Susan Devoy: your celebrations - your choice

Susan Devoy: your celebrations - your choice

December 2, 2015

The ironic thing about people who send me letters about how useless I am and that our race relations are OK, is that most of them are from Pakeha men: as Duncan Garner proved in his latest opinion piece.  I get many letters and emails: some polite, many abusive or threatening. The personal attacks aren't new and I've got pretty thick skin, for a simple squash player.

But as well as the haters I also get the opposite: messages of thanks and support from people who are grateful I stood up for their right to live in peace and dignity. They aren't powerful  or famous people but their voices mean more to me than those who think it's PC gone mad to actively work at peaceful race relations.

Super Diversity isn't coming, it's already here. We are home to more than 200 ethnicities – more cultures than the UN has member states. More than one million of us were born overseas and these trends will continue. New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on the planet, to ignore our differences is a naïve and hopeless response to an issue the entire world is grappling with.

Race relations in our country are far from OK.  A third of all complaints we receive are about racial discrimination but we know many people never bother complaining. If we aren't careful the future we leave our children will be vastly different from the peaceful New Zealand we grew up in.

It's not OK for Muslim Kiwis to be singled out, abused and discriminated against because of violent extremists. Neither is it OK to blame Jewish Kiwis for an unfolding tragedy thousands of miles away.

It's not OK for Maori New Zealanders to be racially profiled shopping at their supermarket or walking down the street.

It's not OK to put an advertisement on Trade Me that says No Asians, No Indians or Europeans Only. This year I spent the day with some of the toughest Kiwis I've ever met, elderly Jewish women who survived the Holocaust. One remembers how advertisements for jobs and houses increasingly declared: No Jews. They told me hate starts small, in prejudice and intolerance and they were right.

Last week I told a journalist that people should choose how they observe Christmas. Nek minnit. My comments were twisted to say I supported banning the use of the word Christmas. I do not. I do support the right of Kiwis to decide for ourselves: I don't want to live in a country where we are told how to observe our faith. We must be free to choose, this is an important tenet of human rights.

Duncan – and others whose opinions are amplified across our television, radio and newspapers – must do better in showing responsible leadership in the national debate about race relations. They are opinion leaders and their opinions are powerful: dismissing anything they don't like as PC gone mad is dumbing down a very important conversation New Zealanders need to have.

They need to be part of the solution, not the problem. When incidents take place, too often I'm the only person speaking out, but just because 'Race Relations' is in my job description doesn't mean they're just my responsibility. We are all responsible for the kind of country we live in.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, New Zealanders gathered at mosques across the country in peace: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahai, Hindu, Buddhist Kiwis who are taking responsibility for the kind of country we live in. Not one media outlet bothered to turn up at any of these events.

To mark Human Rights Day on December 10, the Islamic Centre in Avondale, Auckland, will host a peace vigil for human rights:  some may say standing together in peace is PC Gone Mad. But they are wrong.

To quote London bombing survivor and peace activist Gill Hicks, what we are doing isn't PC Gone Mad. What we are doing is MAD for Peace – Making A Difference for Peace.  We hope you join us.

Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy

Dame Susan Devoy DNZM, CBE has worked across the sport, community and charity sectors since she retired undefeated as the world women's squash champion in 1992.

A member and chair of the Halberg Trust, patron of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand and other charities, Dame Susan was the Chief Executive Officer and Chair of Sport Bay of Plenty. She has served on the Auckland District Health Board, the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust and chaired BNZ Partners, Bay of Plenty.

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