New Zealand’s problem with race

We are one of the most friendly nations in the world, a French girl told me one when she was working as a temp at my work. Everywhere she had gone people had gone out of her way to help and she was forever grateful. I was delighted with the praise, but wondered later on if it was because – like me – she was caucasian.

For all of our perceived – and mostly true – friendliness, New Zealand has a race problem. As Taika Waititi, a film maker who grew up in poverty and has widely experienced racism against his Maori heritage, correctly said last year, New Zealand is “racist as”.

In The Press yesterday was an article by Stuff, which talked to several different people with mixed backgrounds and found that sometimes racism is casual. A child might be playing and the mother of another child says “how is it to have a nigger child?”, using the offensive slur that denigrates Africans and those of African descent. It might be a security guard racially profiling a customer of Maori descent and only stopping when staff told him to let the customer go.

New Zealand racism is not as overt as can be seen in countries like Italy where supposed football fans make gorilla imitations in the stands when watching players from Africa, or throw banana skins onto the playing field. Nor does it necessarily have the political backing seen in some European countries as well as the United States for people and nationalities of particular ethnic groups.

Sometimes it can be crude – a swastika drawn in a public place, perhaps by skinheads, but also possibly by a disaffected person with an interest in controversial symbols, or just wanting to stir up a bit of community tension. In these instances, if it is simple graffiti, the local council will generally clean it up; the Police get involved if someone is targetting particular groups. Sometimes it occasionally becomes very public – and quite nerve wracking – when organizations such as Right Wing Resistance and the National Front of New Zealand stage rallies to protest the ethnic and religious diversification of New Zealand. In these cases, the Police can be called as there will often be a crowd of counter demonstrators and the tensions typically run high at these events.

At work I have seen racism. A Chinese girl in the staffroom when I worked in a supermarket job was told only a chink would eat vegetables on noodles at lunch. Another time staff had to between a customer who had been denied service and person behind the Lotto counter, calling them “white ______” and so on before being escorted away by security.

At the pub, myself and another guy interjected when a couple of guys talking about the Football World Cup some time ago started describing the African players as baboons and chimps. They were embarrassed enough to leave, but not apologize.

Have you, the reader witnessed racism against another person, or had something denigrating said about your racial heritage? If so, what happened and did anyone intervene?


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