‘I’ve felt like a refugee in my own coun­try’

Waikato Times - - News - Stuff

Racism is em­bed­ded in Aotearoa – from ver­bal as­saults, slurs, put­downs and ‘‘pro­fil­ing’’ to threats of vi­o­lence – but there is lit­tle data on how wide­spread it is. This prompted Stuff to launch its own on­line sur­vey. Cate Broughton re­ports on its find­ings.

Are you OK, Mum?’’ Then 12-year-old Dion Maresca is stand­ing at the su­per­mar­ket check­out with his mum when a cus­tomer un­leashes a stream of vit­riol about Ma¯ ori.

His Mum, Pa­nia War­ren, a 56-year-old Ma¯ ori mother-ofthree, says she was un­load­ing her gro­ceries when a woman be­hind her ‘‘kept go­ing on about Ma¯ oris, the land, and who do we think we are, that I as a Ma¯ ori am en­ti­tled to more than any other per­son in NZ who is nonMa¯ ori – which is not cor­rect’’.

Her son – born to a Euro­pean father of Ital­ian de­scent, from whom he got his very fair com­plex­ion – ‘‘just looked at this woman and he came up to me and said ‘are you OK, Mum’?

‘‘The look on their faces was just beau­ti­ful and ab­so­lute shock.’’

Now aged 25, Maresca has been a fre­quent wit­ness to his mother’s be­lit­tle­ment at the hands of shop­keep­ers and strangers.

So when launched its on­line sur­vey on racism, Maresca de­cided it was time to put his fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ences ‘‘out there’’.

He was among more than 2000 peo­ple to take part.

For Maresca the fre­quent racial slurs and dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment have been pain­ful to watch. ‘‘I just look at my Mum and I just feel guilt and re­gret.’’

The sur­vey

‘‘If you don’t be­lieve racism ex­ists in this coun­try, it’s be­cause your ex­pe­ri­ence . . . is very dif­fer­ent to mine. I’m of Ma¯ ori de­scent, but have been made to feel like a refugee in my own coun­try’’ – Sur­vey re­spon­dent.

Stuff’s sur­vey was launched in Septem­ber, six months af­ter the March 15 ter­ror at­tacks when 51 peo­ple were killed in two mosques in Christchur­ch, al­legedly by an Aus­tralian-born gun­man with white su­prem­a­cist views.

His ex­treme and ab­hor­rent views are re­jected by the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Ki­wis. But not all. Mul­ti­ple ar­rests were made in the days and weeks fol­low­ing of New Zealan­ders who had shared the shooter’s banned man­i­festo and chill­ing livestream with on­line con­tacts.

In a pow­er­ful piece pub­lished on March 17, Is­lamic Women’s Coun­cil leader An­jum Rah­man was among a num­ber of com­men­ta­tors who said they were ap­palled by the at­tack but not sur­prised. The signs of mount­ing racism had been ap­par­ent, yet ig­nored by the wider pub­lic and au­thor­i­ties.

Did we have our heads in the sand?

Sta­tis­tics show that recorded hate crime and on­line abuse have soared in the UK and the US since the anti-im­mi­gra­tion Brexit vote and the elec­tion of

Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent.

But there are no sim­i­lar sta­tis­tics in NZ. Po­lice do not record hate crime; we do not rou­tinely sur­vey Ma¯ ori, Pasi­fika or mi­grant groups on their ex­pe­ri­ences of racism, nor mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia.

The Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion has not had fund­ing for a com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey on the topic. The only race-re­lated data it reg­u­larly col­lects are from the com­plaints made un­der the Hu­man Rights Act, of which there have been about 400 in each of the past two years.

Keen to find out what was go­ing on, Stuff asked read­ers to share their views. More than 2000 peo­ple took part in its on­line sur­vey. These re­spon­dents are self-se­lect­ing and mo­ti­vated but their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences and views of race re­la­tions in New Zealand pro­vide a wealth of in­for­ma­tion.

Christchur­ch-based Re­search First an­a­lysed the data while Tex­tFer­ret used ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to as­sess the long­form an­swers.

About 60 per cent of sur­vey re­spon­dents iden­ti­fied as Pa¯ keha¯ , 16 per cent Ma¯ ori and 14 per cent Asian. Many shared pain­ful ex­pe­ri­ences of day-to-day racism by strangers, col­leagues, shop work­ers and of­fi­cials. Ex­pe­ri­ences in­cluded ver­bal as­saults, put­downs, racial pro­fil­ing and threats of vi­o­lence – with Ma¯ ori con­sis­tently tak­ing the big­gest hits.

Oth­ers also re­vealed the times they had chal­lenged friends and col­leagues about their racist com­ments, and a num­ber who con­fessed feel­ings of guilt about their own be­hav­iour.

The sur­vey also lifted the lid on an un­der­cur­rent of re­sent-

ment from Pa¯ keha¯ against a Ma¯ ori re­nais­sance.

Sus­pi­cious shop work­ers

Welling­ton con­sul­tant and proud Ma¯ ori woman Vanessa Mohi loves her lip­stick. On a reg­u­lar shop­ping trip to stock up on her favourite shade at David Jones, the 46-year-old was head­ing out the door when a se­cu­rity guard asked to check her bag.

As she went to show him the con­tents of her hand­bag a

Pa¯ keha¯ woman took of­fence to what she saw as racial pro­fil­ing.

‘‘She had words with the se­cu­rity guard about why wasn’t he check­ing every­one’s bag and said this was dis­gust­ing.’’

Staff from the lip­stick counter told him to let Vanessa go.

Back at her of­fice she re­counted the scene to her mainly Pa¯ keha¯ col­leagues.

‘‘My work­mates all looked at me and went, what? They checked your bag? And I said ‘yep, don’t they check yours?’ ’’

The sur­vey found nonEuro­pean re­spon­dents were three times as likely as Euro­peans to say they ‘‘very of­ten’’ ex­pe­ri­enced un­fair treat­ment by ser­vice peo­ple such as shop as­sis­tants, wait­ers and se­cu­rity guards.

‘‘I con­stantly get fol­lowed around by shop­keep­ers when­ever I go to the su­per­mar­ket and I am al­ways asked to show my re­ceipt to staff be­fore be­ing al­lowed to leave the shop,’’ a MELAA (Mid­dle East­ern, Latin Amer­i­can and African) re­spon­dent said.

An­other said he was fol­lowed home by a hard­ware store staff mem­ber and ac­cused of be­ing ‘‘a thief like all In­di­ans are’’.

In the past year, Mohi had an­other en­counter re­mind­ing her ca­sual racism was alive and well.

The chief ex­ec­u­tive of a com­pany in her field asked her to meet the hir­ing man­ager to dis­cuss a new job. She had spo­ken to the woman on the phone to make ar­range­ments.

When she ar­rived the woman said ‘‘Oh, you didn’t sound Ma¯ ori’’.

‘‘I was a lit­tle bit shocked so I went on the de­fen­sive and said ‘what does a Ma¯ ori sound like?’ and I think she just gig­gled a bit and said well, you know . . . and I said ‘I re­ally don’t, please tell me’.’’

She did not pur­sue the job. Mohi says her com­fort­able life pro­vides a buf­fer against the im­pacts of racism. ‘‘My life is full of priv­i­lege, I have an ed­u­ca­tion, I have a de­cent job, I have high self-es­teem. You can brush these things aside when it’s not im­por­tant to you. But it wouldn’t be the same if I had to take that job so that I could feed my fam­ily.’’

While she doesn’t like to make a fuss, her daugh­ters, now young adults, are more out­spo­ken about ‘‘ev­ery­day’’ racism.


An­other Ma¯ ori sur­vey re­spon­dent, Michelle Holden, 47, has not been as for­tu­nate as Mohi. The former coun­sel­lor moved to a small vil­lage in the Manawatu-Whanganui re­gion three years ago.

‘‘I just heard that peo­ple were shocked that ‘she’s brown, she’s got tat­toos and dogs and she doesn’t have a hus­band’.’’

Holden said that be­fore mov­ing to the pre­dom­i­nantly Pa¯ keha¯ area she hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion for many years, but hear­ing of the re­sponse to her pres­ence in the town was deeply up­set­ting.

‘‘It’s re­ally hard to de­scribe. It’s such a pow­er­less feel­ing. Like, I don’t care about these peo­ple but find­ing that out made me feel less than and it was quite pro­found . . . and I felt ashamed.’’

The back­lash

‘‘I feel un­com­fort­able with any­one out­side my own race in case I un­in­ten­tion­ally of­fend them,’’ said He­len, 55. ‘‘I didn’t used to be, but I am very aware of how un­pop­u­lar white peo­ple are in NZ these days.’’

He­len, an Auck­lan­der, filled in the sur­vey form and agreed to be in­ter­viewed but did not want her full name used.

She said she mixed with peo­ple from other eth­nic groups at church and in her work­place, which was ‘‘safe ground’’.

He­len was among a large num­ber of Pa¯ keha¯ re­spon­dents who said they reg­u­larly ex­pe­ri­enced racism, mainly from Ma¯ ori and the me­dia, and felt ‘‘un­der at­tack’’.

When asked about chal­leng­ing racist com­ments He­len wrote about the per­se­cu­tion of New Zealand Euro­peans.

‘‘All white peo­ple are now seen as po­ten­tial white su­prem­a­cists.’’

She had no­ticed this ‘‘very much since the mosque shoot­ings’’.

‘‘Any white per­son who says any­thing about im­mi­gra­tion . . . or about Is­lam . . . or any­thing like that, they are im­me­di­ately a po­ten­tial white su­prem­a­cist or far Right, or alt-Right . . .’’

As a fourth or fifth gen­er­a­tion set­tler fam­ily she was also la­belled a colonist, He­len said.

She had been called a f ..... white b…. to her face while work­ing at a school in Otara.

Usu­ally the abuse was on­line ‘‘be­cause I’m usu­ally crit­i­cis­ing race-based fund­ing, to be fair . . . so that tends to wind peo­ple up’’.

She said her daugh­ter, who suf­fered a health con­di­tion, had ini­tially been de­clined fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance but she be­lieved this would not have been the case were she Ma¯ ori.

‘‘I don’t feel like I’m bet­ter than any­body else and you know, we’re not well off, we’ve strug­gled . . . we still strug­gle but I feel like white peo­ple are looked at as the priv­i­leged few who’ve had ev­ery­thing easy and I don’t think that’s a fair view.’’

Anal­y­sis of the sur­vey’s open text an­swers by data an­a­lyt­ics com­pany Text Fer­ret found more than 400 Pa¯ keha¯ re­spon­dents who ex­pressed sim­i­lar views.

This is quite nat­u­ral, says Pro­fes­sor Steve Ratuva, a Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ol­o­gist and ex­pert in eth­nic­ity. Some Pa¯ keha¯ feel they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing racism.

‘‘The clas­si­cal def­i­ni­tion of racism is a par­tic­u­lar group look­ing down on an­other group as be­ing in­fe­rior.

‘‘In other cases, so-called in­fe­rior groups may re­spond by abus­ing the other back. And that may be seen as racism by those on the re­ceiv­ing end.’’

Ratuva pointed to sup­port­ers of Trump who had in­ter­preted a de­mand for more equal­ity by mi­nori­ties as racism.

Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land School of Ma¯ ori Stud­ies Pro­fes­sor Mar­garet Mutu says white priv­i­lege can be in­vis­i­ble to white peo­ple. ‘‘If you are in a po­si­tion of power and peo­ple say let’s share that power you don’t want to let go.’’

‘Why can’t you take a joke?’

Aeronwy Cord­ing, a sur­vey re­spon­dent from Christchur­ch, high school teacher and sin­gle mother to 4-year-old Za­hara, has had a front-row seat to ex­pe­ri­ences of ca­sual racism since the birth of her daugh­ter.

Cord­ing is Pa¯ keha¯ while the father of Za­hara is Zim­bab­wean.

While usu­ally sur­rounded by col­leagues, friends and fam­ily who em­brace di­ver­sity, Cord­ing said she was still reg­u­larly con­fronted with racist at­ti­tudes.

On on oc­ca­sion while at lunch with some women she did not know well she was asked ‘what’s it like hav­ing a n…..child?’.

As her tod­dler played hap­pily nearby Cord­ing re­acted swiftly.

‘‘I said ‘please don’t ever talk about my child like that again’ and every­one kind of awk­wardly gig­gled and some­one changed the sub­ject and that was that.’’

Cord­ing says the re­ac­tions of the other women were equally trou­bling. ‘‘They thought it was funny. Be­cause that’s every­one’s de­fault, ‘I was just jok­ing, why can’t you take a joke?’ ‘‘

Cord­ing says the ini­tial re­sponse of love and com­pas­sion fol­low­ing the March 15 mosque at­tacks did not last.

‘‘I guess what hit me was the back­lash of ‘oh, I sup­pose Jacinda is go­ing to try and get their whole fam­ily over now, and we’ve done all this for you and now you are com­plain­ing, how dare you not be thank­ful that I’ve helped you’.’’

Cord­ing says she is fear­ful her daugh­ter will be af­fected by the same at­ti­tudes. ‘‘My big­gest fear is when Za­hara gets older and peo­ple say ‘go home’. She is home, she was born here. She is a Kiwi.’’


Vanessa Mohi says ‘‘her com­fort­able life pro­vided a buf­fer against the im­pacts of racism’’.


At a lunch with some women she did not know well, Aeronwy Cord­ing says she was asked ‘‘what’s it like hav­ing a n….. child?’’


Dion Maresca has re­counted be­ing a fre­quent wit­ness to the be­lit­tling of his mother, Pa­nia War­ren, by shop­keep­ers and strangers. ‘‘I just look at my Mum and I just feel guilt and re­gret.’’

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