Everybody Wants To Be Brown

So, this happened…

[In case you were wondering what the hell a Ya-Ya Club is, it’s a socialite club of Auckland super rich kids].

That was me being ‘diplomatic’ about not being comfortable with a group of privileged rich white kids drinking Moët in the traditional garb of my ancestors (or anyone else who doesn’t appreciate being referred to as a Seductive Sari Queen or an Intriguing Geisha Twin — dafuq?).

I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve with these things because culture is important to me, particularly now that I’m responsible for raising a part of the future generation. But incredibly, I find myself totally exhausted.

I am exhausted of trying to explain to people why these things aren’t cool.

Where do I even begin trying to explain the obvious here?

Could it be the fact that Ya-Ya has grouped Japan, India, Polynesia and Egypt into one group of ‘ethnic’ beauty? Was Slavic Supermodel not exotic [ahem, brown] enough?

I guess I’m also annoyed that as a person of Pacific heritage, I’ve been thrust into a group with Egyptian Gods. Last I checked, my culture and my people weren’t mythical deities. Do they think we’re mermaids or some shit?

Polynesian sovereignty and chiefdom are still very much alive, so please stop referring to our people as if our grandparents and ancestors have long been extinct. We’re still roaming the Earth, guys!

We don’t appreciate people who live lifestyles so far removed from our own experiences and are notorious for looking down on us, romanticising and fetishising our ethnicities like our cultural identities were some sort of party favour.

Yes, our people are beautiful, but our traditions and cultures are deep and rich and signify far more than superficial beauty and far more than Ya-Ya is willing to understand.

And in spite of our cultural pride and values, our people still rule every negative socioeconomic statistic. We sit at the bottom of access to education, income and healthcare. And these are things that are huge problems in the world we live in (a world the Ya-Ya elite choose to ignore) and it’s frustrating that people are so willing to pick and choose what part of being brown they want to embrace; i.e. we’re smokers, drinkers, pokie-players, child abusers and criminals — but when you need a costume, suddenly we’re beautiful.

As annoying as that all is, nothing is more exhausting than their response.

When will people learn that ‘Sorry if you were offended’ isn’t an apology?

It’s frustrating that while I felt I was reasonable and logical with my explanation, it was met with a response that more or less said; we don’t need your permission, don’t like it? Don’t look.

Treating our basic right to protect our cultural dignity is not a relative concept — you are not entitled to take what you want from our people.

This completely goes against this group’s claim that they are ‘appreciating’ other cultures. How could you possibly be respectful or appreciative of a culture when you completely disregard the voices of the very people you claim you’re ‘appreciating’?

Call a spade a spade already.

This has nothing to do with exploring cultural diversity, because if there were any respect for cultural diversity and acceptance, Ya-Ya would know better than to arrogantly shrug off the concerns of the very people whose cultures they want to exploit for the sake of a boozy cocktail party.

As I said, I’m exhausted.

Exhausted because I’m tired of being told what racism is and isn’t by people who will never experience it and the very people who continue to perpetuate it with this type of wilful ignorance.

On a personal level, this matters to me greatly.

I didn’t grow up immersed in my culture. I never learned my language. I never learned our dances. I never learned our traditions. I didn’t get to live and nurture my cultural heritage because my parents grew up in a generation where anything non-white was actively suppressed, persecuted and all but stamped out.

The cultural suppression of children throughout the 50s and 60s, has had a massive generational effect, and it resulted in the whitewashing of my own childhood — despite my being born in a time of greater acceptance than that of my parents.

And if you thought that throwing a costume party where rich white people dress up in Polynesian garb was the answer to making us feel less excluded from a deeply and systemically racist society — you’re wrong.

It only further devalues and cheapens something that we actually hold quite dear. It further marginalises and dehumanises us.

You want the right to flaunt a culture that my Father was punished for, all for the sake of a party — and I’m just not down with that.

The bottom line — our culture is not a costume.

How great is Lorde though…

And their response tells me Ya-Ya needs to lay off the Yayo…

Additional Note:

As the mother of an infant with similar features and skin tone as North West, this image breaks my heart. No child deserves to be the target of racist mockery like this and it really only further convinces me that the organiser of the Ya-Ya Club and the intended ‘Ball Du Monde’ has nothing to do with the celebration and respect of other cultures.

Originally published at beingahouse.com on March 5, 2015.