My Māori name - Readers share their experiences of discrimination

By Kelvin McDonald

"I knew straight away it's because I'm Māori". Most Māori can tell you about a time they experienced racism, when they knew straight away they'd been treated badly because of something as simple as their name.

Sometimes it's a look you receive just before you're told a property you've asked about is 'rented' or it's being completely ignored when you're out shopping.

Unless you're a minority it's sometimes hard to understand what it feels like to experience discrimination purely because of your ethnicity. For Māori such incidents can be so common they are met with weary acceptance or are simply brushed off. 

A Ministry of Health study found that Māori adults are almost three times as likely as non-Māori adults to experience unfair treatment on the basis of ethnicity in health care, housing or work.  It's worse still if you're a wāhine. The study says Māori females are more than 7 times as likely as non-Māori females to experience unfair treatment in renting or buying houses because of ethnicity. 

If you talk to a Māori person long enough, they'll tell you one, or two, of their experiences of discrimination.  But it's not just Māori, of course, who have these challenges. There are many peoples and communities deserving of kinder and more understanding treatment.

Recently, we posted an article about a young Māori student, Reremai Cameron, who received a shocking reply from a potential landlord because of her Māori name.

Listen to student Reremai Cameron talk about her experience of discrimination.

She got this text message in reply to her accommodation inquiry.

Reremai's experience prompted many of you to share your own stories of discrimination. 

Rochelle Walker left a comment on our Facebook page saying, "My partner who has a full Māori name sent an email to a property manager enquiring about a rental in Auckland.  He got a reply saying 'It has been rented' short and sharp not friendly or very professional, I felt something was up.  I sent an email using my obviously Pākehā name and low-and-behold got an appointment set up to view the house.  Couldn't believe it," she said.

Elizabeth Paamu-Kara shared her own rental property story, commenting "I seen (sic) an ad literally put up on Trade Me for a rental listing so I went into [the real estate agency] to enquire about it straight away as I was desperate.  The lady looked at me and said 'It’s rented', I knew straight away it was because I was Māori.  I said 'how can it be rented, you just listed it 20 mins ago?' She stumbled on her words and I walked out angry and unimpressed.  The listing lasted on Trade Me for 3 weeks before it was officially rented out."

Waereti Haturini Mounga posted that, like the young woman in our article, she also had difficulty finding a home because she has a Māori name.

"It happened to me as well. It honestly feels like bs," she said.  "My name was given to me by my kuia. I love its meaning. Just a shame that we are all judged based on race and actions of a few.  Went to at least 40 viewings, I applied for them all due to being desperate," she said, "I treated each viewing like a job interview, dress to impress and first impression matter. The home I’m in now thankfully she knew my previous landlord and accepted me.

"I’ve known society to always judge us as a race.  Some of my siblings have been treated far worst. I think it’s because my skin is lighter...I guess in a way it all comes down to just being a nice human being all round."

Mounga ended her post with the hashtag, "#bekindtoday".

Delilah Whaitiri highlighted the presumption made about her because she's Māori. 

"I got a response from one landlord.....his question to me was, are you on a benefit?" She said, "My response was yes I am and I've lived in my current property for 3 years, never missed a week's rent and kept it clean and tidy. I also provided him with former references and told him I have a solid renting history." 

"He never responded. What kind of question is that? Rude as," she said.

Dorothy Henry shared a story about her daughter's name being ridiculed by a stranger.

"I named my daughter Tangiwai after my kuia," she said.  "She was going on a school camp back in the day. I overheard [a parent] say, 'Why on Earth would you name your child after a disaster???'

"Weell that didn't go down very well I tell ya.  Gave him a big piece of my mind, and asked to have my girl removed from his car (he was parent help for a camping trip)," she said.

Quite a few people told us they use a non-Maōri name for job applications or housing inquiries to improve their chances.

Daniel Brown said, "My bro instead of using his ingoa Hari when applying for jobs would use instead Harrison, as previous experience proved to him he had better chances that way."

"But it's not limited to Māori," he said, "My Samoan mate has German ancestry. His name is [German]. He said he's lost count at the amount of times employers/real estate agents etc that have done the double take when they see him."

Another person commented, saying, "Yeah I always use the name “Kim” when making applications for houses etc unless I have met them in person first." 

"Yep! sad but true," said another person, "I think it's also the same with jobs. When writing up [a] C.V. using a Pākehā name makes a huge difference when applying for a job. In my experience."

The familiar story was repeated by one person who said, "So true, depending on the job or kaupapa, I will use my Pākehā name. [However] when I applied for my new job, I knew I would at least get an interview because the [interviewer's] last name was [Pacific Island]."  

Sadly, simply looking Māori can be all that's needed to attract unwanted attention out shopping or even ensure you're completely ignored, according to many on social media.

Nicole Mikilani Keohokalole Tupuola told of an experience she had in the Bay of Plenty.

"I’m Hawaiian and I moved to Whakatane in 1995 to attend school. I was treated horribly by the shop keepers in town. It was crazy...They followed me around the store.  When I turned and asked why they were following me, and they heard my ‘American accent’ ... they said: ‘Oh!! You’re a YANK!’ And allll of a sudden, they were willing to help me," she said.

Then there's the recent experience of this person who shared his own shopping experience. 

"We live in Rotorua and went to Tauranga and the Mount today looking to buy a motorbike- everyone ignored us, racist as town.  That same thing happened in Hamilton, only Harley Davidson in Te Rapa Hamilton spoke to us."

Film director Taika Waititi gave a Māori face to the 2017 Human Rights Commission campaign to give nothing to racism and refuse to spread intolerance. 

If there's a common thread that runs through people's comments, it's that everyone is different in how they choose to respond to discrimination.

For some who shared their views, the answer is either to let it go or simply to rise above it.

"Nothing new, I just learnt not to take it personally. Don’t worry, be happy," said one person. 

Another person said, "So, why soo (sic) surprised?  Whilst there are some very good non-Maori people around ... Racial discrimination still exists in our homeland. More so now that there are thousands awaiting homes and most times it's been around for years."

Her parting words were, "Kia kaha tātou. Rise above it. E tika ana ou Kupu, he ingoa tupuna, nā reira, he taonga tuku iho. Kia kaha ki te tiaki ki te manaaki i tēneki taonga nōu."

For those keen on a more formal approach to discrimination, there is the option of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.  

The commission says, "Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against can complain to the Human Rights Commission by calling our confidential service on 0800 496 877 or emailing infoline@hrc.co.nz. People can also complain by submitting an online form on our website www.hrc.co.nz. You can also complain to Tenancy Services on 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262) www.tenancy.govt.nz."