There’s nothing like being in a foreign country to make you more aware of your own. I’m writing this blog post from the comfort of the Maori whare runanga (meeting house) section on the upper level of the lovely Auckland Public Library. Ironically (or not) the traditional carved spiritual ‘story-telling’ motifs of the Maori, complete with the familiar haka (male war dance with protruding tongues, is nestled next to a display of first-edition English children’s books, including Winnie-the Pooh, Alice-in-Wonderland, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Happy hoppity hobbity hybridity.
The term ‘happy hybridity’ comes from New Zealander Professor Jacqueline Lo, who now teaches at the Australian National University in Canberra. Dr. Lo writes about the politics (and economy) of feel-good multiculturalism vs. the difficult politics of anti-racism. The photograph I’m including in this post is of a mural at an Auckland bus stop, nicely illustrating the perceived Utopian ideal of happy hybridity/multiculturalism. As in most places in the world, this is the public face or veneer of peaceful blending of cultures (and socio-economic classes) that we all like to project. It is never nice to dig deeper, to look in people’s garbage bins or their medicine cabinets, to peek behind the public face/masks, even if they are in our own backyards–or are our own. I always feel conflicted when I travel to and live in another country (I’m here teaching in New Zealand for three months); I want to keep a critical gaze on a place but I also don’t want to become a cynical, ungrateful guest: just another Ugly American Tourist.
In doing some reflection on these complex issues, I stumbled across a wonderful blog post “Postcards from the Edge” by Ruth DeSouza (her blog is called Nurse Academic in Australia). In this post she writes about happy hybridity vs. the politics of racism within a New Zealand context, from her perspective as a New Zealand Indian now living in Australia. She does a great job of ‘complicating’ the issues of race/class/culture.
So I continue to reflect on my own racial/ethnic class biases as I go off in search of happy multicultural Hobbits. Did anyone notice Peter Jackson’s almost humorous attempts to be more racially/ethnically inclusive in his latest Hobbit movie? There were–gasp!–dark-skinned ‘good people’ in Laketown, although he still cast Maori actors in roles as part of the ‘dark forces of evil.’
For an excellent ‘close to home’ (for me anyway) short video/documentary on Seattle’s own historical roots (and current consequences) of racism/classism, I recommend historian Shaun Scott’s “A Really Nice Place to Live” (linked on the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project). It’s worth a view and a share. I use it in my courses and it always provokes good classroom discussion on an often ‘taboo’ topic in nursing.