On Saturday morning, at 6.30am, when I logged on to social media and saw the row unfolding regarding the Hawera A&P show parade, I had to check the date for a second.

Surely the fact there was even a discussion on using blackface could be considered okay, I must somehow have time-travelled in my slumber, travelling back to times where racism such as this was a daily occurrence?

As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes I realised the sad truth. We may well be living in 2018, but not everyone has moved with the times. While I thought it was obvious that blackface was absolutely abhorrent, it obviously wasn't that clear to everyone.

Read more: Lions say critics 'too precious'


One has to ask, how many people saw that float before it took its place in the actual parade and thought "oh yes, painting their faces black, with large white lips and eyes is totally appropriate for this time and place"?

Or more to the point, how many didn't even think twice, because it didn't cross their mind this could be insulting, demeaning and just downright wrong?

As with most instances of racism, it's not just the people who did the foolish thing who are at fault, but all those who stood by and didn't speak up. Why do we wait for the people directly impacted by racism, sexism or other ignorance to speak out? Why don't we do it first?

Silence is just as shameful as participation in my book. The way I see it, by allowing it to happen, the parade organisers are also guilty here. Their inaction told people of colour that people mocking them in blackface is acceptable.

It isn't, and for that reason that float should have been blocked from entering the parade.

In fact, we now know the parade organisers didn't just think it was ok, but in fact so good, they awarded the float a cash prize and second place. They rewarded racism instead of condemning it. I don't think that was the intention in any way, but that is what happened.

At a guess, I would say the judges and parade organisers involved are all people living a life of privilege, one which hasn't had them on the wrong side of bias and injustice, and so it is not surprising they didn't see the float through others' eyes. Not surprising, but not okay either.

Is ignorance an excuse? It certainly changes it from "done to deliberately offend" to "didn't realise" but really, in 2018, surely we all should be a little bit more aware of these things.


Then, as if the fact it happened wasn't enough, came the scores of people saying it wasn't wrong. That people were being precious, or too politically correct in taking offence. People complaining were told to leave it alone because the Lions are "good people" who "do good things".

Apparently, because the Lions do great work in our communities, they are entitled to a free pass when they make a mistake.

Sorry, I don't agree.

The Lions do, without question, do amazing things in our communities, from sausage sizzles to large community ventures, they do good often. But they also, without question, got it wrong in this case.

My youngest child is seven, and even he knows that doing well in school yesterday doesn't get him out of trouble for putting a toy down the toilet today! One act does not negate the other, and all the good community work in the world can't change the fact that last Friday evening, this particular Lions group got it badly wrong.

I'll take my sausage sizzle without a side of racism please!

We all get it wrong at times, so it's important we also find a way to forgive and to move forward.

We need to shift the focus from what they did, to how they can make amends and how we all can learn from this.

Yes, all of us. Not just those of us who donned afro wigs and face paint, but also those of us who stood by without speaking up. We can take action to ensure this ignorance doesn't continue and we must do so if we don't want to become the region that features on the news for all the wrong reasons.

Do we walk past stalls selling golliwogs? Or do we stop and tell our children why they are unkind and cruel racist caricatures we don't need in our homes?

Do we laugh at a racist or sexist joke, or do we challenge the "joker" and call them out on it?

It's not enough to not do something ourselves, we need to speak out about it when others do it.

We need to lose the attitude of "I'm not offended so it doesn't matter" and open ourselves up to truly listening to others. If someone tells you they are offended, don't accuse them of being sensitive, but apologise, ask why and learn from the experience.

If you are fortunate enough to come from privilege, don't let yourself be blinkered to injustice to others. Be aware of your own privilege and be equally aware of where others don't have it.

If nothing else, I hope "floatgate" has started some good discussions in our homes and with our friends. I hope children watching the news this weekend have asked their parents about racism, and learned how to stand up to it.

I also hope that next year's A&P show parade will also hit the headlines, for being a fun family event, open and inclusive to all.

Let's aim for that, and leave the racist attitudes back where they belong, in a far flung distant past.