Clean, green and occasionally mean

By Brendan Manning

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Public outrage at Richard Prosser's anti-Muslim rant shows Kiwis won't stand for intolerance against minority groups.


However, mention the Crafar farm sales or Chinese property speculators buying up the streets of Auckland and distasteful anti-Asian sentiment becomes more than apparent.

Racial harassment is illegal under the Human Rights Act, as is discrimination on the basis of religion or ethnicity. However, the Human Rights Commission still receives an average of 550 complaints a year stemming from racial prejudice.


The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a report last week addressing our progress on tackling racial discrimination and inequality.


While New Zealand's efforts to combat racial discrimination and settle Maori grievances are lauded globally, concerns were raised about the absence of a strategy to address racial hatred on the internet and the over-representation of Maori and Pasifika communities in the criminal justice system. "Persistent discrimination against migrants, particularly of Asian origin," was also singled out.


The committee also condemned Mr Prosser's anti-Muslim tirade as "inflammatory" and urged the Government to intensify efforts to promote ethnic harmony and combat existing stereotypes and prejudices against ethnic and religious groups.


Mr Prosser, a NZ First MP, played on those stereotypes in an Investigate magazine column that said young Muslim men from "Wogistan" should be banned from flying on western airlines and described Islam as "a stone age religion".


Following public backlash, he apologised and said he'd failed to distinguish between the vast majority of Muslims who were law-abiding citizens and the "tiny minority" involved in terrorism.


Recently retired Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says New Zealanders are not racist as a whole, however pockets of racism undoubtedly exist.


"Of course there are people in New Zealand who are racist and sometimes there are unfortunate public expressions of that like there was with Richard Prosser."


But he is heartened by the public response to Mr Prosser's anti-Muslim sentiments.

"There was a unanimous resolution of Parliament, there were immediate responses from the leaders of all political parties, [and] there was a public outcry.


"I know there are people who believe what Richard Prosser said, even more than he does himself . But I was really heartened by the fact that overall, the public response was one of condemnation - and that had its effect on him.


"In a way, the social controls on racism have kicked in."


In terms of race relations, the UN committee said it regretted that the Treaty of Waitangi was not entrenched in law, even though the Government considered it a founding document.


Mr de Bres - whose "final act" as commissioner was travelling to Geneva to address the UN committee last month - admits the Treaty process has "a long way to go".


Following Waitangi Day last year, Mr de Bres attracted criticism for saying some Pakeha "lacked generosity" towards deprived Maori.


"I got quite a lot of reaction to that and it was a relatively ungenerous reaction.


"I meant it as a generosity of spirit, and there is still a section of society who somehow are just impatient about anything to do with Maori."


Negativity towards Maori still exists, he says, though attitudes are shifting.


"One of the people who I think has had some influence on the change is actually John Key, who coming after Don Brash, one of the first things he said was, 'I don't have a problem with indigenous rights'.


"That was actually a bit of a turning point in terms of his government."


However recent examples of racism are not simply examples of Pakeha-Maori division. They are shocking and wide-ranging - from racist anti-immigration leaflet drops, to the refusal of public bus services to hijab-clad Muslim women.


Last October two Auckland men vandalised a Jewish cemetery, spray-painting swastika symbols on gravestones.


Judge Russell Collins described it as the ''definition of a hate crime''.


In September, crudely written flyers downloaded from fanatical creationist websites were distributed across Kawerau.


They stated: ''Kids are taught in school that man evolved [changed] from a chimp. So I ask you who changed the most from a black chimp with black hair and brown eyes?A black man with black hair and brown eyes? Orawhite man with blond hair and blue eyes?''


Only one month earlier, similar racist flyers were distributed in Havelock North purporting the ''white race'' needed saving and that it was ''alright to bewhite''.


The flyers were linked to a group called the Right Wing Resistance, founded by former leader of the New Zealand

National Front, Kyle Chapman.


The organisation's website mission statement declares it is against: ''Mass immigration, the dilution of our European culture and pride and the current multicultural agenda created by the current government networks, designed to destroy our colonial rights and identity.''


So where does this hatred stem from?

Racism is based on falsehood,'' Mr de Bres says. Racism ''is based on fear and it's based on ignorance''.


It is a psychological problem, as well as a problem caused by lack of knowledge.


But growing face-to-face interaction between cultures is helping to break down the ''unfounded fear factor''.


''Information, education, upbringing are a very large part of addressing [racism] and also just fostering more engagement between people.


''It's very hard to be racist to somebody you know compared to somebody you don't know.'' Two Muslim women in Wellington were refused rides on public buses in 2011 due to their traditional hijab headwear.


NZ Bus said the drivers were not dismissed as they were suffering from ''maskophobia'' and were instead sent on counselling programmes.


Japanese citizens were last year warned by the New Zealand Japanese Society to avoid Auckland's Queen St amid reports of sex attacks and violence against tourists.


''If you are threatened with a knife or other objects, do not resist but just give them what they want,'' it warned.


A Japanese visitor on a working holiday visa claimed she was sexually attacked in March but did not report it to authorities for fear of losing face.


''Asian-bashing'' cases have also been reported in Christchurch and Nelson.


But racism isn't limited to minority Asian, Pacific and Maori communities.


Last year a German-born Auckland woman was called a Nazi and asked if she liked to stamp people ''just like at Auschwitz'' after she denied four men entry to a concert in Parnell.


Elements of racism are also evident in the backlash to the Crafar farms deal and the buy up of Auckland real estate by Chinese.


While racial discrimination is illegal, the Human Rights Commission received over 570 complaints about racial prejudice and abuse in the past year-nearly a third of which were substantiated.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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