One of New Zealand's most successful film directors, Taika Waititi, has caused a huge outcry with his comment that Kiwis are "racist as f***".

The comment was made during an interview with musician Ruban Nielson for British magazine Dazed and Confused.

Understandably, this comment has provoked outrage. After all, someone who is a racist must be a terrible person, right?

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Not necessarily. There aren't many people out there who would gleefully admit to being racist, and those that do always have a reason they believe justifies their prejudice. They don't think of themselves as bad people either, but believe they are confronting an uncomfortable truth.

I'm willing to bet that many people who have shared racist sentiments aren't even aware of the hurt or damage they are causing.

Some will even be unaware that what they are saying is racist.

Waititi's examples were of the profiling of Polynesian people and of patronising attitudes towards people with darker skin.

"They're like, 'Oh, you've done so well, haven't you? For how you grew up. For one of your people'," he said in the interview.

It's not an easy thing to admit things you've said and done may be racist.

We picture racists as people donning a KKK hood or tattooing a swastika on their body, not your lovely next-door neighbour who makes jokes about Maori being lazy, the shopkeeper who follows Pasifika people around their store, or the teacher who expects their Korean student to be good at maths.

These are well-meaning people who don't realise their words and actions are inflicting shame and hardship on others.

You can't tar an entire race of people with the same brush or treat them differently than anyone else because of their skin colour.

I can understand why Waititi's comment caused outrage. But I don't think he's wrong.