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Being racist comes with huge consequences

Opinion Piece

As I reflect on a turbulent year in race relations, I think about the personal and collective responsibility we have to combat racism. As such, I am turning my attention to people who may behave in racist ways. I'm asking them, what would you do if the shoe was on the other foot?

Imagine if the norms of racism were turned on the people who usually dish it out — if belittling nicknames were their norm; if their ethnicity was either absent or presented negatively in media; if because of their race, their pay was reduced 25 percent overnight; or if they were discriminated against or given below-par treatment at the doctors or at the hospital.

My hunch is that if this group had to put up with racism, they would soon be crying foul.

My message to people is to think about the effect racist words and actions have on others. Other well-considered advice is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. It's easy for some to be unthinkingly racist but it takes just a little discipline to stop, think and not act. Or even better, take an anti-racist stance.

The consequences of racism

Sometimes we need to be reminded that racism has real and harmful impacts on our neighbours, on our families, on the people around us. Not everyone understands this, so be the person who Gives Nothing to Racism and takes time to explain the harm it does. Raise it with friends and discuss it at family dinners. This is an effective way of challenging attitudes.

If racism is something you've done or do, think about having to deal with the following situations as part of your every-day life in Aotearoa:

' Racist bullying, abuse and name-calling at school

' Being trolled online with racist name-calling and abuse

' Being afraid to leave your home because members of your community are being assaulted in public

' Being in low-paid, insecure work and struggling with bills because people hold stereotypes about your skin colour or religious views

' Job loss being much more serious because bias means you have less opportunity for training and re-employment

' Being more likely to be charged for a crime, and to suffer more serious consequences, than others due to systemic racial bias in our legal system

' Receiving second-rate support in your interaction with health services

' The combined impact of racism and poverty leading to a poorer education, as teacher bias affects career choices or poverty affects access to learning; eg, the inability to afford necessary equipment.

For tangata whenua, all the consequences of racism I have listed above were preceded by the organised confiscation of lands in the 1860s and alienation through the land courts. This is a root cause of so much deprivation in Maori communities.

The burden of inequality is felt by many as we live in a hugely unequal society. Imagine if the colonisers had taken a different path and Maori had retained their land and strong economic base — what a different country this would be.

Being accountable in age of social media

In the digital age, there are new consequences for doing racist things. Imagine having a permanent online record of sharing offensive and denigrating posts.

If things go really wrong, your name can become tarnished by association with racist social media or other posts. It's simple to not be immortalised as an online racist — just stop and think about what you post. Ask — will it denigrate others? How would I feel if the post was about me? Doing nothing, not sharing, is always an option, or taking action to report online racism.

The Christchurch Mosque attacks have shown the importance of accountability for social media companies and their users, when it comes to harmful speech.

Seeking a way forward

I don't wish the consequences of racism on anyone, including the notion of flipping the dynamics. Building a more equitable society should be a win-win for all.

Collectively, we can choose to create a less racist society. We can choose to not be racist individuals, just as people who run organisations, agencies and businesses can choose to be anti-racist. Consider the basic principle of cause and effect. Racism has negative consequences for all because when we live in an unequal society, we all lose.

An alternative pathway, of committing to anti-racism as an individual, among family and friends and at work, can have far-reaching consequences. I encourage New Zealanders to Give Nothing to Racism by understanding what it looks like, and by learning how to combat it. These actions will make us all winners.

If you are in doubt about the racism experienced by people in Aotearoa simply visit www.voiceofracism.co.nz and hear it for yourself.

Meng Foon

  1. Tony Lee says:

    Meng, thank you for your opinion piece. It provides much for te Tairawhiti community to think about particularly in view of council’s inevitable and progressive resolution to institute Māori wards. Council’s resolution will, I fear, signal the beginning of opposition from Hobson’s Pledge and others. I hope that the wider community, as you say, will choose to create a less racist society by affirming council’s decision.

    Whatever the direction that community conversations take, I also hope that they are held with civility and with a focus on ideas and principles rather rather than poisoning the dialogue with personal attacks.

    1. Gordon Webb says:

      In my submission to Council I raised several points questioning the need for Maori wards. I fear they were all overlooked in the final deliberation in the wish of Councillors to “do the right thing” (whatever that means). In no particular order these were:-
      1. If Councillors believe they are not able to represent all their community fairly, regardless of ethnicity, then they should not be holding their current positions.
      2. There was no evidence to show from submissions or what was put up to Council as part of the consultative process, that Maori and their interests were inadequately represented at the Council table.
      3. No decisions in the recent past have been made incorrectly or wrongly or without due consideration for the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions.
      4 I suggested 12 decision making processes of the Council where Maori have the ability to be fully involved in decision making processes.
      5. Nothing in the Treaty of Waitangi validates co-governance.
      I fear for the District in this as now the Mayor has a tiger by the tail. She has to walk the tight rope between competing iwi for a ward, balancing the desirability of retaining rural voices at the Council table and avoiding gerrymanders. Unless these are dealt with, I suggest there will be nothing that is progressive. I don’t mind admitting I am a sore loser, but even more so when logic and reason is simply brushed aside.

      1. Tony Lee says:

        This decision may be one component to realise a vision where our history is truly shared with trust and dignity maintained. I view reconciliation as an ongoing process where the opportunities that arise are seized in the spirit of partnership. These ideas also inform my lack of support for the display of the Endeavour replicas.