A few weeks back, your social media feeds contained just black squares, protest videos, and calls for racial justice, but they have probably returned to "normal" by now. Yet Black Lives Matter lives on.
In New Zealand, we too saw a lot of social action against racism. This shined renewed light to the treatment of brown-skinned Kiwis. While this remains vital, we have once again left Asian New Zealanders out of the conversation about race relations.
We don't like to talk about how much racism is directed towards Asian people. You'll see individual news stories about racist rants and abuse, but white New Zealanders tend to think this is just from a few "bad apples". The concept of racism towards Asian people being endemic in our society is something we are petrified to admit.
The systematic exclusion of Asian people in official data and reporting is one hurdle we need to jump over. I'm a white-presenting Chinese Kiwi with Māori ancestry too. My mother's maiden name is Chang. Whenever I fill out demographic forms that ask for my ethnicity, I tick three boxes: NZ European/Pakeha, Māori, and Chinese. The first two ethnicities are what officials in terms of censuses, job recruitment, and any kind of surveying deem "New Zealanders". Everyone else is from, well, somewhere else.
Yet my Chinese family have been here for 160 years. Since the Gold Rush of the 1860s, which decades before my white English and Scottish ancestors could ever claim to be Kiwis. Some of them, in fact, only moved to New Zealand from the UK in the second half of the 20th Century.
How is it a group of people of colour who've been here longer than most whites are still considered "foreigners"? Because they're people of colour, and thus are marginalised by those of European descent.
You'll have heard the "they don't assimilate" argument played out by other Kiwis when talking about Asians in New Zealand. What they mean by that is, "they don't assimilate into mainstream white Kiwi culture". They have and do assimilate: Asian culture is visible everywhere. It just hasn't been whitewashed. Yet nor do they feel included by Māori or Pacific cultures. Racism, thus, ostracises them from Kiwidom altogether. It doesn't matter how long they've been here; they're always seen as the "other".
None of this is to take away from the prejudice that brown-skinned New Zealanders face in this country. This is not a competition of which minority is worse off. However, while we teach our children that the n-word is fundamentally unacceptable, nobody thinks to tell anyone that "ching chong chinaman" or "gook" (my grandad's, uncles' and cousins' schoolyard nicknames) are just as bad. Anti-Asian sentiment is still written off as a bit of a laugh; just look at how you can still get away with calling Asians bad drivers and nobody calls you out on it.
Another reason Asian Kiwis are left out of the race relations conversation is because of the perception they don't suffer economically like other people of colour. Many other kinds of Kiwis embolden the "rich Asians" trope whilst failing to understand that many Asian people in this country are not wealthy, or highly educated, or have access to opportunities. Plenty of Asian migrants have their qualifications invalidated upon arrival in New Zealand and have to start at the bottom of their career ladder again.
My own Asian family spent a century with no prospect of upwards mobility outside of their roadside fruit, vege and fish n' chips shops. Some family members have even lived hand-to-mouth, experienced addiction, and been in prison – their entrenched socio-economic disadvantages have led to the same negative outcomes as other racial minorities.
According to Victoria University, research has found Asians in New Zealand are the target of three particular main types of bigotry. They face more overall discrimination than any other ethnic group; they experience the highest levels of verbal and physical harassment; and they're also at a significant employment disadvantage (often simply because of the names on their CVs).
Moreover, according to Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, incidents of physical violence in New Zealand are "primarily related to anti-Chinese racism and harassment, or to events affecting other people of Asian descent who believe they were mistaken for being Chinese." In fact, 30 per cent of race-based hate crimes in New Zealand are felt by the Southeast Asian community (Muslims receive 28 per cent, Indians 14 per cent, and Māori/Pasifika 5 per cent).
We often say, "there's no space for racism in New Zealand", yet continue to exclude Asian Kiwis. This is racism in its most basic form. Asian New Zealanders are seldom represented on New Zealand screens and in other media, in politics, and at c-suite levels of business. This proves, in fact, there IS room for racism in New Zealand. Society has made space by maintaining Asian culture as alien.
The way forward here for all New Zealanders is to stop denying our country is a racist place. Accept that it is, and that we can do better.
Chinese New Zealanders are Kiwis. Korean New Zealanders are Kiwis. Japanese New Zealanders are Kiwis. Thai New Zealanders are Kiwis. Malaysian New Zealanders are Kiwis. Indian New Zealanders are Kiwis. Chinese Māori are Kiwis.
They all have a long history of contribution here, and they are deserving of being included in conversations about how this new, woke, racially-inclusive world can move forward.