Sabina Misa is a Year 13 Pasifika student at Wellington Girls’ College. This is her response to racist graffiti attacks at her school this year. (Content warning: This piece includes detailed examples of racism and hate speech. Pasifika students are encouraged to consider whether they should read the details of the graffiti incidents.)
On May 10 this year, hate speech in the form of graffiti was written on the wall of a Wellington Girls’ College bathroom. It said:
Poly girls should die.
Nearly a week later, on May 16, more graffiti was found in the same place, saying:
Polys should kill themselves. your clothes are fugly.
Go back and read that again. And again. Word. By. Word. Over and over. Because you won’t even begin to understand the gravity of those 14 words until you have them permanently drilled into your brain. Like us Poly girls do.
Let’s play a game.
Imagine that you attend a school of roughly 1500 students, of which only 60 share your heritage/ethnicity.
You spend your time learning about your oppressors from a skewed lens (unless of course, your people are being used as a case study for poverty, suicide, or criminal statistics).
Every so often, you hear your peers complain about how it’s unfair that you get things handed to you just because of your ethnicity. And then you remember that you’ll always be the “other” here.
Then, while walking in between classes, you might see the one teacher of the same ethnicity and exchange smiles. Smiles of reassurance that you’re not alone here, despite how isolated you feel.
Well done! You’ve successfully pictured a typical day for Poly students at WGC.
Keep that image, except now with the knowledge that your own classmates want you dead.
That’s our reality.
The effects of the incidents on the Pasifika students are immeasurable. We feel let down, isolated, and vulnerable at school. We just feel unsafe.
Parents were reluctant to let their children go back to school after the second vandalism. We ask ourselves, “Do you want me dead?” when passing anyone in the halls, and I continue to have nightmares in which the Pacific students are targeted in a school shooting. Yet we’re expected to act like nothing happened.
But it’s not just about this incident — it’s about the anti-Poly culture at our school. The issue is that displays of bigotry and racism are normalised, condoned, and enabled at WGC.
Racism is not only prevalent in our foundations but is deep-rooted in the culture of our school. Beneath the frequent microaggressions and low expectations is the undeniable disconnect between the Poly students and the rest of the school. Leaving us constantly feeling isolated, put down, and out of place.
A lot of people wrote the vandalism off as a joke or some insignificant comment, written out of rage. But for us, it wasn’t just the graffiti. For us, the graffiti confirmed what we already knew, which was that, at our own school, we are the “others”, we don’t belong, and we’re not safe.
Since the vandalism, there have been countless racist incidents demonstrating the culture of the school.
A Pacific student was targeted by a group yelling comments including “Cleaning up at the foodcourt is as far as they’re gonna go in life”, and “I hope they don’t get their gang family members on us”.
Many others justified the graffiti, saying things like: “It’s not surprising, they are so loud and always take up the whole quad.”
A student took to social media anonymously to voice their feelings, saying that as a white person, they feel threatened by Pacific students.
So, no, this wasn’t just one person, or just one incident. It’s a product of the harmful culture of the school. The culture that’s always been covertly prevalent within these walls but has now come to the surface.
I’ve created #PolyGirlsShould in response to the violent vandalism. The intention is to write an encouraging/positive message, starting with the hashtag #PolyGirlsShould.
Turning the words aimed to hurt and isolate us, into something beautiful and empowering.
Many Pālagi have preconceived notions of Poly people, informed by biased misinformation and racist stereotypes. They think they know us and know what’s best for us, so they tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.
In predominantly white environments like WGC, it can be hard for Pasifika peoples to stay connected to our Pacific culture. These environments are so excruciatingly ignorant and isolating, that sometimes it’s just easier to separate ourselves from our culture and give in to the western way.
I’m urging Pacific people to hold on to your culture. To love, embrace, and celebrate it.
- Poly girls should use their voices
- have your attention
- be loud
- not be underestimated
- feel safe at school
- not have to educate you on racism
- feel pride in their culture
- play their music full volume
- have a seat at the table
- take up space
- not have to earn your trust
- dream big
- not be an afterthought
- tell their stories
- unapologetically be themselves
- advocate for causes they believe in
- not be your scapegoat
- prove them wrong
- sing at the top of their lungs
- not be your fetish
- not have to justify their presence
- not have to tone down their poly
- be valued
- be paid as much as their white counterparts
- not have to solve racism themselves
- make their ancestors proud
- just be
Despite your efforts to put us down, we’re closer, stronger, and prouder than ever. Because we don’t need your input. We’re resilient. We’re beautiful. We know our north, and no one can take that away from us.
Sabina Sila’ila’i Misa (Sāmoan: Falelatai, Lufilufi, and Fusi, Safata; Pālagi) is a Year 13 student at Wellington Girls’ College, and is one of 15 students on her school’s executive committee. Sabina is 17 and plans to study visual communications and design at Massey University next year.
This piece was originally published as a zine, and is republished here with permission.
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