Rawinia Kanuta (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whatua ki Kaipara)
I’ve fallen prey to many stereotypes threatening to shape my life as Māori. Among the stereotypes, the most persistent is that becoming a dropout marks the end of one’s life. It is, apparently, the worst possible outcome.
Every day I arrive at school and see the empty seats, I wonder if the students who fill them will be back tomorrow, next week, or ever. So, at the start of every school year, I’m not surprised my class shrinks, and the absence seems to last forever. Nor am I surprised to recognise their faces at the supermarket, the gas station, picking up my garbage on a Wednesday morning, or the crime section of the newspaper I read that morning.
As the pressure in school grows, the temptation to become a dropout only increases, but in the recesses of my mind, a constant reminder echoes, ‘Do not become a stereotype’. This sentiment is not just a personal mantra; it’s a testament to the expectations placed upon me by my family to overcome the stereotypes that have plagued Māori for generations.
The high school dropout stereotype implies that those who do not finish school are setting themselves up for failure, perpetuating that their opportunities and successes are limited by an ability to conform to an education system.
Succumbing to stereotypes is easy, but overcoming them is a feat. That’s why there’s an award for those who overcome them. They encourage the pressure to beat the system. But they don’t realise the paralysing fact of having to excel academically while facing the fear of becoming just another statistic.
This is a persistent spectre tormented within schools, trying to scare, or, should I say, encourage, Māori students to do better within the school curriculum. The statistic hangs over us like a continual reminder to strive. I was building my feelings of inadequacy by constantly second-guessing whether my work was enough to succeed and break free of this torment.
As I’m sitting in my room late at night, I am grappling with the question of whether the stress was worth it to keep going. I stare at my barren walls, wondering if becoming a stereotypical Māori is as awful as others make it out to be. But I have to keep going to break the cycle.
Within most Māori families, pressure is plaguing them to break the cycle of completing their education. They see completing education as a beacon of hope, a living example of all their aspirations to succeed by carrying the sacrifices of my family, ancestors, and future generations.
I am the beacon of hope for my family; I’ve become their award that they’ve paraded around because I’ve defied the stereotype they failed to overcome. The ever-increasing pressure to keep meeting their expectations challenges the expectations I put on myself to become another successful Māori individual and a role model for others to follow.
My journey as a Māori student facing stereotypes is a complex tapestry of challenges and aspirations shared with many other students. The pressure to avoid becoming a stereotype is a relentless force that shapes our choices, identities, and futures. It reminds us of the expectations placed upon us by ourselves and our families, communities, and cultures.
Stereotypes are insidious and damaging. They limit our potential and confine us to narrow definitions of success. We must recognise our responsibility to challenge stereotypes and pave the way for future generations. Our education is not just a personal achievement; it’s about rewriting the narrative for our communities and cultures.
Ultimately, the pressure to avoid becoming a stereotype is not just a burden; it’s a catalyst for change. It drives us to challenge the status quo, dismantle systemic biases, and redefine success on our terms. It’s a reminder that our stories are worth telling, our achievements are worth celebrating, and our potential is limitless.