COMMENT:

A few years back, a pālagi friend and I were discussing the latest round of bigoted comments in headlines. It was when Waiheke was called a "white man's island". After laughing about the backwardness of it all, he turned to me and said: "You don't really experience racism, right?"

Whiplash is probably too extreme a descriptor for my reaction, but the comment definitely jarred. Enough that it still pops up and gets mulled over when discussions around racism, or so-called "casual racism" come up.

While I do not remember how I replied, or whether I replied at all, I do remember trying to think through someone's perspective where racism — intentional or unintentional — is not part of life. I could not do it then, even now.

Advertisement

It is that funny thing where, more often than not, problems that exist through how we live and practise culture cannot be neatly summed up, slotted into a defined space and extracted with a bad-vibes vacuum machine.

That is what racism is to me. It is part of life, and while overt, ugly examples backed by emboldened comments and symbols are easy to identify, there are many more subtle ways it hangs around. One deals with those situations as they cross one's path.

In the weeks since the Christchurch attacks, I have observed numerous voices explain the role of ever-present racist and prejudiced attitudes in New Zealand. They have shared their experiences and the link they believe those attitudes have to extremism and the safety of members of the community.

Discussions evolved and broadened to include a possible name change to the Canterbury Crusaders. A week ago, I flicked on the radio to hear about why some felt keeping the "Crusaders" name is important. At the time, the initiator of the petition to retain the franchise name was being interviewed.

" ... Personally, I don't see any connection whatsoever with the Crusaders rugby team and the atrocities that happened all those years ago because I don't see them as those kinds of Crusaders [like] the Knights Templar," he explained.

"I see them [in] a positive way, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Men gathering together to go to battle for their realm."

He concluded: "It's so hard because we are known as one-eyed Cantabrians, and that's the simple fact. They are part of our family, they are our community, they are Canterbury."

Wow. Really?

It was that same jarring feeling from a few years back, only this time it felt worse and I really did wish there was a bad-vibes vacuum to remove it from my afternoon. While there are a number of red herrings in those comments, looking at the overall approach the petition takes to defending the Crusaders name is important.

Indeed, debating differences in opinion is healthy. However, ignorance of concept, ethos and relevance are likely to culminate in incomplete and unhelpful viewpoints. Support and nostalgia for the Crusaders team is lauded. But, failing to acknowledge that the current name has a context representing more than New Zealand's most successful Super Rugby team undermines the issues.

That unwillingness to entertain alternative viewpoints is reflective of the much bigger barrier around understanding racism.

I will give the petitioner the benefit of the doubt. Just like my friend, who said "you don't really experience racism, right". He simply thought that the circle we, and even just I existed in, was above bigoted attitudes.

The problem with thinking about racism like that is it does not reflect real life. Racist attitudes and behaviours exist whether acknowledged or not. Dismissing them is unhelpful.

Similarly, the debate over the name "Crusaders" ought not to be viewed as whether it has a connection to the massacres of the Christian Crusades. Accept it does. Having done that, we can consider what keeping the name means in the context of the Christchurch attacks and of racism in New Zealand.

Teuila Fuatai is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Her Herald column will run fortnightly, on Tuesdays.