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G. Fortuin: I Wish To Be Respected, Not Tolerated

Shell in New Zealand Leadership Forum Address

I Wish To Be Respected – Not Tolerated

Wellington, 2 November 2005
By Gregory Fortuin

I thank you for and admire your courage (or is it financial acumen) in not going for the “safe $15000 a pop professional” and opting for a colourful card-carrying member of what was once a banned so-called terrorist organisation to address your leadership dinner. Although we are no longer banned and everybody wants photo opportunities with Mandela, many still think the rest of us are a bunch of terrorists. To add to my “don’t fit the respectable traditional mould” or more to the point “Non-Mainstream” profile is the fact that I was raised by a solo mum and support the Warriors. This “cheeky darkie” is also eternally grateful to doctors Brash and Mapp for the privilege to speak his mind and not having to be PC in his approach here tonight. 30 years ago I would have been incarcerated in an Apartheid jail for 90days without a trial.

I hope you enjoyed the “Diversity Game” and even if you did not, there is always tomorrow when we can all return to our normal lives of gross generalisations, stereotyping, one or two insincere smiles and where a few of us can continue to show little regard for the dignity of others. And if you are Alan Duff you could even be offensive to people with disabilities or simply because they are “minorities”. What I don’t know is whether Duff has the PC Terminator’s blessing to be offensive. Lets be clear of one thing, I am not attacking Alan Duff the person, but this particular behaviour. In fact in all my dealings with Alan he has always been civil and I am aware of the many great things he does with underprivileged kids.

Today as they lay to rest 92 year Rosa Parks, a woman of immense integrity and strength who refused to give up her seat to a white man, I wish to reflect on a few home truths. The black seamstress said of that winters day in 1955 that her feet were not more swollen or tired than usual. “It was my whole being that was tired of being denigrated and disrespected. I did not set out to be arrested; I just wanted to go home with dignity”.

Now Rosa Parks was definitely a minority – not just as a black woman in the “Land of the Free”, but even amongst blacks. 4 People were asked to give up their seats for 1 white man on that fateful day…..and 3 did. Those 3 people did what the majority of blacks did every day. They meekly accepted being dehumanised and denigrated – they did not want to rock the boat…they did not want to cause trouble….they needed their jobs to support their families Given the cockeyed logic that the majority is always right, Rosa Parks was a Cheeky Minority way out of line with mainstream. It is only right that the PC Terminator introduces legislation that will legitimise “bus drivers in all walks of life” to continue to humiliate these Cheeky Minorities.

One of the hardest things I have ever done was to “Say Sorry” to the Wellington Club for kicking up a fuss after being denied access and not respecting their right as a private club to set their own rules. What they did however experience that day was my reaction to decades of being judged on external factors and exposed to stereotypes and gross generalisations. I was sick and tired of living in the coloured area and going to the coloured school and sitting in the coloured section. I remembered my resentment at being denied access to study medicine at a “white university” because they had filled their quota of coloured students. I had enough of buying take-away and not being allowed to sit down. Deep down I had enough of “white males being the standard that I had to live up to”. The Wellington Club wrongly bore the brunt that day.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want special treatment in the workplace or anywhere else for that matter. I don’t want to be the token coloured. I don’t believe in diversity for diversity sake. I absolutely believe that we should concentrate on skills and competency. What I find fascinating though is that in spite of the popular myths of “the sisterhood that dominates New Zealand” the overwhelming numbers of senior influential positions (especially next level down from CEO but including CEO) are dominated by white males. Board rooms around New Zealand are no different. The NZ Census of Women’s participation in Governance showed only 5.4% of Directors of Publicly Listed Companies (NZX) were woman as at 31 March 2003. Directors of Crown Companies featured 7 times better at 35.09%. A study by Massey University academics van der Walt and Ingley found that the average profile of a Board Director was a white male between the ages of 56 and 60. Obviously some of them are extremely talented. I have learnt more about governance from Ken Douglas and Jim Bolger than any Harvard course and I would serve with them anywhere but fellow board members Diana Crossan and Sara Lunam can foot it with the best of them any day any time. Yet the statistics based on appointments would have us believe that white males are the most talented people on God’s earth.

However let me repeat, we must not have tokenism or diversity for diversity sake in business. We must do it for the right reasons….How about simply to be just and fair. But I acknowledge that life’s not fair. So as a Capitalist with a conscience, how about to make money. Diversity brings different perspectives, backgrounds and values and unless these societal characteristics or at least those of your target market are reflected in your organisation you will discover future revenue streams drying up as you lose touch with consumers. When the all white marketing team of a well known motor company developed and launched a new car for the Latin American market, they developed a superb product but called it “denova”. It didn’t sell because the name meant “don’t go” to their target market. (All they needed was a Hispanic on their marketing team)

In his 1993 Kapilla Fellowship lecture on “The administration of Justice in a Multi-Cultural Society” Justice Brooke accounts 5 true stories that resulted in “great hurt and serious injustice”. In each instance well intentioned judges in good faith but total ignorance because of stereotyping and gross generalisations caused terrible harm. It happens through out society.

Don’t make the mistake to assume that diversity is just about culture and ethnicity. Just because someone looks like you, don’t assume they share your values and vice versa. Don’t jump to conclusions based on myths and deliberate misinformation. Garbage like all young girls fall pregnant to get the DPB, or Maori are lazy and on the dole or brown doctors are inferior to white doctors is just that, Garbage!

All of us were created equal – not in a materialistic sense or as far as our talents are concerned, but it terms of our humanity. Like Rosa Parks human beings all over the world irrespective of race, colour, religion or creed are saying we are tired of being denigrated and trampled on. No longer do we wish to be merely tolerated like a bad headache WE WISH TO BE RESPECTED. Judge us by the colour of our hearts and our behaviour not by any other superficial measure.

In a world where if you took issue with the USA you are a terrorist or if you stood up for basic Human Rights you are being PC, I wish to commend you for facing the challenges of diversity and wish you well. It is an undeniable fact that the social fabric of our society is multi ethnic. No child is born a bigot……there are no racists in the sandpit at the crèche. The tragedy is that our kids grow up and become adults just like us.

I do however want to caution that it is not just diversity workshops or provocative speeches or one day a year when we are good to our neighbours that bring about harmonise diversity. I pray for the day when equal to washing my face and getting a cup of tea I will respect the dignity of others the way I wish to be respected and realise that we are all members of the human race, inextricably linked.

I thank you


Gregory Fortuin is a former NZ Race Relations Conciliator

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