How much racism is there in New Zealand? Thriving?

“In spite of the image we like to portray to the world, New Zealand is as racist as the South of the United States ever was.”

That’s a highly charged statement. There is likely to be some degree of racism in just about every country, and there is certainly some racism in New Zealand. Is it reasonable to describe racism as ‘thriving’?

Tom O’Connor (Waikato Times) thinks so: Racism thriving in New Zealand

In spite of the image we like to portray to the world, New Zealand is as racist as the South of the United States ever was. Perhaps not as violent as Alabama of the 1960s but, beneath a very thin veneer of civilisation, we denigrate those who are different to the Pākehā majority no matter how familiar and benign those differences might be.

“We denigrate” is a sweeping generalisation, and “the Pākehā majority” is not defined.

Most Pākehā New Zealanders, however, will stoutly declare their belief in and support for racial equality, but nonetheless will refuse to surrender their subtle privileges and all the policies that make them possible. This can be seen as New Age racism, in which the majority Pākehā community have failed to actively address real racial inequality simply to maintain the comfortable racial status quo.

Riddled with questionable statements – “Most Pākehā New Zealanders”, “will stoutly declare their belief”, “will refuse”, “to surrender their subtle privileges”, “the majority Pākehā community have failed”, “to maintain the comfortable racial status quo”.

This is the covert, subtle and damaging racism of underlying prejudice and unspoken patronising assumption that ethnicity on its own dictates the role we allow or tolerate others to play in society.

I think that most of use just chug along in our lives. I could be claimed that we ‘allow and tolerate” many things by not taking an active interest or playing an active part in them.

Every ethnic group in New Zealand, including Pākehā, feels the sting of racism from time to time, but it is minority groups, and anything about them, which are subjected to more than majority groups.

Some degree of racism is probably present anywhere. We have seen it in New Zealand at Government level, for example against Chinese (immigrant tax), Germans and Japanese during the World wars, the dawn raids against Pacific Islanders in the 1970s.

Opponents to the teaching of Māori have suggested in letters to various editors up and down the country that the language of today is nothing like original Māori and that there is no value in teaching a “bastardised” version.

I haven’t seen any of those letters, let alone up and down the country. I have seen people criticising compulsory teaching of the Māori in schools, and I have also seen concerns expressed about teaching a standardised Māori language that doesn’t cater for varying dialects and the evolution of language.

Every language has regional and societal differences, probably none more so than English. I’m not aware of any campaigns to insist that just one ‘pure’ for of English is taught and used. I presume Shakespeare still features in ‘English’ in education, and while his language has had a significant impact on the English language we have moved on from that style of use.

Opponents to the teaching of the Land Wars history have come up with equally vague and illogical reasons. Some have made ill-informed and ridiculous comparisons between the Land Wars of the 1860s and the intertribal Musket Wars 30 years earlier.

I think that New Zealand history was badly neglected in schools, especially prominent events like the various New Zealand wars  – which were complicated, as some Māori tribes sided with the English colonisers, fighting for their own advantage against rival tribes and in some cases used foreign soldiers and arms to settle old scores.

Our land wars not only resulted in the death of many innocent people, the British also destroyed long-established Māori agriculture, almost destroyed an entire culture, including a language, and confiscated millions of acres of land. This was done by the British in breach of British law.

There’s no doubt that Māori suffered the most as a result of the wars here, and they also suffered badly from introduced diseases – but they also eventually benefited to a degree from new tools and technologies.

Nor was cannibalism unique to Māori. The last recorded cannibals in the UK, the clan of Alexander Bean, were executed after a 25-year reign of terror at about the same time that Captain Cook landed in New Zealand.

I’m not sure why that paragraph was popped in.

Lurking behind racism in New Zealand is the clear fact that Pākehā will no longer be the majority here in a few short years and some are hanging on to the old comfortable privilege with desperation. They could save themselves a lot of discomfort by learning the facts of our history, learning to speak Māori and becoming part of the new, inclusive New Zealand which is just around the corner.

That doesdn’t sound inclusive, that sounds like trying to tell everyone how they should change.

To me an “inclusive New Zealand” should accept that those who want to learn and live Māori culture should have that opportunity, and encouraging it to an extent is fine.

But being ‘inclusive’ should not mean the imposition of one culture and the rejection of others. One of the strengths of new Zealand is of the general tolerance of very diverse cultures. We have become a melting pot of many cultures, and ingredients to that pot continue to be added.

Better acceptance of Māori culture is fair enough and is an overdue righting of pas suppression, but that should not be at the exclusion of the other cultural influences we have all had, including those with Māori whakapapa.

Whether racism in New Zealand should be described as thriving or not, it won’t be addressed by introducing different types of racism. An emerging form of racism is the putting down of people who don’t wish to embrace te reo and Māori culture as much as some seem to want and insist.

This includes attempts to shut down speakers and speech deemed by some to be offensive (often no more than having a different opinion) or racist when trying to debate important issues we need to find ways of dealing with.

Racism will thrive if, in attempting to reduce racism, people with different opinions or  cultural preferences are labelled as racist.

Is emphasis on Maori culture and language unwarranted?

Maori culture and language is understandably important for some Maori, and for some non-Maori. But what about the rest of us?

This question has been raised on Reddit by Cobaltgrass: All this emphasis on Maori culture and language is unwarranted. They should be treated the same as everyone else, and otherwise it is racist. Just politicians too pussy to potentially risk votes from Maori.

We can still respect their language and culture without this bombardment of attention to Maori, By doing this, perhaps the government is going over the limit to what is necessary to the detriment to others. I am sure you would value the different cultures of other groups, even with all of them getting the same treatment. We can respect everyone by giving everyone equal amounts of care, help, and attention. I do not believe that this is happening now.

All this emphasis in the recent political cycle on how each party can help Maori and Pacific people in specific, with Pakeha, Asians and other minorities being lumped together as the general population just made me ask this question.


You could make all sorts if arguments around how the Maori people were here first, and how they have been treated pretty badly in the past but I won’t. Instead I’ll offer a different perspective.

What harm does it do to you? Is it really any skin off your back that they pronounce Maori place names correctly on the TV? Does it really matter that the census is available in Maori? Do the multilingual signs hurt anybody? Is having Maori TV really a problem?

If by being more inclusive and accepting of Maori language and culture we can help to improve the outcomes of a significant minority at negligible cost to everybody else then I’m all for it.

Besides, it’s pretty cool to have something unique which isn’t just copied from the UK or the USA.

It is part of the Aotearoa New Zealand identity that makes us unique.


Believe me, those are the least of my concerns. I’ll name the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

  1. Easier entry to university if Maori or Pacific
  2. Huge focus on specifically NCEA Maori pass rates in school, leading to less attention to things like the lack of STEM, or the average and top students. Seriously, this is one of the most talked about goal in the UOW Masters degree in teaching (friend recently did it)
  3. Using a portion of the lotto profits to give grants to people who will specifically help Maori or Pacifica.

Salt Pile:

  1. This doesn’t affect you in any way. The reason the easier access was granted was because it was harder for those students to get in because of their circumstances (which are from history), leading to an unfair disadvantage. If you abolished that rule, there’d be less diversity but you personally would not find it any easier to get into uni than you do now.
  2. If a group is disadvantaged for historical reasons and has a lower education pass rate, then ignoring that just perpetuates a cycle of underprivilege. Any teacher worth their salt would want to help to break that cycle. Sure it leads to less attention to the average and top students, but they need it less. That’s like complaining because your little brother broke his arm so your mother is giving him attention by taking him to the doctor.
    Allowing the vulnerable to get a hand up is a central part of being a decent human being. Again, it doesn’t really affect you personally any more than any other resource allocation choice affects you – don’t be so sure that people would give all their money and time to you if it weren’t for Maori. On the contrary, you should be happy that teachers focus on improving the education of a less educated group because it will make the society you live in stronger in future.
  3. This one was just wrong. Gambling disproportionately affects the poor, urban, and Maori and Pasifika communities. If you look at the stats overall the opposite is happening – money is being sucked out of poor predominantly brown communities and transferred to sports clubs in rich places like Remuera.

I think some Maori culture is overdone – but in the past it was grossly underdone and suppressed.

Perhaps we are just need to find the right balance (for most people).

To do this we need to be prepared to talk about it, and hear arguments from all sides.