Race Relations Day captured the imagination and participation of many New Zealand communities this year, with more than 35 events in centres from Invercargill to Northland. And despite the “day” in the title, celebrations of diversity extended from February to May.
Dame Susan Devoy was at many of them, including high-profile events at Government House in Auckland and a peace march in Wellington, and will finish up with the national finals of the Race Unity Speech Awards in May.
Speaking at the Auckland and Wellington events, Dame Susan recalled the origins of the day, remembering children in Soweto and later Sharpeville, who were killed when peacefully protesting apartheid. Anne Frank’s was another story which has affected generations.
The power of stories, she said, is at the heart of the Commission’s anti-racism campaigns.
“We knew when we started that many Kiwis didn’t think we had a problem with racism or prejudice. But when we started talking to Maori New Zealanders, Asian New Zealanders, Pasifika Kiwis, Muslim Kiwis - everyone had a story to share. A story of prejudice, a memory of being humiliated, a time when they were made to feel less than everyone else,” she said.
Every year around 400 people make formal complaints about racism they've faced. However, the overwhelming majority don’t complain or go public when people in a passing car scream a racist obscenity, when the woman registering students at university smiles at every student but the brown ones, or their son is called racist names as he runs down the rugby field.
That’s Us, sharing real life stories, created empathy as Kiwis listened and learned about what prejudice feels like when it’s happening to you. The next step was to call out racist and prejudiced behaviour, to challenge and hopefully change it.
Frontman Taka Waititi was joined by an incredibly diverse range of New Zealanders in Give Nothing to Racism. They were our best and our brightest and, as they showed us all, our bravest, Dame Susan says.
Their message - What if we just gave racism no encouragement? No respect? No place? No power. What if we Give Nothing to Racism? - reached people all over the world but perhaps most importantly, right here, our own children.
After the campaign launch children at Porirua’s Holy Family School took our message and made it their own in a short video. They weren’t asking for much. Essentially they wanted their teachers, and others, to pronounce their names properly.
Just as racism starts small, so does giving nothing to it.
Dame Susan is looking forward to more great contributions from young Kiwis in May’s Bahai Race Unity speech awards.
Stories from children who have had the courage to stand up for their rights have helped change the world, she says.