I am scared of my grandma

Updated: Oct 30

By Hayley McCarthy

Course: SOCIOL 101/G Understanding Aotearoa (S2'22)

The statement "I am scared of my grandma" is bold; it might make you think that I have been terribly mistreated, spark concern for my well-being, or make you uncomfortable. However, the truth is that none of that is accurate. In fact, I grew up with privilege, safety and generally overall well-being due to my positionality in Aotearoa (or, if you are my grandma, New Zealand).

For some exposition, I will explain to you what circumstances have led me to this conclusion. My grandparents immigrated to New Zealand in 1975 from England with the promise of a new life, my grandfather (a skilled carpenter) seeking a better job and an improved lifestyle for his family. He was successful in this endeavour and, within a year of arriving in New Zealand, purchased land and built a home for his growing family in an up-and-coming (predominantly British immigrant-heavy) neighbourhood. I have fond memories of their house being decorated in union jack flags and English lions paraphernalia whenever the All Blacks had a match against any British team. They are proud of being British and exhibiting the life they have made for themselves in New Zealand and wanted their whole street to know it. This attitude rubbed off on me, and I, too, was proud of my British heritage. I may have even felt superior to having the socially desirable 'British' background that I shared with many of my classmates who likewise came from white British backgrounds being 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants. I was so proud of my Britishness that I immigrated to the UK, where I lived for ten years, before returning home to New Zealand in January 2022.

The New Zealand I returned to was much more 'Aotearoa', with news readers with moku, place names being referred to in both English AND Maori, and university programs in place to encourage and support young Maori people in their academic endeavours. I was in awe, so proud of the change I could see. However, I soon realised that not everyone felt the same. The tutting of my grandparents as we watched the evening news, the comments "she would be so pretty if it weren't for those ungodly tattoos", and "I don't see why they need to push all this Maori (always pronounced purposefully wrong" stuff on us", "we can't go to that beach because they have said that it's sacred now and we'll be given evil eyes until we leave". Their view sat clearly in the views of monoculturalism or "we are all New Zealanders", seeing the nation as having one culture, so long as that culture was the white one imposed by settler colonies and ideologies and erasure of Maori culture (Derald Wing, 2004), something that can be practised in private but should not be thrust upon in their words 'regular kiwis' (Bell et al, 2017).

The problem with this viewpoint is that it ignores historical structural inequalities that have resulted in the erasure of the native Maori culture in the first place. Furthermore, the exclusion of indigenous peoples, although there are no official barriers, has resulted in an echo chamber that further perpetuates divides (Gamage, 2014). Monoculturalism results from colonisation and economic, political, social and cultural dispossession. In Aotearoa, Maori people faced dispossession of land through land acts imposed by British settlers through threats of violence and misinformation of terms through legislation like the treaty of Waitangi. Political manipulation took away power from the Maori people and affected their economic, cultural and social outcomes. Meanwhile, European descendants like my grandparents (and myself) remained politically dominant in the heterogeneous or monoculturalist society (Lutz, 1996). The theft of Maori land through political dominance during the colonisation process, also known as primitive accumulation (De Angelis, 2004), was damaging culturally due to the loss of Tino Rangatiratanga (the right for Maori to be self-governing). Tangata Whenua's loss of Tino Rangatiratanga resulted in the depletion of Mana amongst Maori.

When gently prompting my family, I have been asked, "if they did not have a problem with being colonised at the time because they were savages that we introduced modern living to, why do they suddenly have a problem with it now?" and I am ashamed to say until very recently I did not have an answer to this question. Only through representation and discussion through education have I begun to understand Maori activism. The sad truth is that Maori people fought colonisation every step of the way; the wars of the 1860s (O'Malley & Kidman, 2018), the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 (Te Papa, 2020), and the 1977 Bastion Point occupation; however, the dominant settler colonial powers remained dominant due to their economic, cultural, societal and social positionality and have continued to benefit from this oppression throughout the rest of the 20th century (Coombes, 2006) and erased the narrative to perpetuate the dominance of white settlers (no matter which generation of immigration) is due to them simply more hard working.

I am scared of my grandma because of her ignorance and overt racism. This is not necessarily her fault but merely a result of a society that is structurally set up to allow for her behaviour and attitude, a society which has also left me in an economically privileged position. I am scared of my grandma because now that I have been educated about these longstanding inequities and injustices, I cannot claim ignorance and feel responsible for doing better than the generations before me. I hope the next time someone is overtly racist or using misinformation around me, I will dare to educate them from a different perspective. However, I also feel this thought process is very self-indulgent, with a white saviour complex undertone that I am wary of. By vocalising my woes, I am taking space from an indigenous person who would better articulate the wrongdoings of settler colonialism and its ongoing impact on life in Aotearoa.


Bell, A., Elizabeth, V., McIntosh, T., & Wynyard, M. (2017). A Land of Milk and Honey?. Auckland University Press.

Coombes, A. (2006). Rethinking settler colonialism: history and memory in Australia, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand and South Africa

De Angelis, M. (2004). Separating the Doing and the Deed: Capital and the Continuous Character of Enclosures. Historical Materialism : Research in Critical Marxist Theory, 12(2), 57-87. https://doi.org/10.1163/1569206041551609

Gamage, S. (2014). Perspectives on multiculturalism and monoculturalism in Australia: Experiences of immigrant and Indigenous Australians. Australian Mosaic,

Lutz, C. H. M. (1996). Unsettling Settler Societies: Articulations of Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Class [Review of: N. Yuval-Davis (1996) Unpacking Settler Historiographies]

O'Malley, V., & Kidman, J. (2018). Settler colonial history, commemoration and white backlash: remembering the New Zealand Wars.Settler Colonial Studies, 8(3), 298-313. https://doi.org/10.1080/2201473X.2017.1279831

Sue, D. W. (2004). Whiteness and Ethnocentric Monoculturalism: Making the "Invisible" Visible. The American Psychologist, 59(8), 761- 769. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.59.8.761

Te Papa. (2020). two parties, two understandings. Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa. https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/discover-collections/read-watch-play/maori/treatywaitangi/treaty-close/two-parties-two


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