Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Pasifika academic responds to racist rant left on her voicemail

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Co-Head of Te Wananga o Waipapa – Auckland University’s School of Māori and Pacific Studies, spoke at an event called Raising the Bar which was shared on Radio NZ last Sunday. It was a talk where she spoke candidly about institutional racism, sexism and feminism. She spoke from the heart. 

Then on Monday morning she came to work and found a racist seven-minute answerphone message on her work voicemail from someone who’d heard her on radio and who was clearly upset with what she’d said. 

In just a snippet of the message, the caller rants: “Do you teach them [the students] that they are greater than the Europeans who came here and built this nation? You’re not. We built this nation. My father, my grandfather built this nation. You didn’t!”

Tiatia-Seath says she was shocked but not surprised by the confronting tirade.

“I had to take a minute to just sit in it. I was at the office by myself and I just had to sit and carefully think about what my next steps would be.”

She says she has experienced racism before and kept silent, but this time: “I took off all my hats and I came as me, and so I thought I’d just post it and call it out.”

The message was “a prime example of the diatribe or the hate that we as Pasifika people or any underserved population experience”, says Tiatia-Seath.

“It was not just an attack on me personally but an attack on my family, my ancestors.”

After Tiatia-Seath posted the rant to her SoundCloud, it opened dialogues in the Pacific community and within families of shared experiences.

“It evoked deep emotion and trauma for a lot of families and our communities. It opened dialogue between parents and young people,” says Tiatia-Seath.

The tipping point for her personally was when the caller came for her grandmother, accusing her of overstaying. 

“That’s when I thought, ‘You know what? That’s enough.’”

“That gave me the courage, the strength, and I knew everyone before me was with me and standing behind me.”

She hopes the open conversation that has sparked within Pacific communities continues. 

“We as Pasifika have felt so uncomfortable for so long, and now we shouldn’t ever have to feel discouraged or think we’re making someone else feel uncomfortable when we’ve been in that discomfort for centuries.

“So I think this now has completely opened the floodgates, and we’re able to have this conversation with our employers and organisations and institutions now that really need to take a look at themselves to see how we can rid any discrimination in an environment and ensure that it is safe, ensure that people are thriving, and it’s ok to be successful.”

Listen to Part 1 of the racist rant below (warning: offensive content):

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