A Little Bit Racist?

I watched the first part of TVNZ’s series ‘That’s a Bit Racist’, and it was the most biased, one-sided and in itself racist programme that I had ever seen. It was brought about, of course, by the dreadful Christchurch massacre, but that was the first mistake. The mosque shootings were perpetrated by a non-New Zealander, who identified as an ‘eco-fascist’ and targeted Muslims because of their birth rate. Islam is a religion, not a race, and so the attacks, dreadful as they were, were not racially motivated.

The programme missed the point altogether that inherently, everyone is racist. I lived in Hong Kong for a while and the local Chinese, 98% of the population, clearly thought that they were the superior race. I didn’t blame them for thinking that because I thought I belonged to the superior race too. None of us is right or wrong. It is all just a matter of personal opinion.

This programme detailed a number of incidents where people felt they had been racially profiled, and they might be right, but they might equally be wrong.

Columnist and comedian Oscar Kightley – who, if we’re honest, is a national treasure – revealed the reason why his comedy troupe The Naked Samoans don’t go to Christchurch. You guessed it, racism.
Despite being a group of household names and national icons, Kightley says they were subjected to not one but two shocking instances of racist prejudice when performing there. They arrived to perform and the stage security wouldn’t let them into the dressing room in case they stole something, he recalls. After the show, a bartender refused to serve them unless they could prove they had money.


Oscar Kightley’s comedy troupe is called The Naked Samoans. He brings attention to their race right there, so can hardly then expect everyone to ignore it. If he really was treated the way he says, then that is a disgrace, but was this really true? Did the barman actually demand to see their money before he agreed to give them drinks? Most bar staff don’t hand over drinks until they are paid for, no matter what colour you are.

I know a very successful businessman who is a Maori. He told me once that he is often ignored in restaurants, as the waiting staff don’t want to serve him. This man is attractive, presentable and well dressed, so I believed that he was being racially profiled and was duly horrified.

A couple of weeks later, however, I had a similar experience in a restaurant. Nothing we did seemed to get the wait staff to take our order. The waitress was European, and so am I. Instead of thinking that she was racist, I just assumed she was inefficient. And then I wondered… are such things interpreted as racism sometimes when really it is just staff overwork or inefficiency? Maybe sometimes people are a little too sensitive?

Oscar Kightley may be right that the barman was being racist, but I have had a similar attitude to white people at times. Sometimes, you just know someone is not going to pay or behave in an acceptable way, and race has nothing to do with it.

If anything, I think most Kiwis have become much more multicultural in the last decade or so, and it is happening naturally. The professional office where I worked in the 1990s had less than 10% non-Europeans. That office now has over 30% non-Europeans. No one bats an eyelid, and nor should they.

I was in my local dairy a couple of weeks ago. It is run by an Indian family. The man behind the counter was watching the cricket. I made a racial assumption and commented that the Black Caps had dodged a bullet by having their game against India rained off. He was having none of it. “Nah,” he said. “We can beat India no trouble”. The British born woman hi-fived the man of Indian descent in a show of national support for ‘our’ cricket team. We are both New Zealanders and proud of it.

I liked that.

Hone Harawira is a racist. He said he would not allow his daughter to date a ‘mo fo’ white man. That wasn’t mentioned in TVNZ’s programme.

We are all racist, to some extent, because it is human nature. Upbraiding people constantly for being racist does nothing for racial harmony. It just reminds you that people are different from you when you might not have thought about it before. Programmes like this make racism worse, not better. Those of us who interact perfectly harmoniously with those of other races on a daily basis feel insulted by this patronising attitude.

It is like we are being told – you can judge white people by their manners, their attitudes and their honesty, but do that to a non-white person and you are a racist. Non-white people cannot be judged by the same standards as you judge other white people, and that is just wrong.

And yet, as I watched the Cricket World Cup final (yes… let’s not go there), I was struck by how multicultural we really have become. From Trent Boult of Ngati Tahu descent, to Ross Taylor who is part Samoan, to Ish Shodi who was born in India, to Colin de Grandhomme, who was born in Zimbabwe… to Jofra Archer, born in Barbados, Adil Raschid of Pakistani descent, to former England captain Nassar Hussein in the commentary box, and all those children of Indian descent in the Lord’s crowd with the English flag painted on their faces (not to mention those waving New Zealand flags)… it seems to me were are doing okay in the racial stakes. Not perfectly, maybe, but still okay.

If only these supposed do-gooders would just let us treat people with the respect they deserve… whatever colour they are.

The world is already a melting pot. Let’s let it melt naturally, without forcing anyone to behave in a way that they don’t like and won’t accept.