Of course there is racism in New Zealand

Taika Waititi has stirred things up by saying that while New Zealand is “the best place on the planet” it is also “racist as fuck”. I agree with him on both counts. I haven’t had to experience the sort of racism he describes, but have had to deal with prejudices.

This came from an interview with English magazine ‘Dazed and Confused: Unknown Mortal Orchestra & Taika Waititi on New Zealand culture – some extracts:

Taika Waititi: It was scary, man, it was scary. We also used to think Bob Marley and Michael Jackson were Maori. I thought that Bob Marley was from Ruatoria and I heard that Michael Jackson was a local!

Taika Waititi: Yeah, and New Zealanders are, like, experts in cynicism. We’re good observers, because we come from a place where basically nothing happens. There’s definitely a mentality of ‘I’m stuck here and I’m not going to get out’ that informs the stuff we make, there’s kind of a cool darkness to it.

Taika Waititi: We have a very strong metre around being too earnest or cheesy because we all grew up the same in New Zealand and you want to make sure your friends aren’t gonna mock you for doing stuff! (laughs) It’s like, ‘There’s got to be a cool way of saying something – I’m not going to scream out, “I love you!”’ You’ve got to do it in a cool, funny, sarcastic way. It’s the same with our art and cinema – we can afford to be bold and do outlandish shit because we all know what the alternative is, which is basically being in New Zealand.

Ruban, I read an interview where you said that growing up half-Polynesian in New Zealand was to be the kid a shop owner will follow around’. Does this chime with your own experiences, Taika?

Taika Waititi: Exactly the same. Growing up it was very normal to go into a store and they would say, ‘What do you want?’ And you’d be like, (muttering) ‘I’m just looking at chips, man.’ I remember getting a job at a dairy and they would never give me a job at the till, I was always at the back washing vegetables. And then one day one of the owners asked me if I sniffed glue – like, ‘Are you a glue-sniffer?’ (Ruban laughs) In my head I was like, ‘Motherfucker, you grew up with my mum!’ And I knew for sure that he didn’t ask other kids in the store if they were glue-sniffers.

I think I’ve got quite an idealised vision of New Zealand as like Australia without the racism and the blokeish sense of humour…

Taika Waititi: Nah, it’s racist as fuck. I mean, I think New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it’s a racist place. People just flat-out refuse to pronounce Maori names properly. There’s still profiling when it comes to Polynesians. It’s not even a colour thing – like, ‘Oh, there’s a black person.’ It’s, ‘If you’re Poly then you’re getting profiled.’

Ruban Nielson: I didn’t even realise how light my skin was until I came (to the US). It was one of the things I liked when I moved here; it’s like nobody knows what you are so they give you the benefit of the doubt. And then I go back to New Zealand as a person who’s older and somewhat accomplished in their field and I still get treated worse! It’s like people want to remind you – ‘Yeah, but you’re still Polynesian, so…’

Taika Waititi: Totally. People in Auckland are very patronising. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’ve done so well, haven’t you? For how you grew up. For one of your people.’ (Ruban laughs)

Ruban Nielson: I appreciate being Polynesian more than I did when I was there. When I go back now, I find myself being more aggressive when I’m pronouncing Maori names around people who refuse to do it. (laughs)

Taika Waititi: Yeah. Because because they don’t mispronounce French words, do they? They can say fucking ‘Camembert’ properly.

I think he’s wrong about pronounciation – people tend to pronounce names as they have learned them, and rarely deliberately mispronounce.

And he’s wrong about mispronouncing French words, that’s very common – a guarantee many of us won’t be very good on ‘Camembert’  and many other foreign words.

And English is ‘mispronounced’ more than any other language.

But racism is rife in New Zealand – racism against Maori, against Polynesians, against Chinese, against Indians, against Irish, against Arabs, against English, against anyone who is racially different. It’s just what some people do.

It is a particular problem when the Government and the Police have racist policies and practices.

Stuff: Taika Waititi’s right, New Zealand really is a racist place

“The only people I meet who are racist are Māoris,” one woman said after learning Taika Waititi had again said New Zealand is a racist place.

Did she see the irony in her own sentence?

There will never be no racism, but there is a lot of room for improvement in New Zealand.