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COVID-19 Fueling Discrimination Against Tangata Whenua And Chinese Communities

New research by the Human Rights Commission has revealed that Tangata Whenua along with Chinese communities report the highest rates of discrimination since the start of COVID-19.

Four in ten respondents (39%) report having experienced discrimination since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, with higher rates for Tangata Whenua (55 percent), Chinese (54 percent), Pacific (50 percent), and Asian (49 percent) respondents.

“The pandemic feeds fear, which in turn is manifesting itself in racism and discrimination. We must not forget that the virus is the problem and not people, especially as we find ourselves in COVID lockdown again,” Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said.

The most common forms of discrimination reported by respondents were receiving online negative comments or abuse, being stared at in public, being excessively avoided (beyond the usual social distancing), and receiving negative comments or abuse in person.

Chinese respondents reported much greater concerns about their personal safety compared with other respondents. And about half of Chinese, Asian, and Māori respondents said the discrimination they experienced had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing and their sense of belonging in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Respondents reported a range of behaviours that they have taken since the start of COVID-19 due to concerns about discrimination, including choosing to stay home.

“An unfortunate by-product of COVID-19 is that certain ethnic groups are often blamed and subsequently vilified for their perceived “role” in an outbreak. Whether it was Pacific people in the resurgence last year or New Zealanders returning home from overseas, there is a racialising of this disease that is discriminatory. Our research contributes to the body of evidence around this phenomenon.”

“No one should not have to change their behaviour to avoid risking discrimination, made to feel they don’t belong, worry about their public safety, or experience negative mental wellbeing because of discrimination or racism.”

“Everyone deserves to be treated well, to live in a safe community, free from discrimination, and to live a life of dignity.”

“We all have a responsibility to ensure our workplaces, public spaces, and communities are safe and free from discrimination.”

Foon said the findings highlight the importance of data collection and reporting by the Police of hate incidents that are potentially motivated by racism. It will allow systematically recorded race-based harassment and violence as well as to help design prevention strategies.

This will be especially important as the Race Relations Commissioner leads the work alongside the government to develop a National Action Plan against Racism.

“Now more than ever, we need an urgent government plan to address institutional and interpersonal racism against Māori, ethnic, and some religious communities who experience racial discrimination.”

The Commission will continue to monitor COVID-specific racism as part of its ongoing work towards eliminating racism and promoting harmonious communities.

Key figures at a glance:

  • 39% of respondents reported experiencing any kind of discrimination since the start of COVID-19.
  • 21% of respondents experienced discrimination that they perceived as specifically related to COVID-19 – higher rates for Chinese (40%), Tangata Whenua (30%), Asian (27%), and Pacific respondents (26%).
  • The most common forms of discrimination reported by respondents were receiving online negative comments or abuse, being stared at in public, being excessively avoided (beyond the usual social distancing) and receiving negative comments or abuse in person.
  • When faced with discrimination that occurred since COVID-19, the most common response reported by respondents was to ignore it and do nothing at the time (42% reported this).
  • 47% of Chinese respondents reported knowing of a friend or family member who received verbal abuse in a public space (this percentage was 17% among the whole sample).
  • Among respondents who experienced discrimination since the start of COVID-19, 46% said that this had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, and 40% said that it had a negative impact on their sense of belonging in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Chinese, Asian, and Tangata Whenua respondents reported much greater concerns about their personal safety in the COVID-19 context compared with New Zealand European respondents.
  • Chinese respondents reported by far the greatest personal concern with safety (between 42-44% of Chinese respondents felt concerned about their own safety or about how their loved ones will be treated)
  • Chinese (58%) and Tangata Whenua (49%) respondents also reported a greater belief that there has been more discrimination against certain ethnic groups in Aotearoa during COVID-19 than before it.
  • Some respondents took specific actions during COVID-19, partly due to concerns about being discriminated against. The most commonly reported actions were deliberately keeping their distance from others when out in public, choosing to stay home and hardly going out, and reducing their outings and social activities.
  • Half of the respondents were unsure of how to support themselves or others going through these experiences.
  • Disclaimer: Experiences of racial discrimination against the Pacific communities after the Auckland COVID-19 resurgence in August 2020, were likely not captured as most of the data were collected before the cluster occurred. The February 2021 lockdown shows that this is an issue worthy of monitoring given the high representation of Pacific people in the essential services workforce near Auckland airport.

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