Racism debate seen as healthy

By Heather McCracken, Alecia Rousseau


Migrant groups aren't convinced New Zealand is a racist country, despite a new poll indicating overwhelmingly that it is.

Seventy-six per cent of responses gathered by TV3's The Vote on Wednesday agreed with the proposition that New Zealand was racist.

The result prompted newly appointed Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy to say New Zealanders should feel "ashamed that they perceive themselves as a racist country".

"It's staggering. I think it just highlights the issues we are facing."

Bevan Chuang, a Hong Kong Chinese New Zealander and member of Auckland Council's ethnic advisory board, said it was clear New Zealanders felt more opposed to Chinese investors than those from any other country.

"We know that Chinese are not the biggest investors in New Zealand, but because we look different we have often been targeted," she said. "Those who are actually working and contributing to the country are not being seen as such."

Chuang has had racist comments posted on her facebook page, including statements such as "Chinese are the cancer of New Zealand".

But she said such comments were not indicative of her experience in general and believed it was positive for New Zealanders to face up to issues of racism.

"It actually helps us move on because if we keep thinking there isn't a problem we don't deal with the problem."

Dorian Ranee from Auckland's Malaysian society said she had experienced little, if any, racism in New Zealand.

"It's not very overt - maybe it's something deep within society that I just haven't experienced myself."

Sri Lankan migrant Asoka Basnayake said the worst racism she encountered was in her native country.

"I have lived in many places where I was subject to racism but I have experienced very little of this in New Zealand."

Massey University race relations expert Professor Paul Spoonley said while New Zealanders had come a long way in recognising diversity, "to suggest racism has disappeared is quite wrong".

Asians and Pacific Islanders were viewed differently to Europeans, said Dr Spoonley, who believed overcoming racism depended on recognising the value of diversity.

"We need to make any form of racism inexcusable. Key institutions like justice, health and education need to treat people who are culturally different in a culturally sensitive way," he said.

Maori party co-leader Pita Sharples said arguments on both sides of the debate had served to highlight that institutional racism exists in New Zealand.

Overall the country was "pretty healthy", and making better progress than many others in redressing issues of colonisation and land loss. But more attention was needed on areas such as Maori over-representation in prisons.

Chief executive of the Waipareira Trust and broadcaster John Tamihere said racism was the biggest problem facing New Zealand and could not be overcome easily.

"I struggled to find a rental property and I was turned down for a loan because of my last name - it's harsh but it's a reality," he said.

"Racism in New Zealand is covert - it's insidious. It allows excuses and it means people don't have to take any ownership." 

What do you think? Have your say by leaving a comment below (comments will be moderated by editorial staff before publication), vote in the poll or email your reaction to editor@bayofplentytimes.co.nz


- Bay of Plenty Times

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