The power of six little letters


IT’S only six little letters. Just a word. So what’s the problem?

N, there are plenty of good words that begin with it. Nocturnal, like our beautiful national bird. Noble, and natural, to describe our history. Or, even nirvana – because goodness knows Aotearoa could be described as paradise sometimes.

I, for the individual and the I we always talk from.

Two times G, which could be genuine greatness or good game. Perhaps even gentle grace – for the tone that we should take with each other.

E, is endearing. Or even evenness, which is something like fairness. Or, above all else, equality – for everyone.

And, finally R and we couldn’t really go anywhere else but respect for that.

However, all together – those six, seemingly innocuous, little letters combine in to what can only be described as one of the most vulgar arrangements.

Furthermore, the Oxford Dictionary describes the word as a contemptuous term. So, not just a hateful combination but a contemptuous one.

Derived from the Latin word for the colour black, the six letters have become a slur used against those with darker-colour skin. One that has the power to do so much damage.

And, unfortunately, last week, those six little letters were used against my 12-year-old son by one of his peers. Not just once, because he was warned not to say it as it’s a racist term, but a second time, and then again once more.

Six little letters, arranged in that vulgar and contemptuous order, said three times for effect. And boy, was there a flesh-impacting effect.

But, why does a 12-year-old know that word to begin with? And, why does he choose to use it against my son with beautiful, golden, brown skin that many Maori are blessed with?

Is it because, like plenty of his forefathers, he felt so insecure and inferior that he needed to cut my boy down with a word so vicious the only response it can solicit is a violent and aggressive one? Or, is it that he has heard the word at home enough times he has become desensitised to it and doesn’t understand the power it can invoke?

Too often we, here in New Zealand, use words like this one – racist, vulgar contemptuous terms to describe our differences. Gook, honky, coconut, curry-muncher, overstayer, towel-head and, yes, those six little letters. We throw them around almost effortlessly and, many times, we think nothing of it.

Terms that just tumble from our lips without thinking about those who have to wear them.

Or about the children that have to hear them.

But here is the point of my column and my reason for using those terrible terms: Words matter and they have power. We can choose to remain as we always have, ignorant and afraid, falling back on little words. Or we can rise up and show the next generation a better way.

What will you choose next time?

Karla Akuhata