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Turia: Racism and Rage

Racism and Rage, UCOL, Whanganui Hon Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party [speech delivered on her behalf by Ken Mair]

Tuesday 6 May 2008; 4pm

Seven days ago, the Maori Party received an email which could have constituted the curriculum for this course. The email alerted us to the content of a website, www.newnation.com.

[www.newnation.vg/forums/showthread.php?p=240659]

In her email to us the complainant said, and I quote:

"While the crimes are themselves reprehensible, I am sickened, saddened and disgusted at the archaic racial attitudes of the site's authors. I personally can see no point to this Aryan scented web site other than supporting and fostering racial hate.

I would also like to add, I, myself, am a white Australian, my father is Celtic Irish and I don't think you get much whiter than me".

So what was so repugnant about this supposed 'new nation' that incited the rage of the Irish woman?

The website is authored by writers hiding under the pseudonyms of 'William the White Hand' or 'Another Angry White'.

Its focus is described, upfront, as reporting on alleged problems in Australasia, including 'Middle-eastern' and Asian migrants; or race relations with Aborigines and Maori natives.

Page after page report on topics such as 'Jews gone bad'; 'Somalis invade schools', 'kohanga reo', 'niggers commit mega anti-white crime spree', 'polys at play'.

Nothing appears to escape the wrath of these writers.

In case there is any question that readers would wonder why say an article on a kohanga reo might feature on the site, the authors embellish each article with their racial hatred.

They explain that, for instance, most dairies in New Zealand are run by Indians; or that the words "model student" or 'aspiring writer" all mean nigger - always a clue, "a large crowd of family and supporters".

While the majority of cases are crime-scene reports condemning the ethnicity of the offender, there are also articles such as one of April 2008 profiling Spotswood College in New Plymouth.

And the breach of moral standards that caught the eye of 'William of the White Hand'?

The fact that the school had the audacity to hold an assembly showcasing the school's cultural diversity. Alongside a photograph of a student performing a traditional dance from his homeland of Kiribati, the newnation reporter had written "The more primitive the culture, the greater the highlight".

The newnation website - fresh here in 2008 - carries all of the hallmarks of racism that have confronted nations for decades, for centuries.

Indeed, one of the postings included in the site is a definition of the 'unhappy negro race' from the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1798 in which the vices of these notorious people are described as:

"idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lying, profanity, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance".

So I come back to the title I was given for this lecture, Racism and Rage.

Is the rage we refer to the explosive state of anger that may erupt when we believe an individual has been discriminated against on grounds of their race - what we might call personal racism?

Is the rage the sense of built up resentment at the assumption that one culture, one lifestyle, one set of values is superior to another - what we might call 'cultural racism'?

What is really meant by that expression 'white-hot anger' (which is supposedly even more powerful than red-hot)?

Or is the rage that sense of very intense, searing pain that comes with the belief that our social and administrative institutions automatically benefit the dominant race, what we know as "institutional racism".

I find the concept of rage a fascinating one.

Psychiatrists describe rage as an actual mental state that is at the extreme level of the spectrum of anger. One typical characteristic is that the resulting violence is often described as 'senseless' - there is no direct, logical connection between the trigger, or cause, and the outcome.

It may be present in the perpetrators of the Columbine High School Massacre, or closer to home in the phenomenon known as road-rage.

The random, volatile nature of 'rage' is quite different from being angry about racism.

Our reaction to racism is seen in our reaction to the accumulated effects of injustice, the built-up resentment that results from past incidents of trauma and ongoing prejudice.

And I believe the evidence suggests there are every grounds to be angry.

The research evidence tells us that racism is now recognized as an important social determinant of health and inequalities.

And its effects are widespread.

In a ground breaking study reported just two years ago in the International Medical Journal, The Lancet, the world learnt that a third of Maori reported having ever experienced racial discrimination.

One in three. That's a massive figure.

Tangata whenua were almost ten times more likely to experience racial discrimination than European participants. The discrimination was reported as being treated unfairly by a health professional, at work, and when renting or buying a house.

8.5% of Maori reported ever having been the victim of an ethnically motivated physical attack; and a staggering 24.5% of Maori reported being the victim of an ethnically motivated verbal attack, a racist ear-bashing, compared to ten percent of Europeans.

The impacts of racism and racial discrimination have been consistently, repeatedly, profoundly demonstrated in the health arena.

A study in the New Zealand Medical Journal found that just two percent of Maori diagnosed with clinical depression were offered pharmaceutical intervention compared with 45 percent of non-Maori patients with the same diagnosis.

Why is it that study after study tells us that Maori obtain fewer referrals, fewer diagnostic tests, reduced access to medical care and rehabilitation services, less effective treatment plans?

Wellington School of Medicine researcher Bridget Robson has documented how health professionals speak about their Maori patients in terms different to others.

They are described as 'non-compliant', less likely to turn up for appointments, to take their medicine. Fewer investigations are ordered, fewer blood tests taken, Maori are less likely to be recommended for follow up appointments or referred to hospital specialists for care.

What is this, other than racism and discrimination?

It may not be as obvious as a bigoted slur, a prejudical remark, the type of in your face internet attack of the newnation website.

This is the pattern and practice of policies which blatantly manifest a monocultural bias.

Now it's not often that I will return to a Government document as a source of wisdom to guide us into the future.

But there is one exception. A document which was produced for the Minister of Social Welfare from a committee which was charged with investigating and reporting, from a Maori perspective, on one of the largest departments of state - none other than the then Department of Social Welfare.

That committee met with thousands of people, studied the history of this country over the last 150 years, and produced a report which recommended significant changes in the policies and practices of Government agencies. I quote, then, from that report:

The persistent myth advanced to explain the cause of Maori disadvantage is that Maori have not adapted or have failed to grasp the opportunity that society offers. This is the notion that poverty is the fault of the poor.

The fact is though that New Zealand institutions manifest a monocultural bias and the culture which shapes and directs that bias is Pakehatanga.

The bias can be observed operating in law, government, the professions, healthcare, land ownership, welfare practices, education, town planning, the police, finance, business and spoken language. It permeates the media and our national economic life.

If one is outside one sees it as the system. If one is cocooned within it, one sees it as the normal condition of existence.

This report was a huge statement of change, a manifesto for revolution. If implemented, the normal condition of existence would never have been the same again.

The report chronicled the problems and consequences of cultural imperialism, deprivation and alienation. But it also drew on the interest, concern and energy in the community for what the report described as heralding a new dawn, Puao-te-ata-Tu.

I look back to that report back and see the evidence of deeply embedded structural inequalities still active in 2008.

That committee reported to Government on 1 July 1986. Twenty two years later the enduring discrimination and alienation is still manifest.

But what is also of huge concern, is the ongoing antagonism about cultural diversity demonstrated by some sectors of our population. An antagonism which appears to be fueled by increasing economic hardship, burgeoning immigration and the sense of alienation and exclusion some groups feel in this 'new nation'.

It is my contention that the personal racism experienced by individuals will not subside until we address the experience of systematized discrimination as an institutional phenomenon.

The Maori Party is channeling its efforts into a Private Members Bill which addresses the institutional racism which is played out in employment, housing, schooling, justice and health.

We will be seeking strategies which will reduce the monocultural bias evident in agencies of power.

We are looking for ideas about how to make our institutions more culturally inclusive, our practitioners more culturally competent, our environments culturally safe.

We know such change doesn't start at the counter alone. It isn't about having copies of Mana magazine in waiting rooms, or bilingual signage as the sole content of the change strategy.

It is change which is about all of us, confronting our prejudices, feeling our discomfort and seeking to address our own limitations.

The Irish woman who emailed our offices has given me great hope that we can make the difference necessary to ensure a better future. She identified the injustice, she sought advice about how to address the racism, and then she went out and did it.

She picked up the phone, she pushed the send button, she laid a formal complaint.

Little steps that represent the leaps of courage we all need to take to ensure change happens.

In doing so, we are preparing the way to transform this nation, to ensure the basis of power in our future lies with us all, Kei a tatou tahi.

ENDS

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