After Hamilton woman Rikki Cooper made her brave decision to go public and highlight racial profiling at her local Countdown supermarket, some media reported that I was shocked.

I was never shocked. Angered, frustrated and disappointed, yes. But shocked? Not at all.

That's because I know racism happens every day: Rikki's experiences aren't isolated and they're not unique to Countdown, Hamilton or the retail industry.

Human rights legislation and the supermarket's policies should have meant that Rikki wasn't publicly humiliated, but she was.


Social media were later rife with people talking about their experiences.

My friend's teenager was in a group going home from a mall in the school holidays. Tidily dressed, they weren't smoking, drinking or breaking the law, yet when a passing police car stopped, the officers approached only the Maori ones.

The boys replied politely to every question and the officers drove off. Had they asked more they'd have found out the boys were leaders in their secondary school who help at their whanau marae. One gained more than 100 NCEA excellence credits and a science scholarship.

During the same holidays my friend's younger boys - 11 and 9 - were stopped in the toy aisle of a department store and made to turn out their pockets. Their non-Maori friends weren't searched.

Like Countdown, the police have their own policies, including the multi-faceted Turning the Tide Whanau Ora strategy. Police say there is no policy to target Maori so what happened to my friend's boy shouldn't have happened. But it did.

Companies and government agencies must train their staff to ensure racial harassment doesn't become part of their organisational culture, but it's up to everyday people to make sure it doesn't become part of our country's culture.

There was no fairness, respect or dignity in the way Rikki was treated but she responded with incredible courage and mana. By putting the spotlight on racial stereotyping Rikki has already inspired others to complain.

I wonder what other shoppers were doing while this young woman was being shamed in front of them? It sounds like they did nothing. They probably didn't agree with what was happening, but they did nothing.


The lesson is, when you see racism or discrimination don't be a bystander. Standing up to racism shows the victim they're not alone and shows the perpetrator they are out of line.

Racial stereotyping has no place in Aotearoa's future; everyday people must make it part of our history.

Dame Susan Devoy is the Race Relations Commissioner.