The Problem With Casual Racism In New Zealand

screen-shot7-2010-11-17-atI went home during the last semester break, and as my family were walking in the Farmers Market we stopped by a stand selling beautiful wooden bowls. The man at the stand was friendly and talked to my family, and my Dad who has lived in New Zealand for over 20 years, was asked: “So, where are you all visiting from?”, my Dad replied “Warkworth” which is indeed the truth, as I grew up there. These kinds of questions create ignorance and occur often for many of us who have grown up being asked “Where are you from”, joked about or faced racial stereotypes. Although the title reads in New Zealand, I wanted to also add a little of my experience when I was living in Australia.

There are many stories like these, such as people talking slowly to my parents when I was a young girl, or people treating other people differently because of their race, or being bullied at school for your race. Often these experiences are in silence, and that is why we don’t hear about them often, because they have happened so often, and too many times before. I’ve had school friends tell me in a joking manner “it’s because you’re Asian!” which implies that stereotypes are true, and well, they’re not. Maths and science were my worst subjects, even though people would ask me for help in class. I recently watched a video here, and it’s a strong reminder on the harm of racism.

When I lived in Australia, I felt that for some people, part of the humour there often has casual racism disguised as jokes. In a past post I talked about my experiences of being put in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in Primary school, even though I am fluent in English. When I was in high school, I had a teacher who used my “being an Asian”, as an excuse for my grammatical mistakes in English class. Bearing in mind English was one of my favourite classes, it seemed unfair that when my Caucasian friends had grammar mistakes, they were simply written in red pen with the teacher’s corrections.

I’m a first generation Kiwi who was born and raised in New Zealand, but because of my appearances I will always be asked “Where are you from?” and no one has ever guessed my ethnicity as Taiwanese. When I ask “What do you think my ethnicity is?” I often get the following: Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Malaysian or Thailand. The thing with asking where are you from? is that it gives the feeling that you don’t belong here. It’s more correct to ask “What is your ethnicity?” because that’s often what people want to know. I can’t count a number of times I’ve had someone ask me “Where are you from?” when I’ve just met them, or when I worked at a cafe, and a customer asks me this question and walks off.

As a Kiwi, I feel that a part of our culture is this she’ll be right kind of attitude, which is why racism is not always taken seriously as it should be. Any kind of racism at any level causes separation, builds hatred and causes a divide between people. The problem is that I’ve faced, as many people have, casual racism since I was a young girl. It all started in high school, because of ignorance and stereotypes. The problem with this is that many people who perpetuate it, make it seem that it’s the norm. In terms of Casual racism in Australia, I feel that it does affect job opportunities to some degree for many people, as there is still that level of discrimination in some corporations.

We live in a multicultural society, and in order to have a sense of harmony, we must be accepting of diversity. There needs to be a level of respect, and a treat others how you’d like to be treated way of thinking, for anyone we encounter. It’s not always as simple for these things to change immediately, and it will take time, but I think it’s important that we strive for it and live by fairness. Everyone deserves equal opportunities regardless of their race. Casual racism seems harmless, but if everyone does it, it helps it grow and builds up into a bigger issue. What do you think? What are your thoughts and experiences with casual racism?

Photography by Stephen Shore

14 thoughts on “The Problem With Casual Racism In New Zealand

  1. Beautifully written…. humans are so tribal. I wish we would start to transcend petty racism. Everyone should take a gene test to determine where their ancestors came from. The color of skin is only skin deep!

  2. Definitely an attitude that goes along with our tall poppy syndrome too, joke about serious issues to cope and have an automatic defence mechanism when it isn’t necessary! Sucks you’ve had to experience this but so great you’re talking about it!

  3. I might argue that it was also bad being a blue-eyed blond-headed little Pom at a time when the pubs closed at six and real men did little more than play rugby, follow the horse racing, and guzzle DB (which was all you could get).

    To me people are simply people. Race is unimportant but beliefs are all. If people share my values I like them, if not then I get along with them as best I can. Race is often a perceived label for values—which is simply judging by appearances; not good, but many of us do it.

    And I do believe the New Zealand Maori traces back to Taiwan …

      1. I have no idea, but long before they started telling us that the great Pacific migration began in SE Asia (specifically Taiwan) I’d noticed myself that some Maori folks looked almost Chinese (Matt Rata for one).

        Started thereabouts and spread via the Pacific to South America, according to some. Theories come and go, I can’t keep up …

  4. Well, I am a fellow kiwi, a white Maori, living in America right now and I honestly think your being a tad oversensitive in this blog post. I get where your coming from, but I think your underestimating our country just a little. We are a extremely diverse and appreciated tourist country, the numbers of people entering New Zealand can range monthly from 18,000 to 49,000. In 2017, 3,304,278 people entered into New Zealand alone. I think with these statistics, it should be taken that we are a country who are accepting of diversity, and welcome different races into our lands, and not judge them. Asking where you are from, is not a criticizing jab or racist, New Zealand today is made of many cultures and countries, and instead of wanting to insult you for ignorantly guessing wrong, they are politely asking you, setting a platform for you to share your background and what makes that part of your life special. So chill out mate, no one said you and your family aren’t Kiwi’s. I think your trying to blow racism into a context that just isn’t happening.

  5. Hi Nina, thanks for your comment! I had a similar comment like this a while ago, and really want to clarify that all my posts are just my opinion and I don’t want anyone to take it too personally, because they tend to be from my personal experience of racism that I’ve had as someone who was born and raised in New Zealand. I wanted to write this post after watching Taika Waititi’s entertaining video on casual racism.

  6. Thanks for sharing this :D Having grown up in Sydney as a Chinese kid – I can confirm what you’ve said are very true. Casual racism is very real even in the most culturally diverse places. I just started a blog as well looking specifically at racial abuse (from casual verbal racism to physical abuse) that’s been happening more and more regularly in public. It’s a place to discuss how we can best encourage people and ourselves to stand up when they/we see racism happening around them.
    Do check it out here if you’re into this kind of stuff! It’s my first time doing this kind of thing so would love some feedbacks as well
    Otherwise keep doing this and speaking out about these problems that we’re facing :)

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