Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Other Sides of New Zealand: Part 1 - By Ronji Tanielu

Controversial Cartoon:
What do you think about our attitudes to race in NZ?
Earlier this week, I spent some time inside the Koru Lounge at Wellington Airport. My boss is a Koru Lounge aficionado whereas I was a nervous rookie, fumbling to show my boarding pass to the staff and worried my tattoos might stop me from gaining entry or even securing a job as a flight attendant!

Anyway, from the start I felt uncomfortable there. But the free drinks and food helped ease my concerns. My boss left for his flight and I sat on a couch, feeling like I stuck out as much as John Banks would if he walked around the Otara Fleamarkets! 

Soon, a middle-aged woman came and sat next to me. I thought “cool” I can chat with her while I wait for my flight. She sat down, put her purse on the handbag next to me and then got up to go get some food. She walked about four steps, turned around and looked at me. She then walked back to the couch, snatched her handbag up, and walked away, all the while staring at me. I drank in that experience, filed it away for a rainy day and decided to immediately leave the Koru Lounge and wait for my flight where the non-Koru Lounge citizens were sitting.

Shocked? No.

Surprised? No.

Used to it? Yes.

Saddened? Yes.

Happen again? Probably.

This interesting yet common occurrence made me wonder something – why do we seem at times to be worried or afraid of that which is different to you? Our nation prides itself on being a progressive and liberal society. Yet, borrowing a little bit from Hamlet, I think there truly are some rotten things in our nation. I believe we are a nation that isn’t always as accepting of what or who is different as we would like to think. My joyous experience in the Wellington Koru Lounge is simply a minor example of that. But major examples exist.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 30 2013.
Megan Levy argues that most Australians are clearly against overt forms of racism. But casual racism, where you’re slightly racist in a casual fashion through jokes, names, comments, and so on, might be more prevalent in Australia.

How about in our beautiful nation? Well, surely a bunch of cartoons from the South Island don’t count as casual racism do they? Surely my jokes about a Maori, Pakeha and Islander walking into a bar don’t count. Freedom of speech and all that!

I believe one of the biggest examples of our nation’s fear of that which is different is happening right now in Auckland as the Auckland Council and Government try to address the housing crisis. As house prices skyrocket and adequate housing becomes increasingly unaffordable and unattainable for families, I think the fear of what is different will become pronounced. This fear of difference is embodied in the doctrine of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) that pervades some of the legislation, plans and policies designed to address this crisis. It’s good we sort the housing crisis out… but I don’t know want them living in our area. Housing intensification and inclusionary zoning would be wonderful…but maybe in those suburbs and not ours.

What do you think?


  1. I think you are right Ronji. In some ways our society is growing apart ironically at the same time as tolerance of difference is being promoted. The growing gap between the rich and poor, the fact that poverty seems weighted towards brown and housing is a key part of it all. Auckland seems almost to have certain ethnic groups situated in various suburbs and largely absent from others. In this context stereotypes flourish but not usually in a positive way.

  2. Excellent analysis and thoughts as always Ronji, thanks for sharing your own personal experiences and know that a green eyed fair skinned Maori girl like myself has had similar experiences depending upon what I'm wearing and how an observer interprets my cultural identity. Keep sharing as it increases knowledge, defeats ignorance and supports whanaungatanga! kia kaha bro, Helena