Editorial : Racism – Alive and Well in NZ

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 21, Spring 2001

Many would have read John Minto’s article in the New Zealand Herald on 19 July written as part of the 20th anniversary reflections on the 1981 Tour. In it he argues that free market economic policies have maintained the vast majority of Black Africans in poverty and powerlessness. In reality no real change has occurred in their life-situations other than to vote for a black elite who have succumbed to the there is no alternative (Tina) mantra.

Free market policies have continued to do what was no longer possible politically. In fact they have increased the gap between the rich mainly white and the poor black majority. This is a new institutional racism being lived out with the active support of the international community. It is racist because the cost of these economic policies falls predominately on those who are non-white.

We know this to be true from our own experience. Since 1984 with the de-regulation of the economy and the opening up to freer trade through lower tariffs, we have accumulated a depressing collection of social statistics. Whatever negative social indicator, be it unemployment, poor housing, low health status, low income or few qualifications, Maori and Pacific Islander representation has been increasing and are at levels far greater than their proportion in the population. Economist Paul Dalziel, in 1992, felt compelled out of honesty to name a society that tolerates such a situation as racist.

Our Government will not accept this charge. Nor would the wealthy nations pushing the WTO or APEC agenda. As long as there is a belief in trickle down, the policies cannot be racist because everyone will benefit with time.

There is no willingness to hear the truth that free market policies only re-inforce the power and wealth of those who are already rich (mainly white). Also, there is a cultural unwillingness for those of European stock to go beyond individual opportunities and impacts and to view what is happening to non-white groups as a whole.

I believe that twenty years after the 1981 Springbok Tour, racism is alive and well in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our Government’s passionate commitment to free trade and to the continued colonisation of weaker nations and peoples by white owned national and transnational companies is racist.

The history of colonisation of this land and the establishment of Westminster style institutions is a racist history. And the colonisation of Maori continues. Maori do have some abilities to determine their own destinies but this is limited by Pakeha structures that continue to have the final say in this land.

A Pakeha friend, who has been involved in Treaty education for some time, began a presentation with the statement that she was racist. She couldn’t but be, with the history and cultural assumptions she inherited. As Pakeha we think we have gone beyond the prejudices of the past. We are willing to work and mix with a range of non-Pakeha and we believe we accept cultural and colour differences. Yet usually our mixing is on our terms and in places where we are comfortable. Usually it is within social structures that our group has constructed over time. And if people of other races do things our way – there is not a problem.

As Pakeha we have a long way to go to understand and accept the negative impact we have had and continue to have on Maori. Acknowledging our history is a first step. But we also need to look at the structures and policies of today. The free market agenda is but the most recent face of racism. It must be confronted as apartheid was confronted.

—David Tutty

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