Am I racist?

When people ask me if I'm a Christian, I usually ask for them to define that word. I think I'm a Christian - but probably don't meet many of the definitions. If they mean am I a friend of Jesus, I can say yes. But if they mean do I go to a church, or follow a specific theology or particular set of doctrines, I probably don't. Even the English Bible (any version) is given quite different meanings from those common in the first 2-3 centuries.

So what do I say to people asking if I am racist? Of course not - am I?

At primary school, I only remember three or four Maori - and I don't recall any other races (apart from an English student). College was not much different. At university, the number of Maori was less, but there were various other, mainly Asian races. I enjoyed playing chess with a Pakistani. I also recall a trip to the movies with two others - a communist pakeha and a Hindu.

When I joined the working world I didn't really notice much change. I never got to know a Russian Jew well (not helped by language) but now appreciate a bit more about what drove her and her family to New Zealand. I remember a Samoan co-worker who was instrumental in Lynette and I getting together. I didn't really pick up some of the cultural differences - again I only appreciate now how much was going on in his life.

Things really came to a head when I took Lynette home with me. I was absolutely embarrassed by my parents' overt racist attitudes - in this case particularly to Asians. I raised this, and I was no longer welcome at home. In time things came right and they came to our wedding.

My sister married a Maori, albeit with a Dutch surname from being adopted. He's a great guy (also from Taranaki as is my wife). We don't catch up very often - he's a security guard and the distance from our place to theirs has kept us from frequent travel as I've faced various health issues. It could be seen I'm avoiding because of racial differences, but that never even occurred to me until recently.

But while not overtly racist, I've been on a journey which leads me to realise the "system" really is stacked in my favour. The death in custody of Floyd George in the US brought this to a head - for me and others. The guy who was the opposite of what most people think of as police victims - except he was black. "I fit the description" was one of far too many similar pieces describing the reality back people in the US face. A talk on George Floyd and the dominos of racial injustice raises a lot of disturbing questions.

Fortunately in NZ, we've more civilised - aren't we? A valuable perspective is presented by jay Lucas. Note he presents a forward-looking vision rather than a blame-shifting one. He does not say Maori have done no wrong - but after watching how we took almost all of NZ illegally (and it continues to today). A really helpful article Racism and White Defensiveness in Aotearoa: A Pākehā Perspective presents a former Rhodes scholar's view of whiteness and racism in Aotearoa.

Of course, some Kiwis have been leading the way for a long time. Others are firmly of the view that we need to move forward and ignore our history.

We'll never all share the same views, but there's no doubt there has been a lot of injustice in getting to where we are today. We can't possibly rectify the past, but we can move forward together. The first step is for pakeha to realise the wrongs that have been done, and to say no more (out loud).

 

Last Modified

Last modified: 28 November 2020.