Just how racist are we? It's a question New Zealanders don't like to discuss but a new website is changing that.

That's Us was launched last month. Produced by The Human Rights Commission, it includes accounts of everyday casual racism.

Recent news reports suggest there is much to talk about.

Someone daubed "KIWI?" in big white letters across the billboard of Howick Local Board candidate Rosa Chow. "Putting in Kiwi and then a question mark," said Chow who made her home here 20 years ago, "it's probably racial."


TV show Real Housewives of Auckland got more publicity than it bargained for when a white real housewife referred to a black real housewife as a "boat nigger".

In Dunedin, student Nikolas Delegat, a Pakeha from an extremely wealthy family, was not sentenced to community detention or jail time for repeatedly punching a policewoman in the head. He had for months sought name suppression and a discharge without conviction. Delegat didn't succeed but revelation of the details sparked speculation about what may have happened had he been poor or brown.

Anything Don Brash says about race relations makes news since his divisive Orewa speech of 2004. The website of the Hobson's Pledge lobby group recently launched by Brash contains the following disclaimer: Please note: "We are not in any sense anti-Maori."

The disclaimer was needed, wrote Herald political editor Audrey Young, who found in the depths of the website what seemed a disturbing tone "of rabid negativity, nastiness, and intolerance".

A dozen years ago the Orewa speech about "special treatment" for Maori produced a Herald-Digipoll surge for National from 24 per cent to 45 per cent.

Young thinks New Zealand has moved on since the bitter days of the foreshore and seabed feud.

The ethnic mix has changed. New Zealand is ranked internationally as "super diverse", one of the most ethnically varied nations in the world. The 2013 Census identified 213 ethnic groups, the five largest being New Zealand European, Maori, Chinese, Samoan, and Indian.

Academic studies tell us we like multiculturalism but we want immigrants to do all the adapting. And we aren't so keen on the practical stuff such as providing policy and resources to support diversity.

That's well known in social research, says Dr Chris Sibley. Google the term "principle implementation gap" and you find dozens of scholarly articles. Though he's not aware of explicit studies about New Zealand, Sibley suggests exactly the same thing applies to attitudes to biculturalism. There is quite high support for aspects of Maori culture, such as teaching te reo in schools and singing the anthem in both languages, but much less for Treaty reparations.

"People tend to be more supportive of things that are not going to cost them anything."

He has been looking at our attitudes to race relations as part of a longitudinal study he oversees at the University of Auckland's school of psychology; the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.

Findings from the study, now in its seventh year, indicate Muslim and Asian New Zealanders experience higher levels of prejudice than any other group.

"When you look at prejudice toward Asian New Zealanders it tends to be predicted by perceiving competition and when you look towards Muslims New Zealanders it tends to be predicted by perceiving a threat."

But it's not all grim. "We are seeing, across a range of measures, quite an optimistic message for tolerance and group relations."

The data, from a pool of about 18,000 people, is a year behind so may not yet show whether the rise of conservatism and anti-immigration sentiment in the UK and the US has had an effect here.

Sibley's team have found that attitudes to Asian people are becoming more positive. They also confirmed that Maori people who "look Maori" have a tougher time securing a mortgage.

"We are seeing from 2009 until 2015 an increase in feelings of warmth towards Asian people ... towards immigrants overall. We are seeing decreases in sexism. That [suggests] a pattern where tolerance for diversity is increasing in New Zealand."

Other studies that looked at racial equality confirmed Maori and other groups including Chinese, Korean, African and Indian continue to be discriminated against.

Victoria University's Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research found that though New Zealand has come a long way in accepting diversity and cultural difference the changes were largely only in theory. The country may have "symbolic biculturalism" while Pakeha New Zealanders were still, to some extent, unwilling to redistribute their resources.

The percentage of European New Zealanders is expected to drop from 75 per cent to 66 per cent by 2038. Predictions by Statistics New Zealand are for the proportion of Maori to grow from 16 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent, Asians from 12 per cent to 21 per cent and Pacific Islanders from 8 per cent to 11 per cent.

Currently 1 per cent of the population identify with Middle Eastern, Latin American, or African ethnicities.

Details of racial aspects to crimes are not recorded. Raw data from 1996 to 2014 for a group of offences under the heading of "vilify or incite hatred on racial, cultural, religious or ethnic grounds" show few complaints are made and fewer still are resolved.

The most complaints for inciting racial disharmony were made in 2004, the year which saw conflict between Maori and Pakeha over public access to the foreshore and seabed. Only one complaint is recorded as having been resolved.

The country has done tolerably well, Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy tells the Herald. But we still have qualified immigrants who change their names in the hope they will get a job interview.

And look at the housing issue. "The bloody Chinese! We tend to blame migrants for just about everything."

About 400 people each year make formal complaints to Devoy's office about racism they've faced. But the overwhelming majority of people never complain, Devoy believes.

"Each time there is an international event, a terrorist attack, we know that the level of racial abuse towards Muslims increases tenfold. It's driving past the bus stop and someone yelling out 'terrorist' or 'go home!'."

Islamic Women's Council New Zealand Assistant National Co-ordinator Aliya Danzeisen says the council is encouraging Muslim women to report incidents of abuse to the police. In an informal survey of over 100 Muslim women aged 12 to 26 last December, 80 per cent said they had been "harassed or discriminated against within the last year", she says.

The young women reported that the abuse and discrimination was occurring not just on the streets but within the schools they attended, and some of it came from the teachers.

Devoy says the aim of the That's Us campaign is to prompt a conversation. "It's an awkward conversation [but] we need to talk about the behaviour. Usually when I am asked to comment they want me to be the judge of whether someone or something is racist or not. They don't want to talk about why we have the behaviour."

Some behaviour warrants deep concern. "Diversity equals white genocide," two people tweeted from the launch function at Te Papa. A video of the keynote speaker was defaced "with the N word". The speaker was Deng Adut, a former child soldier from Sudan who was granted refugee status by Australia and is now a human rights lawyer.

The National Front put Devoy's email address on their website. "As you can imagine, I've had lots of lovely comments."

Andrew Judd, former mayor of New Plymouth, has been unafraid to talk about race relations since declaring himself "a recovering racist".

He stresses the world "recovering" and explains that when he hears that police are seeking a part-Maori person, he automatically thinks of a youth in a hoodie or gang regalia. "Why didn't I think of his other part? Why didn't that become an image? It's almost in my DNA."

Judd, 51, was raised by parents of Brash's generation and views. Judd shared them too, even arguing the Pakeha side in a public debate at the time of the Iwi/Kiwi campaign.

What happened? After two terms as a councillor Judd became mayor. He'd never set foot on a marae but the job required engaging with Maori at an official level. "I started dispelling some of the myths I'd held all my life because I was engaging with a culture that was fine to me really."

"The views I had held seemed natural. Oh yeah, land stolen, move on. I started to read what actually happened and how it happened. And I wondered why I hadn't been taught this. I felt lied to. The history was tainted by the European view of it - they were savages, we saved them, we brought technology, they were lucky we arrived. It was a convenient telling of history."

Judd questioned why he would get angry about bi-cultural relations. "I said, Í think you are racist, Andrew. I think you are scared and you don't know who you are. What is my culture? because I'm not British and I'm not Maori. I'd take haka and powhiri into the council and think it's mine to use but the minute the visitors turn their backs we put Maori back in the box."

"Here I was, the mayor, hosting overseas visitors and I couldn't even pronounce the place names. It was embarrassing."

Judd says he's got "massive flak" for his change of heart. He decided not to stand this month because he may have become a divisive presence. He is happily back working as an optician. "I feel more connected to my country now than ever because I let go of my fear and have taken the time to walk in a Maori world. Maori have no choice but to walk in our world."

His one reservation about New Zealand's broad ethnic mix is that it may delay addressing bicultural relations. The Waitangi settlements won't suffice, he says, because there hadn't been "a true conversation ... about our horrific past".

"It's like any relationship, say with your partner if something really shocking happened. Buying flowers and chocolates won't fix it if you haven't really talked."

Devoy says New Zealanders should be proud of our Treaty and that a truth and reconciliation process occurred, even though there was a long way to go. The likes of Brash's group set race relations back years and years, she says.

"I'm gearing up for next year, election year, because I'm sure the race card will be pulled out." Her concern is that it resonates with so many. "That's why the That's Us campaign is not just people sharing their stories, but their visions of the sort of country they want their children to live in. What are our Kiwi values? Are we inclusive, do we give people a fair go?"

Kiwis tell their stories

Zafer Isiklar, Turkish New Zealander

Zafer Isiklar's cafe in Mt Eden, the Eden Cafe, is a melting pot of multiculturalism, from left; Harjinder Kaur (Indian) Zafer Isiklar (Turkish) and Metua Reura (Cook Islander).
Zafer Isiklar's cafe in Mt Eden, the Eden Cafe, is a melting pot of multiculturalism, from left; Harjinder Kaur (Indian) Zafer Isiklar (Turkish) and Metua Reura (Cook Islander).

I was born in Istanbul, Turkey. I have lived in New Zealand since 2002. I love it. When people ask where I am from, I say the North Shore! When I'm asked whether I go back home, I say, 'this is home'.

"Bloody foreigner!" That's the most common abuse I get.

We are racist. I say "we" because I have the New Zealand passport. I call this place home.
I get some sort of racist abuse most days but it is related to the car parking issue. We have carparks exclusively for customers of our cafe, Eden Espresso Bar, and the business next door. There is not a lot of parking around here and so it is important for our customers and our businesses.

I am extremely polite and in return I get abuse.

A couple of times I went to the police station and made a formal complaint because it was quite aggressive.

I put up no-smoking signs eight or 10 years ago outside a cafe I ran on the North Shore. I got abuse. Mainly over the phone.

Usually the racial abuse comes after they hear my accent.

Generally as a nation, New Zealanders don't like confrontation. We are holding our emotions down. We are keyboard warriors. Put something on social media and we put all these negative comments.

But usually they have no idea of the real situation. People say, "the bloody Chinese", but don't say "the bloody Japanese", or Koreans or Vietnamese or Cambodians. They complain about Indians but don't mention Sri Lankans or Malaysians. We generalise, unfortunately.

If we talk openly, the problem is easier to fix. We say there is no racism. But in the world it is the same. Talk and you can go forward.

My partner is Chinese. I work with [Pakeha] Kiwis and Indians, and the Tongan tattoo guys over the road are my friends.

How racist are we? You can't measure it. I have a lovely bunch of Kiwi friends that I have had since I first moved here. Kiwi friends offer their bach for the weekend, my Samoan friends offer me their place for a holiday in Samoa.

We don't have an option what colour or where we are born. What does it matter?

I posted a photo on my Facebook page under the heading "Racism - don't you agree?" It's of a Panda bear. The message? "Racism is stupid. I am black, white and Asian. But everybody loves me."

In the next 20 years I don't think it will be such a big problem. I see every ethnicity in the primary schools now, kids all learning English the same. And there will be a new generation born here, the children of immigrants.

Wiremu, 18, Maori, university student

I was 9 and it was the middle of RE (Religious Education) at our state primary school when a lady told our class that God didn't love the Tuhoe people because they were terrorists. I wanted to cry I was so angry. I knew she was lying.

I played rugby for our town and there were some boys in my team who'd call us racist names. One day at training a boy called me a dumb n***** and I had had enough and ran at him and punched him. Well I got in huge trouble. The coach had heard it all but told me it was all my fault for reacting and I need to just ignore it, as usual he never told off the boys who said racist things.

It was around this time me and my cousin used to be picked on by a group of boys at our school. They'd say racist things about us and we refused to take it, we fought back. Teachers didn't really do much, we were told to ignore it but it's hard to ignore someone giving you a hiding. At lunch they'd just chase us and fight us, sometimes 10 to 2 so it was never a fair fight. One day my cousin left some 4 x 2s in the bushes. At lunch when they were all chasing us he shouted at me to follow him to the bushes. We ran out of the bushes with these pieces of wood and all the boys who'd been about to bash us started screaming and running away. They were very fast and we didn't even hit any of them. We ended up in the principal's office and we were the ones in big trouble.

When I started college I didn't know why but I kept getting put into woodwork and metalwork option courses that I'd never signed up for. I had won an academic scholarship in Year 9 and ended up getting excellence in NCEA 1, 2 and 3, but for a while someone there decided I needed to do a trade. There is nothing wrong with tradie work, I actually love it - that's what I do during the holidays - but it's unfair to look at me and decide: 'Oh yeah OK, that brown kid he can do woodwork even though he asked to do financial management'. After I got excellence in Year 11, me and a mate got an invite to start going to meetings for excellence students. Well we turned up and the lady asked us what we were doing there because this was a meeting for excellence students.

Over the years I'd get used to having to defend everything Maori, during class discussions other kids would argue that the Treaty is racist or that Maori scholarships are racist. Once I got up to say that my scholarship came from my tribe not from the Government and someone shouted out "Hone Harawira" from the back of the class. Being a Maori kid in a mostly Pakeha world, yeah. You're often put on the spot whether you like it or not. One minute you're defending your tribe in class. Nek Minnit you get told to lead the haka or speak at a powhiri for the school.

I was in Year 13 and went to the local university open night with mate. One of the things we noticed was that we were the only brown kids there that night ... Every university department had a desk set up in a big room so we started walking towards the desk with information about the course I wanted to take the next year. There was an older Pakeha lady standing behind the desk and I got a bad feeling as we approached her desk because the moment she saw me and my friend she turned and looked away. We were standing right in front of her for ages, not sure what pamphlets to get. Eventually I asked her politely what pamphlets we needed and without even talking or looking at us nicely, she handed us both a folder. And then turned away. I felt really embarrassed and at first my friend said, nah bro she's probably just grumpy.

But I didn't think she was just grumpy so I went and stood by the wall and waited until the next group of people went to her desk. They were some Pakeha boys I knew and they hadn't even made it to her desk when she started smiling at them. She asked them if they'd travelled far, what schools they went to, what courses they were interested in. As she was standing there nodding and talking nicely to the other boys I felt stink.

Just last weekend I went into a supermarket. As soon as I walked in I noticed an older lady who worked there staring at me quite angrily. I tried to smile at her but she kept staring. As I walked through the store I realised she was following me ... and at one stage she was talking to someone on her walkie talkie. When I got to checkout I paid for my lollies and water bottle and she was still right behind me and as I started walking out she screamed out: "HEY! HEY! STOP!"

She was shouting at me and saying I'd made the scanner beep or something like that. I felt so ashamed. Everybody was staring at me and I am sure they all think I am a thief now. I am not a thief ... She made me walk through the scanner and nothing beeped. Then again, lots of times. I was dressed tidily, I didn't have a gang patch or anything like that. Neither had I ever had a run-in with people at that store. That lady just took one look at me - young Maori guy - and decided that I was a thief and let everyone in the supermarket know that she thought I was a thief. Later the supermarket told us that their staff felt they were "amicable" to me and that I had misinterpreted what happened. They said I looked like one of their regular shoplifters. I thought that was an ironic thing to say.

Liu Shueng, New Zealand-born Chinese

My name is Wong Liu Shueng and when I was a child my parents also gave me an English name: they thought if I had one it would protect me but it wasn't to be the case. I was born into the back of a fruit shop so rather than learn to play, as a youngster I learned to work and help my family. I only spoke Chinese, I heard English at the front of the shop and knew a little but by the time I had to go to school I didn't really understand English. I was a tiny little girl, the smallest girl in school and the only Chinese.

It started one day when I was walking home and some big boys I didn't know yelled out "Ching Chong Chinaman" and other nasty things: I will never forget the dread I felt when I realised these boys I'd never even met were screaming at me.

At first, I just pretended it wasn't happening. There'd be more and more and they'd be screaming in my face and I'd pretend they weren't there.

In the mornings I learned to hook up with a whole bunch of other kids who had to walk past my shop so every day I'd wait for them and slip in the middle of them and sneak past the boys who were always waiting for me.

One day a teacher asked me to stay after school and help her. When I walked out of the
school gates on my own, the boys were circling on their bikes waiting for me.

They had got me up against a wall and their pockets were already full of sharp stones which they threw at me until I was bleeding and there were no more stones left to throw. I cried. I froze because I was terrified.

This continued and over the years I learned to be more cunning in evading the boys. But one day in my childhood stands out like no other.
I had made a friend, she was much taller than me and she would sometimes walk home with me. One day when the boys came for me after school she lost it and she turned around and faced the boys with her hands on her hips like an adult! How dare you, she demanded. Don't be so bloody rude, she shouted. Show some respect and go away, she told them.
And they fled. And I will never forget that feeling of seeing my friend stand up for me.

My mother used to say that silly rhyme, "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me", well that really is rubbish. Words can be the same as very sharp stones.

Racism starts small and it's a light feeder. Racism just needs crumbs to get stronger and stronger.

I see the Chinese are being blamed for everything from economic problems to the inflated house market: this is just unfair. These are complicated problems ... We need to work out how to solve some very serious socials issues but sometimes the "debate" is less about facts and more about racism.

It's been more than 70 years since I was born in a small New Zealand town. My granddaughters are the same age I was when those boys tormented me and my hope is that they will grow up in a kinder, more tolerant and more empathetic New Zealand.