I can connect with Judith Collins on one thing, and it’s that we’re both married to Samoan husbands.
Aorere College head girl Aigagalefili ‘Fili’ Fepulea’i-Tapua’i asked what each party would do to support students who have to drop out of school to support their families during tough economic times.
First of all, a moment of respect: this young woman is awe-inspiring. Fili is part of a new generation of leaders, many of them Pacific youth, who are constantly questioning and pushing us - the older generation, both liberal and not, who are now in positions of power - to do and be better. Despite them often challenging me to confront my own privilege, she and her peers make me feel hopeful and happy for our future.
Her presence as part of the debate was important and her question a great one - with Judith and Jacinda's responses immediately illuminating.
So what, Judith?
As a fellow blonde, white woman with a Samoan husband, I can say with lived experience and passionate rage that this ‘But! I’m married to a Pacific Islander’ attitude is ingratiating and lazy. Your partner’s ethnicity or culture doesn’t give you a pass for your attitudes or beliefs.
Yes, that awkward line prefaced Judith’s full answer referencing that her husband had left school to find employment, but the effect was patronising and embarrassing
(Her comment about hoping Fili was studying science and maths, and using ‘Ms Ardern’ throughout the debate, are each worthy of their own think pieces.)
TVNZ political editor Jessica Mutch McKay might believe that was Judith speaking from the heart, but having used the line before, it seems an obvious ploy for political points; a cynical attempt to look sympathetic to a brown audience.
I have no doubt that Judith is truly proud of her husband’s culture; she should be. I also don’t doubt that he has taught her many things - to quote this wonderful essay from Carolyn Wadey-Barron, our partners can “work as cultural passports for each other, allowing entry into spaces we might otherwise not be welcomed”.
I married my Samoan husband almost three years ago; ‘officially’ joining a family that is as proud of him as they are of their culture. We’ve talked, a lot, about his experiences as a Pacific Islander in general, and working in an industry that hasn’t had the greatest track record of being hugely diverse or inclusive. He’s helped open my eyes and see things from new perspectives; in his own quiet way, he has helped my pākehā/Māori family do the same.
But being married to a Samoan doesn’t make you Samoan, just as being married to a conservative doesn’t make you a conservative, or having Black friends means you’re not racist. It may give you close personal insight into their experiences - but they're not yours.
I will never truly understand, actually, my husband is Samoan, so talofa.