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Coloring in the White Spaces

Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools


Ann Milne

This book examines the struggle against racial and cultural inequity in educational systems, presenting the case study of a New Zealand school and its community’s determination to resist alienating environments. If we look at an untouched child’s coloring book, for instance, we think of the pages as blank. But they’re not actually blank – each page is uniformly white, with lines established to dictate where color is allowed to go. Children by this are taught about the place of color and the importance of staying within pre-determined boundaries and expectations, reinforcing a system where the white background is considered the norm. To challenge such whitestreaming, this book offers the example of a community that defied and rejected this environment in favor of a culturally-located, bilingual learning model of education based on secure cultural identity, stable positive relationships, and aroha (authentic caring and love). This journey is juxtaposed against pervasive deficit-driven, whitestream explanations of inequity and purported «achievement gaps» of indigenous Māori and Pasifika students. This story chronicles the efforts of the Kia Aroha College community on its quest to step outside education’s «White spaces» to create a new space for learning and to reclaim educational sovereignty – where individuals have the absolute right to «be Māori,» to be who they are, in school.

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Chapter 3. Cultural Identity


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In New Zealand, the terms “ethnicity” and “culture” are in more common use than the word, “race.” This is not always the case elsewhere, or in the literature, where often race, ethnicity, and culture are equated or conflated, or the terms and meanings change depending on the author or the context. Penetito (2010) suggests this preference in New Zealand educational discourses, “can be shown to be part of the ideological hegemony” (p. 63). He finds however, the Māori conceptual preference, historically and in the present, is to favor the term culture rather than ethnicity or race. He explains,

The concept of culture as used by Māori tends toward including notions of biology, genetics, and inheritance, making it equivalent to the concept of race or ethnicity. When they think about culture, Māori are likely to be thinking of their identity, their whakapapa (genealogy), which carries with it the notion of determinism. (p. 64)

I have used the terms “ethnic group” or “ethnicity” to denote a person’s racial heritage and the terms “culture” or “cultural” to describe the accumulated experiences of a people or group through social interactions in which values, beliefs, experiences and traditions are practiced and evolve. It is understood that other definitions may include culture in the terms “ethnicity” and “ethnic group.” Statistics New Zealand use “ethnic group” and “ethnicity” in the ← 47 | 48 → official New Zealand Census to denote racial groups...

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