I was fifteen when I first met Maya Angelou. Imagine my surprise. I was so used to reading books from authors who were white, and here I was reading a book with an African American voice sharing experiences of the worst racism I’ve ever heard of.
‘If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens her throat.’I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Now, I could never compare my racial experiences to Maya Angelou’s, not even remotely. But I do know how it feels to be looked down on, stereotyped and racially profiled because of the colour of your skin.
For me, growing up as a teenager was hard, but growing up aware of your misplacement as a Māori or indigenous person to New Zealand was a ‘rust on the razor that threatened my throat’.
But I remember thinking, I want to be like her. I want to be a voice for my people.,
In my community, I’m confronted with homeless and poverty every day. Petrol prices, food prices, house prices, it’s all rising to the point where it has become unaffordable. And who bears the brunt of it all? Of course it is my people.
In my job as a journalist, I am fighting with an already established media landscape, trying to challenge the way my people are portrayed in mainstream media. I constantly see Māori misrepresented or their voice silenced. But once again it’s like a ‘rust on the razor that threatened my throat’. Māori journalists in mainstream media are few and far between.
And here I am writing my manuscript with a strong Māori voice and Māori presence. Sometimes I forget my purpose. Sometimes all I see is words.
But attending something like the Auckland Writers Forum was a reminder. The only other Māori writers I saw there were those in this programme. The workshops that I attended did not all have a Māori world view. It was a reminder of my responsibility.
I was inspired by Anita Heiss who has done wonders in the Australian writing community. Having to face severe backlash and racism as an indigenous writer is extremely wrong. Yet here she is, triumphant and with (dozens?) of successful books under her belt. And Lani Wendt Young is also a catalyst for change. Writing a successful Pacific YSA novel series even though publishing companies told her there was no audience. She proved them wrong.
Maya Angelou in all her pearls of wisdom also said this: if you don’t like something, change it.
Both of these women became the change.
But sometimes it feels like I am constantly trying to change everything.
And that I bear so much responsibility to be the change.
I guess, in all cheesiness, the change begins with ourselves. I’m learning fast that I can’t change everything. We need to make the changes that need to be made in our own sphere of influence. I hope I can be the change. Not just as a writer and journalist, but as a human being. That is why I chose to be a writer. And why I am doing Te Papa Tupu programme. Because change is necessary.
Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.