The black American golfer Charlie Sifford died a few months ago aged 92.

Jackie Robinson, the first black baseballer to break the barrier white America had built like some Great Wall, told Sifford not to be a quitter, and he wasn't. Many people would say it's a prison wall, at best a near impenetrable barrier if your skin is black.

As the first black player on the PGA, Sifford breached the wall, though it took him 'til 1960 to do so and not without incident.

After taking a first-round lead in a 1961 tournament, he received a death threat that evening and the following day was heckled by white spectators. He finished fourth.


White players would kick his ball into the rough, spectators yelled abuse at him. And though he hung in for an admirably long and quite successful career, he paid a price, requiring psychological counselling for the anger he felt at his career so reduced and restricted by racism.

Heavyweight world champion boxer Jack Johnson suffered the same racist abuse in the early 20th century. He revelled in flaunting his success and drove around in a yellow sports car with white women companions, smoking a big cigar. Boy, did the white folk hate his guts. How dare he behave like this. How dare he beat white men fair and square in the ring.

White America did the same to Cassius Clay after he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, his religion to Muslim. Suddenly he was re-eligible for army service, the same service that turned him down twice for the reason that he lacked the intelligence, and when he refused on the grounds of religious belief they took his world heavyweight title from him. He famously said: "No Vietcong ever called me nigger."

He was threatened with imprisonment. But he won the legal battle and eventually came back to claim his title, though not in his first epic fight with Joe Frazier.

White America loathed Ali's claim he was "the greatest". He was, and still is.

Frazier, another black world champion, had the experience of trying to cash a cheque for $10,000 at his own bank having just won $2 million in his world title fight, and was refused. Great black musicians have suffered the indignity of performing for adoring white audiences at hotel venues, only to be denied permission to stay as hotel guests. On the road, up to the 70s, black musicians were often turned away from restaurants and even basic diners carrying the Whites Only sign turned them away.

The whole world knows about police racial profiling. Happens everywhere. Do they know that one in nine black males aged 20-34 in the United States is, or has been, incarcerated? That the punishment for virtually any criminal offence is at least double that handed out to a white person? No, I am not anti-American. Most of my favourite writer heroes are American. Just their attitude to black people has to change.

One of my novels looked at the racism blacks suffered in World War II. Not from other races or in other countries. But, rather, their own fellow white Americans and especially those good ol' boys from the South. Men who'd fought alongside each other went back home after the war only for the blacks to find their deeds were not recognised and their fellow white soldiers were heroes. Indeed, there were incidents of ex-servicemen lynched by white racists right up till the 60s. Just awful.

Growing up as "half-caste Maori" in the 50s and 60s, we were never referred to as "half-caste European"; there was a form every kid had to fill out on which you stated the proportion of Maori blood you had. One-sixteenth qualified you as Maori, back in the days when that had a negative connotation.

I'm not one of those with bitter memories, though aware that some Maori suffered more than others, as racism did exist then and still does.

I think the Maori radicals should get their due credit for pushing Maori causes relentlessly.

The All Blacks have gone a long way to breaking down that racist attitude and especially with Polynesians being such a dominant force out of proportion to their numbers.

Recently one of my favourite authors, E.L. Doctorow, died. His literary works were set in New York and spanned a period of 150 years of American history. The sufferings of one black man in particular seared his written words into my brain forever in the novel Ragtime. It should be required reading at every university in the world. Thank you, Mr Doctorow, I shall read it yet again.