LAGIPOIVA CHERELLE JACKSON
SAMOA - When the editor of the Lowy Institute’s, The Interpreter, called leaders of the Pacific Islands ‘toddlers’ and referred to the stance by Micronesian Leaders as ‘tantrums’, it could have easily been yet another condescending article by an Australian journalist who thought he knew better than all of us put together.
But this time, it was different.
His article created a social media storm that raised the ire of even the most subdued Pacific island commentators.
After much blasting from the online community, the writer eventually apologized and said he used the wrong words, and his director also offered an apology.
But, this is not the first time some random white writer has called the leaders of small island states such names.
It certainly is not the first time an Australian has presumed us ignorant, babyish and stupid in published articles. In fact, this sort of occurrence is so normal that we have a special Pacific eye-roll for it.
For a very, very long time, we Pacific islanders, writers of our own stories, tellers of our own tales have had to contend with white folk writing our history, interpreting our cultures and then presuming us ignorant for the way we do things.
For a very, very long time, we just let it be.
We read the accounts, quoted it in our essays, smirked at it, confirmed the opposite from our parents and our grandparents, then, we just lived our lives.
We are not a confrontational people when it comes to such matters. I mean, ok if someone steals my neighbors chickens, he will come at you with a machete, but this one hits different. OK, hear me out.
We are hardwired to respect, it is the absolute foundation of our cultures that span the oceans.
Respect is taught and driven home in every aspect of our lives.
In Samoa, you learn this at home, school, Church, village and everywhere you go, in every interaction you have. You respect.
You respect your elders, the Chiefs, guests and authority.
So, when white people speak, in many instances we are hardwired to perceive them as guests or figures of authority.
As such, we do not disagree, talk back or confront. We nod our heads, and then when they leave, continue with our lives.
For a very long time also we simply did not have the platforms or the opportunities to be heard, to tell our version of the story. We just simply contended with what was published and left it at that.
But, this time, we have Twitter, we have Facebook, and we have a new generation of Pacific islanders who have learned the hard way, seeing our parents, our ancestors victimised, presumed ignorant, stripped of their beliefs and what they held dear.
We have a generation of Pacific Islanders who have realised the error in blind respect and who have gone to the same white man’s school and learned from his slanted textbooks.
These generations of Pacific Islanders no longer sit back and nod quietly when someone disrespects our elders, or presumes them ignorant or stupid.
No, what we have now are hundreds of Pacific Islands’ academics, experts, writers, advocates and commentators who no longer take the version of history as perceived by the likes of Daniel Flitton.
This time, we not only point out racism, condescension and neocolonial errs, we also expect an apology.
But even these apologies fail to meet the depths of the offences made. It doesn’t have the same impact as the finemat over a bended knee or the hundred cows as befitting of a crime committed against the good name of a people.
It is merely a few words of a palagi apology of a man who wrote a story about a people who refused to be silenced yet again.