An Open Letter to all New Zealanders from Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner
Today we start a campaign that’s about us. In fact, we’re calling it That’s Us because it’s about the kind of people we want to be, as well as the kind of country we want our kids growing up in. That’s Us is our first nationwide, anti-racism campaign that asks Kiwis to start sharing our own stories about racism, intolerance and hatred: but to also share our hopes for the future.
Every year around 400 people make formal complaints to us about racism they’ve faced, they come from all over the country and from a wide range of circumstances. However, we know the overwhelming majority of people never complain or go public when a car drives past and the people in it scream a racist obscenity, when the woman registering students at university smiles at every other student but the brown ones or your son is called racist names as he runs down the rugby field.
These are those “casual” or “quiet” racist encounters that never feel casual or quiet when you and your family are the ones being humiliated. What we embark on today is a platform for people to share these stories with other New Zealanders.
Many people don’t think racial intolerance or racism is a problem: often because they do not experience it themselves. By raising the voices of those New Zealanders who face racial intolerance in their everyday life: we’re hoping other New Zealanders will take the time to listen. We suspect many of us don’t realise when something we say is unfair or biased: but we would if someone pointed it out to us.
We’ve always had a problem with racial intolerance in New Zealand – Maori New Zealanders know it is not new.
But what’s changed is we’ve also become incredibly diverse, one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth in less than a generation. Racial intolerance is on the rise overseas and closer to home, we’ve become very diverse in a short period of time, while overt racism is not widespread yet: we are confident New Zealanders are ready to take part in meaningful conversations that will talk about the realities of racism and what each of us can do about it.
Not long ago we publicly called out Neo Nazi fascists who wanted to march against child abuse. Many Kiwis joined us when we argued that the symbols of a regime that murdered 1.5 million children have no place at a march against child abuse. That’s not us. We suspect the overwhelming majority of Kiwis do not share those views but if the rest of us are unable to talk openly about racism then the loudest, angriest voices are often the only ones we hear.
We just need to look around the world right now to see what happens when racial intolerance and racism is normalised. We think New Zealanders are better than that and we hope you do too. From today we are hoping to hear your stories at www.thatsus.co.nz. We want to hear what happened to you and how you felt, and how you feel now. You may have been a victim or a bystander or a defender or perhaps you were even an abuser. It’s all good because if we’re going to better understand racism then we need to know what it is.
Our national identity isn’t just about a flag. Our national identity is about who we are as people and how we treat each other on our streets, on our rugby fields, in our communities.
Since being appointed Race Relations Commissioner I’ve met some of the most incredible, courageous New Zealanders who make me so proud to be a Kiwi. I’ve also met – or encountered – people who send me hate mail, abuse and threats. The important thing is that we talk about what kind of people we are. What kind of things we stand for and what kind of things we stand against.
Is that us? #ThatsUs www.thatsus.co.nz
Dame Susan Devoy
Race Relations Commissioner