Racism prevalent in New Zealand, says Human Rights Commission

Muslim schoolgirls whose headscarves are taken off by other students. A Pākehā boy who loved kapa haka ridiculed for it because he was white. A town planner who suggested building the marae in the dump.

People yelling “Go home to your country” at the supermarket, in front of your – and their – children. Interviewing for a job and being told, “Oh I didn’t realise you had universities in the jungle.”

These real-life stories show the many different ways racism rears its head in New Zealand, and it is prevalent, says a new report by the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

The Christchurch mosque attacks and the Black Lives Matter movement have increased recognition and willingness to talk about racism, but the report shows mixed views on whether racism has gotten better or worse in recent years.

Racism is not on the decline for everyone, says Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.

“It’s certainly a wake-up call.”

The report comes at a time when Asian communities here and around the world are grappling with the Atlanta spa shootings in the US on March 16 that killed eight people, six of them Asian-American women.

The HRC report “Drivers of migrant New Zealanders’ experiences of racism” uses research from focus groups with 210 participants of 23 different ethnicities and religious denominations, as well as interviews with migrant settlement providers.

Many respondents in the study talked about having to change how they look, dress, speak, and act to fit in with Eurocentric expectations in New Zealand.

Of Singaporean-Chinese descent, post-graduate student and public health researcher Steph Hai Hui Tan used to get comments like, “You’re hot for an Asian, or you’re cool for an Asian,” she tells the Herald.

This shaped her perception of beauty in her school years. “To be beautiful here you have to be Western.”

“So my friends and I, we would often wake up wishing we were white.”

Data suggests migrants face more discrimination than non-migrants. 21.2 per cent of new migrants (defined as those who arrived in the last five years) reported experiencing discrimination, higher than the 16.5 per cent for Kiwi-born in 2018.

Just over half (53 per cent) of New Zealanders held a positive view of migrants in 2016, down from 58 per cent in 2015.

The impacts of racism on people’s daily lives are far-reaching, whether it’s health, housing, work, or education.

Tan’s first memory of racism was in first grade, when classmates reacted to the Chinese food her mother put together in her lunchbox. “They’d say, it’s so smelly, very yuck, and they’d pull their eyes back, calling me ching chong Chinese.”

She went home upset with an untouched lunchbox, which worried her mother. She started making her own lunches from then on, at the age of 6.

Tan is one of the organisers of a Stop Asian Hate march in Auckland on Saturday, a show of solidarity with Asians here and in the US in response to the Atlanta shootings.

“New Zealanders especially those who don’t experience racism, need to understand and empathise that the impacts of racism are traumatic, intergenerational … and affect all aspects of wellbeing,” said Foon.

The research findings will go into developing a national action plan against racism, he says, which should include “first and foremost the honouring of Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.

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