I was having a wine or two at a friend’s the other night and called a cab to get home. A few minutes later I ambled down the drive and saw the car pull up outside the wrong house, about fifty metres down the road. It was after eleven o’clock, but the driver seemed not to care especially, as he pressed repeatedly on the horn.
I started trudging up the road towards the car. Halfway there, another lengthy salvo of loud air parpred through the streets of Mount Eden. I picked up my pace.
Jumping in, a little annoyed, I felt compelled to have a word. Just a small one, mind.
“Hey bud, I don’t think you should sound the horn this late at night.”
The driver was a youngish man from somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps part of the former Soviet Union. I mention this only so you can hear the dialogue in your own head.
“Yes.. well how was I to know you coming?”
“I was walking up the road… you parked outside the wrong house.”
“How can I see you? I have the headlights. You do not have the headlights…”
"Okay, but you shouldn't beep your horn so late."
(getting angrier) “I cannot see you coming. What… do you think I have the eyes of the cat?”
“Okay, whatever… just drive.”
“I do not have the eyes of the cat… you do not have the headlights!”
“I CANNOT SEE YOU!! I DO NOT HAVE THE EYES OF THE CAT!!”
“Pull over. I’m getting out.”
So I hop out, a little bewildered. I call another cab company. The driver turns up pretty quickly.
“Wow, I just had a weird experience with the last cab.”
“Wasn’t one of them bloody Indians, was he?”
“I tell you what mate, those bloody Indians, you can’t trust them.”
I sat in silence, not wanting to listen, not wanting to correct, not wanting to engage. Just wanting to get home.
I don’t know what offends me more. Being told I don’t have the headlights, or someone assuming that because I’m a white New Zealander, it’s okay to be racist with me.
It’s not just an isolated incident either and not one limited to taxi drivers, although they do seem to be common offenders. I blame too much driving around, Listening to Leighton, engaging mouth before brain.
Despite this, we don’t like to be seen as a racist country. Half of us can’t even pronounce the word properly. We hate it. Nah mate, that’s Australia you’re thinking of. What could Bic Runga be talking about?
Sure, what she said may have been blown out of all proportion by the papers, but to me that’s the whole point. Why should so many of us be mortified at the fact that Our Bic made some comments regarding her childhood as a part Maori, part Chinese kid growing up in Christchurch?
I’ve asked my Maori mates (and let me tell you, I’ve got Heaps of Maori Friends) about their experiences growing up, and they’ve all come into contact with some form of racism. Ditto a Chinese friend of mine, born in New Zealand, who is constantly running into discrimination when it comes to finding a job, a place to live, or even asking for directions without getting hassled.
I’m not saying we’re different to any other country, and neither was Bic. We’re probably better than many. But we’re a long way from being any kind of utopia where the Star Bellied Sneetches can live in harmony with those who have None Upon Thars (not to mention Those With The Headlights and Eyes of the Cat). And the first place to look should always be in the mirror.
Finally, my love and thoughts go out to Rachael King, her family and friends after the tragic passing of her father Michael and his wife Maria. Kia kaha Rach.