A Christchurch man says he's "deeply disappointed" rather than angry after a tradesman called him a n***** and made gorilla noises at him.

Peter Retimanu, 53, is a New Zealand-born Samoan who lives in Shirley in Christchurch.

This morning he got in an argument with a tradesman who had been painting the neighbour's house, because a worker had parked too close to their driveway.

Retimanu says he asked for the car to be moved to give a clear line of sight for traffic, but they refused. Then, he said, "things got heated" and the painter called him the n-word.


"I felt, not so much anger, but a deep disappointment. I couldn't believe it - I said, 'You called me a what?'," Retimanu said.

"I think because you don't hear that word spoken at all, you go into shock. To compound it, he started making primate, gorilla noises. This was real redneck stuff.

"I thought, of all the coloured people he could have said that to he was very fortunate it was me. I'm pretty sure if he was in Manukau he wouldn't be able to walk by the time he got out of there."

Despite his rage, he walked away. He didn't get the man's name, or his company, although he later had a "terse" conversation with his neighbour.

"I knew if a fight had ensued I would be the one taken away." Instead he sat down and wrote a letter to the editor to vent.

"I weighed up all the possible responses but the main response - that took every ounce of restraint I could summon - was mainly of wanting to do violence to this person," Retimanu wrote.

"Thankfully, though, I weighed up in my mind the consequences and that it would be me that would be taken into custody, charged and invariably incarcerated. You're only given a split second to go through that process. Was it worth it? No, of course, but what price turning the other cheek?"

"It was like, okay, in a white person's world this is the best thing to do. Write a letter to the editor," he told the Herald. "I should go out and take a baseball bat and smash his car in but who's gonna come off second best?"


Are New Zealanders becoming more racist?
Caught on camera: Man on mobility scooter hurls racist abuse
Street brawl outside Auckland bar in Ponsonby after alleged racist comments

While Retimanu was stunned by hearing the n-word, he experiences less overt racism "almost daily", from being treated with suspicion in shops to bank tellers becoming "adversarial" when he asks questions.

He tries to dress and speak as well as possible to negate stereotypes from the outset.

"The way I look intimidates the other person. So I try to be as gentle as possible to defuse the situation."

Retimanu was born and raised in Invercargill,​ along with siblings including Newstalk ZB newsreader Niva Retimanu.

He said Invercargill felt far more liberal than Christchurch and he had rarely felt disrespected there, and locals are rightly proud of his high-profile sister.

Retimanu said he's also treated with more tolerance in Auckland, which is more ethnically diverse. He works for Mobil Oil and is usually staying at 5-star hotels or using rental cars when he visits the city.

But when he attempts to get valet parking, "more often than not the attendants think I'm a taxi driver" - as do those at the hotel check-in counter.

Retimanu said non-white people have to exercise a high level of tolerance to deal with everyday racism, which is "draining".

"Not one brown person will be surprised" by him being called the n-word, Retimanu said.

"But ask any white person, they'll say that's shocking."

Rise of 'casual racism' in New Zealand
Are you really that racist? We've been putting that to a flawed test
Why Taika wants you to be more racist

Human Rights Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy said when the commission launched its anti-racism campaign last year "many Kiwis didn't believe racism really happened here, often because they hadn't heard it from the point of view of everyday Kiwis, people like Peter".

"Born and brought up in New Zealand and yet he's faced racism – not just in his past, but just today out front of his own house from a complete stranger."

More than 5 million people here and overseas had viewed a video campaign, fronted by Taika Waititi, which urges people to give nothing to racism and call it out when they see it, she said.

"We see racial intolerance and hatred on the rise overseas, we need to do everything we can to make sure we do not see that happening here in Aotearoa."

Have you experienced racism? The Human Rights Commission is calling for people to share their stories at www.thatsus.co.nz.

The website is designed for Kiwis to share their experiences of racial abuse and prejudice.