Martine Rolls: Stunned at dogfight over statue

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I'm amazed, but not at all in a positive way, at how a discussion about a statue of a dog can turn into a debate about racism and ethnic groups. Believe it or not, that's what happened last week on this site after we published the story "Hairy Maclary home by Christmas".

Maybe I haven't been in New Zealand long enough to fully understand the uneasiness between Maori and pakeha people that so often comes to the surface, but don't write that off as ignorance. My children are part Maori, I have stayed the night at a marae, I can pronounce te reo surprisingly well, and have respect for people's culture and heritage.

I also have a lot of respect for the settlers who came to this country in the early days. Every time I visit the Coromandel or the Bay of Islands, I am just in awe with how hard these people must have worked to make the wild landscape liveable.

Before I came here, I had the notion that New Zealand was a country where the indigenous people and colonials had sorted things out in a decent manner and lived and worked together for a brighter future.

Was I so wrong? To go by the comments on our website last week, I was.

You can argue that New Zealand is becoming more multi-cultural and that is true. I have seen ladies in saris walking around Tauranga, but I still haven't seen any burkas or dashiki on these streets. Maybe a multi-cultural society is easier to live in than a bi-cultural one?

Just to give you a bit of background on my thinking, I grew up in a town about half the size of Tauranga. In primary school, the majority of children were white Dutchies but there were also children from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, other European countries, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and even some from Australia.

One of the girls in my class came from Turkey. A few kids were mean to her because she didn't speak the language very well, had hairier arms than we did, and she smelled a bit funny. All that didn't matter to me, and we became friends. Her mum cooked the most beautiful meals which I was happy to try, and my love for ethnic food was instilled right there and then.

After high school and some travelling, I moved to a big city with a population of about 1.3 million where I lived for eleven years with all sorts of people, of about 175 different nationalities, around me.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

One of the first jobs I got was at an anti-racism information centre. Someone who has xenophobia, so I learned, is a person disproportionately fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples.

I'm so glad I never had that problem, and I'm pretty sure I have my upbringing in a multi-cultural society to thank for that.

I acknowledge there is a difference between people from different parts of the world, but I choose to think that this is a good thing. It's the not knowing that brings out fear in people, and there really is no need for that. It's like a little kid that says "I don't like that" when you offer him a type of food he has never tried before.

Xenophobia is understandable as it is based on ignorance, but racism is a more serious issue. It's the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors, and that this provides a fundamental superiority for one race over others. On top of that, abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race are based on that belief.

I can't stand racist remarks, no matter where it comes from or who it's aimed at, and I found some of the comments on our website last week absolutely appalling. First Hairy Maclary and then the story about Tauranga Moana's first Treaty settlement signing gave the anonymous bigots a real opportunity to let loose.

Luckily, thanks to a more intelligent commenter, the discussion was put back on track. After all, it was meant to be about Tauranga's waterfront and the statue of a dog.

He said: "I think it's a shame when someone ruins a good conversation by complaining about racism, it's just a boorish and childish attempt to make themselves the centre of attention. I think the initiative is great and I hope one of the downtown dairy's changes its name to Donaldson's Dairy and becomes part of the statue trail as well."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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