Despite many reports of Chinese and Asian people in New Zealand experiencing racism and xenophobia because of Covid-19, the levels here are lower than other parts of the world, a new study has found.
A Massey University study led by Professor Stephen Croucher examined the relationship between social media use, prejudice towards Asians and foreigners and beliefs about Covid-19 in 16 countries, including New Zealand.
After analysing data from the USA, Spain and Italy, the researchers found the level of racism directed towards Asians in New Zealand is lower than elsewhere.
"We measured how threatened people from the dominant culture felt by Asians during the Covid-19 pandemic and New Zealand scored significantly lower on measures of both symbolic and realistic threat," Croucher said.
Respondents here scored significantly higher on their level of contact with Asians when compared with those in the US, Italy and Spain.
"So the prejudice levels towards Asians in New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly been lower than in the other three nations," he said.
On a scale of one to five, New Zealanders scored 3.54 on symbolic and 3.32 on realistic threat, while the scores for the US, Italy and Spain ranged from 3.71 to 3.82 for symbolic threat and 3.67 to 3.79 for realistic threat.
New Zealanders scored 2.48 for the level of contact with Asians, while United States respondents scored 1.93, Spaniards scored 2.31, and Italians scored 1.92.
Participants were asked how many Asians they had contact and researchers assessed their level of prejudice towards Asians by assessing symbolic and realistic threat.
"Symbolic threats are beliefs that a minority will change a dominant culture's way of life, while realistic threats relate to welfare, political and economic power, essentially to what extent a minority group challenges the resources of the dominant cultural group," Croucher said.
Croucher said the results reflect the fear generated by the much higher infection and death rates in the US, Italy and Spain and the strong and inclusive messaging from the New Zealand Government.
"The survey results also show significantly higher rates of contact between Asian and non-Asian people in New Zealand and there is a plethora of research that shows contact between groups tends to decrease prejudice," he said.
Survey respondents were also asked, "Who is to blame for the spread of Covid-19?"
For Americans the most common response was "the Chinese", followed by "Trump", but for New Zealanders, the top three answers, in order, were "tourists", "not closing borders early enough" and "the Chinese".
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"These differences clearly mirror the media coverage and political rhetoric in each nation," Croucher said.
"In the US, political rhetoric has been focused on the 'Wuhan virus' and blaming China. While in New Zealand, the blame for the spread of the virus has largely been attributed, by both politicians and the media, to tourism, borders, and China."
Croucher said social media channels, like any media, can also be used effectively for spreading positive messages about Asian people.
"In the case of Covid-19, social media and other media, were and are being used as places to share and build ideas, values and morals. Many of these are very positive, but some are not," he said.
Since January, there had been more than 250 Covid-19 related complaints made to the Human Rights Commission, with 34 of them being race related.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said fear of Covid-19 was no excuse for racism.