anyone complaining about the ones for people with a disability. “Oh, but there are more Maori than disabled people,” they say. Sure, but women make up more than half of the population in New Zealand, so that argument goes about as far as a one-legged dog on stilts.
Am I advocating that women and Maori should lose their scholarships? That would be stupid. I’m advocating that these scholarships should be respected for what they are: a source of assistance made available to those who are disadvantaged. I, for one, believe that there is no imbalance in the system significant enough to swing Maori into the advantaged people of New Zealand. This is especially true if you look into some of the family dynamics. Most of the Maori families I’ve known (and I’m speaking from years of experience but still could be wrong) have fostered family dynamics that really appear to my tangata pakeha mind to have a plain bad effect on a child’s self-esteem. For example, just off the top of my head, I can think of SIX different families who believe that it is encouraging to their children to continually insult and berate them, even in front of their friends. Imagine you have a young son who is too good at swimming to join the junior team. So he is allowed to join the senior swim team, and loses to people 5 years older than him. Would you say “Don’t worry about it bud”, or would you pull them out of the water and yell at them in front of everyone for losing? I know what I’d do. But I know from experience that the second one happens.
So anyway, I really have a point, and I’m not trying to put down the way that anybody raises their kids. What I’m getting at is that there are family dynamics within other cultures that simply do not fit well with the Pakeha system that is seen today in New Zealand. Ask any high-school teacher who constantly produces successful Maori and Pacific Island students – they will never exactly follow the prescribed teaching methods. They will add in other bits, which aren’t part of the mainstream curriculum. Why? Because Maori and Pacific Islanders have been shown time and time again to learn in a different manner to Pakeha – and the Pakeha schooling system just doesn’t help them flourish.
Okay, my point is that the scholarships are there for people that are disadvantaged in some way or another. Frankly, I think I’m lucky that there are fuck-all scholarships that apply to me. It shows that I fall into a group of people that, on the whole, aren’t often underprivileged. And there is no way that I begrudge the fact that I can’t get the women’s scholarships, or the Maori ones, or the disability ones. Because I don’t believe – not for one second – that they are getting an unfair advantage.
This article was published, by me, in the Nexus (University of Waikato magazine) due out on May 30th, 2005. Format changed to fit E2 and minor errors corrected May 24th, 2005.