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New Zealand’s Racism Problem

New Zealand’s Racism Problem - and Our Problem with Listening to Andrew Judd

Jonny Avery

The problem with race relations in New Zealand is this term racist. The word jumps off the page doesn't it? It’s down right scary. So scary, in fact, that if you are to call someone a racist you will most often cause them more offence than the group of people that they've made a sweeping, bigoted, generalisations towards.

Indeed - No one likes being called racist - “how dare you!” two friends say, as I suggest that we are all party to the institutional racism in Aotearoa. But this dirty word has been a hot topic of late - on Tuesday, New Plymouth became a straw man for racism due to the current Mayor, Andrew Judd, announcing that he will not seek reelection, citing the abuse that he has received from wanting to have two council seats set aside for Maori.

“Preferential treatment!” scream the people who’ve been infected with the latest Hosking/Williams virus — (symptoms include ignorance, general lack of understanding of history, and little to no empathy.) A barrage of headlines emerge…’New Plymouth and their redneck reputation…’ and ‘is there anti-Maori sentiment in New Plymouth?’ and even, ‘Does NZ have a problem with anti-Maori racism?’ The Country is suddenly made to look itself in the mirror.

John Campbell said on Checkpoint that their “Andrew Judd piece” had garnered the largest and most positive response to any news story since they’ve been on air (4 months or so). Andrew Judd has undoubtedly done something good by opening up about his experiences. He talked about how his new experiences in the Maori world have made him reflect on racial politics in New Zealand; eye opening experiences, which he needed to share live on National radio. And good on him. It can be difficult to admit you’ve held racist view in the past.

The problem is - and its a huge problem - Maori having been talking about this for decades. Driven by the desire to prevent further loss of language, culture and knowledge, the Maori renaissance of the 1970s saw Maori activism and autonomy brought to the fore. The Waitangi Tribunal, Kohunga Reo, and The Maori Language Act (Te Reo only became an official language in New Zealand in 1987) were set up during this time. Prominent figures like Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Sidney Moko Mead are renowned for their activism with ‘indigenous’ rights - here and around the globe. They have been extremely vocal about racism towards Maori. Hone Harawera regularly talked about racism in New Zealand while in Parliament, but was anyone listening? Nope!

And of course New Zealand has a racism problem. No, we don't go calling each other names on the street. That’s high level romanticised racism seen in 1950’s Hollywood movies. New Zealand’s racism isn't obvious. Our racism is institutionalised. Much like the ‘invisibilty cloak’ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, our racism hides under the ‘cloak of complacency’. You only need to look at our incarceration stats - Maori make up well over 50% of the prison population, but account for less than 15% of the national population. Clearly something has gone very wrong and we have become complacent about the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa.

It was only until a Pakeha councillor had the gall to say that there is a problem in New Zealand that people/the media actually took notice. Would there be hype if someone from the Maori community had spoken out about racism? Maybe, but if you're a betting man, you would most definitely put your chips on the white man - people listen to him. For all of John Campbell's leftist, all inclusive glory, he only got Bill Simpson and Chris Manukonga on to hear their views after Andrew Judd had broken the story. They were supportive of his comments - of course they were - but there was frustration in their voices. Or maybe it was a croak in the throat that occurs from your screams continually laying on deaf ears.

Therein lies our problem - Maori and Pakeha worlds are fundamentally different. We have different ideals, ways of thinking, knowledge, and spiritualities. Yes, it can sometimes be hard to understand where each other is coming from, but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you just shut up and listen.

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