11 | Life

Bill Ral­ston

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - BILL RAL­STON

Movie di­rec­tor Taika Waititi told a for­eign mag­a­zine that New Zealand was “as racist as f---” and the coun­try im­me­di­ately spi­ralled into an angst-rid­den storm of de­nial and con­fir­ma­tion. As a white male, I did not grow up di­rectly ex­posed to racism of the kind Waititi says he ex­pe­ri­enced, but it’s ob­vi­ous there is truth in what he said.

I pre­sume Pasi­fika, Chi­nese and In­dian kids suf­fer from racism, too. A lot of young Euro­pean mi­grants ex­pe­ri­ence it in the form of pe­jo­ra­tive la­bels such as Pom, Yarpie, Yank and, er, Aussie. That last one may look okay on pa­per, but of­ten it’s the tone of voice used that makes it sound so neg­a­tive.

I agree with Waititi, be­cause many people do hold ill-in­formed, big­oted, prej­u­diced opin­ions about oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly those of a dif­fer­ent eth­nic, racial or re­li­gious group. It’s called ig­no­rance.

How­ever, one of the rea­sons he con­sid­ers the coun­try racist is a lit­tle un­for­tu­nate: “People just flat out refuse to pro­nounce Maori names prop­erly.” I have no­ticed, es­pe­cially in the big cities, a new gen­er­a­tion of school leavers who do make a real ef­fort to get their pro­nun­ci­a­tion right. Auck­land’s har­bour, for ex­am­ple, is now in­creas­ingly called “Wai-teh-mah-tah”, rather than the old fash­ioned “Why-da-mad­der”.

Provin­cial ar­eas are strag­gling a bit on that trend. I live in Te Awanga, a vil­lage near the base of Cape Kid­nap­pers, which ev­ery­one seems to pro­nounce “Ti Ah-wonga”. A Māori jour­nal­ist friend cor­rected me, say­ing, “It’s Teh Awa-ngah.” So I started say­ing it that way and was met by blank stares of in­com­pre­hen­sion from lo­cals. I give up.

The me­dia love straight­for­ward ar­gu­ments of the “Yes we are! No we’re not!” kind that ev­ery­one can have an opin­ion on. There is not a race of people on Earth that does not, from time to time, stereo­type other people. Ac­cept that fact, try to cor­rect it and move on.

The more im­por­tant ar­gu­ment in the me­dia at the mo­ment is one that sim­ply washes over most people be­cause they lack a true un­der­stand­ing of the is­sue. As we head to­wards the new Labour-led Gov­ern­ment’s first Bud­get, a row has emerged, with the po­lit­i­cal hard left and the hard right cu­ri­ously glued to­gether in hor­ror that the Gov­ern­ment is adopt­ing the cen­trist po­si­tion of ad­her­ing to the Bud­get Re­spon­si­bil­ity Rules.

Hello? Any­one there? Any­one still read­ing this? It is im­por­tant, more so than Waititi ru­mi­nat­ing on his child­hood and suf­fer­ing some prej­u­dice. The Gov­ern­ment is not bor­row­ing big, not spend­ing big and be­ing con­ser­va­tively cau­tious about its com­ing Bud­get.

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub has ar­gued that any gov­ern­ment that does not bor­row when in­ter­est rates are at the low­est level in a cen­tury is a “fis­cal id­iot”. The prob­lem is that in­ter­est rates will not stay low in­def­i­nitely; one day, the Gov­ern­ment will wake up with a much big­ger debt hang­over to re­pay at much higher in­ter­est rates, which is bad news for you and me be­cause we will need more of our taxes to re­pay it.

I sus­pect the in­fla­tion rate is al­ready poised to rise. In­creased fuel taxes across the coun­try, with po­ten­tially twice as much in Auck­land, will have an up­ward in­fla­tion­ary ef­fect be­cause vir­tu­ally ev­ery one of the goods and ser­vices we buy and use has to be trans­ported, so prices will go up.

Yes, I know, this is much more bor­ing than ar­gu­ing whether New Zealand is racist or not, but it will af­fect our fu­ture much more.

I started say­ing Te Awanga cor­rectly and was met by blank stares of in­com­pre­hen­sion from lo­cals.

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