I’d like you to imagine for a while a dystopian world in which interbreeding between Maori and Pakeha is forbidden- by social convention and stigma perhaps, maybe expressly by law, maybe not- it’s not entirely important. And then imagine to yourself that it happens anyway, and that many children grow up having to pretend to be exactly the same as their mother, to hide their real skin tones, not to embrace their own culture, language, and genes. They would have no opportunity to find a halfway point between Maori and Pakeha culture, because in such a society, the very idea of deliberately trying to compromise between the two would be representative of that forbidden “sin” which we don’t acknowledge.
Perhaps some of them get stuck with the “wrong” community. They may be raised as a race with whom they cannot identify and do not empathise. So they wait until they’re independent… and then establish themselves a new identity, maintaining the opposite deception.
Now, I’d like you to imagine that now and then, the veil slips. Sometimes people who had parents from different sides are discovered- usually during their most intimate moments with someone they trust and perhaps even love. What’s likely to happen in such a society, where we find someone who has to pretend to be something they’re not in order to be accepted, in order to survive? Well, acceptance is possible, but it will be difficult, especially as it would essentially involve living a lie, or coming out as a counter-cultural advocate for their loved ones. Rejection is likely- most people don’t want to handle shades of grey in societies that deny them. With rejection social stigmatisation and abandonment, then prejudice, are likely to follow.
But there’s an even greater risk for women- panic. The man has been deceived, he has fallen for someone he’s not supposed to, his very identity- whether as Maori or Pakeha- has been undermined. Somehow- the person he was attracted to, perhaps loved, has been replaced with someone she wasn’t before, someone completely different, who he cannot relate to, who disgusts him, who embarasses him and robs him of those parts of his manhood that correspond with his racial identity. In such a case of panic, what’s the worst he can do? Kill her. And in such a society, it will happen- because there is no mental preparation for a world with nuances, no shades of grey, no possibility that who you are depends on what your brain is, not what your body is. They’re not the subtle differences from the norm. They’re not unique things to love. They’re abberant disturbances, freak mutations to be destroyed. And he has just made love to one. How can he redeem himself from such a sin? Perhaps he can’t. But he can destroy all the evidence. He can kill her in panic.
And because society as a whole wants to disappear the people who challenge their orthodox categories, he’s likely to be let off despite the suspicious circumstances if he lands up in court. It’s likely that the flimsiest excuses will convince a prejudicial jury to acquit. It’s likely a killer will not have to face justice, even when there is overwhelming evidence of their crime.
In such a society, these people who are both brown and white would face enormous difficulties. They would be rejected by both groups. And their enthusiastic attempts to approach one norm or the other would sometimes distance them from people who might try to deconstruct the artificial barriers of delineated race.
How is this world different from ours? Well, in our imaginary world, we had a slightly more disturbing version of apartheid that divided us into discrete categories of race. In our actual world, the discrete categories we cling to are of gender and sex, and trying to cross them- or find a middle between them- is at best difficult, as Georgina Beyer is experiencing having been out of work since quitting as an MP. At worst, it’s deadly.