It’s easy to believe that race relations in New Zealand are in a pretty happy place. Especially when you’re white. My own experience is probably typical of that.
Growing up in the Hutt Valley suburbs of Naenae and Alicetown meant mixing with a pretty diverse bunch of people. My best mate at primary school had a Samoan dad and a Palagi mum. The guys two doors down (and fellow model aeroplane fans) were NZ-born to Indian parents. And if Māori never quite made its way into the curriculum, brown faces certainly figured heavily in my school photos from the imaginatively named Hutt Central, Hutt Intermediate and Hutt Valley High School.
Fast forward a few decades. We recently marked Race Relations Day for another year and I’m living in a super-diverse city: no one of our 220 ethnic groups forms an absolute majority in present-day Auckland, and I like that. Our streets are filled with voices, faces, food and fashion our parents might not have seen without traveling overseas. The school across the road offers full immersion learning in English, Te Reo Māori, Samoan and French. It’s pretty easy to feel OK about race in New Zealand.
The other weekend, though, I read a couple of things that jolted me. The first one involved Wellington entrepreneur Deanna Yang. Her Moustache Milk and Cookie business had been featured in an ad for Visa, leading to Deanna being attacked online for having the audacity to look Chinese in New Zealand. Later, she blogged that she had come to accept being called an “Asian cunt” as a normal part of life.
Setting aside the fact she was born in Auckland, her story made me think we have a long way to go on the journey to acceptance, let alone celebration, of our diversity.
Deanna’s story reminded me of another one I’d read recently by Auckland woman Wong Liu Shueng. For her in the 1950s, being called “ching chong Chinaman” was normal, and awful. Then one day, walking home, boys from her school with pockets filled with stones cornered and attacked her. I’d love you to take a moment to read her story.
Two stories from the same city, 50 years apart. In 2017, we mostly attack with Facebook comments rather than stones. The hatred’s the same though. It hasn’t gone away and unless we keep reading stories like Deanna’s and Liu Shueng’s, and acting on hatred when we see it, it’s not going to.
In her blog, Liu Shueng says she hopes her granddaughters will grow up in a kinder New Zealand than she did. I’m not sure they will. And I hope I’m wrong.
Happy Race Relations Day, everyone.