Few would admit to being racist. Let’s face it, it’s not exactly a career-enhancing attribute in life’s journey. One would hope most people aren’t especially enthused by those who express hate towards others for no other reason than their differences.
Where it is worn proudly as a “badge-of-honour”, the racist is inevitably surrounded by other racists. Like any form of “ism” the proudly-and-loudly-opinionated find comfort and protection in a crowd.
Increasingly though, the racist needs no obvious crowd. Hiding behind a computer screen or talk-back phoneline, the anonymous racist is able to vandalise the airways and find like-minded friends in an even bigger swamp.
Which is why, when we hear of outlandish racism, such as recently happened to the group of Ōtaki Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rito students subjected to racial taunts at a Kāpiti Coast District Council meeting, we are reminded how easy it is to trample on the language and identity of those outside of someone’s cultureless orbit. And yes, it’s yet another time to ponder how mature and equitable our society really is.
A few recent media stories have, yet again, pushed racism issues to the forefront of people’s attention. Former MP and mayor John Banks aiding-and-abetting a caller’s racist commentary on Magic Talk radio got people questioning the media’s role in providing a mouth-piece for racism, as did last month’s Broadcasting Standards Authority decision to ignore complaints about things such as the use of te reo use in the media. But perhaps the biggest stories to hold a mirror to racism have been the atrocity of the Christchurch mosque attacks, and the alleged murder (trial ongoing as we went to print) of the African American George Floyd by a white cop in the United States.
The treatment of the Ōtaki kura students at a local event might seem relatively minor in comparison, but it is no less illustrative of the fact of racism in our society and its dank presence in every corner, particularly towards our indigenous people.
An apparent truism about racism is that it is perpetrated by ignorance and fear. Sure enough, many people fear the unknown and the unfamiliar. Turn the lights off and many worry about what they can’t see or understand. But equally, there are many who deliberately promulgate an ignorant point-of-view, while others are silent, but quietly promote their position through their indifference.
These are the people who suggest that their racism is nothing of the sort. Their affront at Black Lives Matter is apparently NOT against black people, but actually to say that “all lives matter”. That might be true, but it misses the point that a section of society has an embedded privilege while another is denied many basic human rights. Their counterfeit concern for everyone is actually racism manifest as a denial of what marginalisation is about. Can anyone imagine saying to the victim of a violent burglary that they should suffer in silence and receive no support and empathy because that support should more correctly be extended to everyone – whether they were burgled or not.
It’s the kind of racism that once suggested that New Zealand rugby’s contact with apartheid South Africa built bridges to a better future for the oppressed, through sport. Never mind that part of the deal, at one time, was no Māori player involvement in tours, or that the South African black population received no favours at all from these arrangements.
Then there is the unconscious bias we so often see in people’s description of racial groups. Apparently, Asians are all bad drivers, but if a Pākehā is a bad driver, that’s an individual failing and certainly not an indictment on all Pākehā.
It’s in this more passive area that it seems a shift in public attitude is needed and possible. As Martin Luther King once said: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
The bad people – those who are overtly racist – are usually easier to spot and, to some extent, deal with. But those who casually package their racism with faint slights against certain groups, or an affront at perceived privileges given to Māori, for example, are more of an indicator of the depth and breadth of the problem.
So, isn’t it high time we called out racism for what it is?
Rather than thinking it’s isolated and simply saying it’s just one rotten apple in the barrel, it needs to be challenged at every turn. Racism causes people to be the unnecessary victims of others’ bad attitudes and, at worst, a scourge and drain on all of society.
Fraser Carson is a former member of the XŌtaki Ōtaki College Alumni Trust and the founding partner of Wellington-based Flightdec.com. Flightdec’s kaupapa is to challenge the status quo of the internet to give access to more reliable and valuable citizen generated content, and to improve connectivity and collaboration.