Is X, Y or Z racist? That’s often a subjective question. A white male from the Wellington business community isn’t going to experience racism in the same manner or to the same degree as, say, a brown woman from the LGBT community. Racism is an experience.
It’s difficult to argue objectively. Is Maori overrepresentation in crime, health and a suite of other measures a result of contemporary racism, the collateral effect of historic racism or something else entirely? Do the Maori seats ameliorate historic political underrepresentation or did they and do they entrench political advantage? Do English language requirements favour (largely) white immigrants from the Anglosphere or are language requirements a necessary control?
It’s a matter of perspective. Is the essence of racism found in impact or intention? Impact infers that racism is structural; intention infers that racism is more ordinary. The international community accepts that guarantees of legal equality don’t mean “identity of treatment”.* On that basis, none of the examples above are racist. At New Zealand law “not all distinctions (i.e. different treatment based on race, gender and so on)… will be discriminatory”.** So, the essence of discrimination lays in negative impact. On that basis, language requirements that negatively affect, say, Indonesian immigrants might be racist regardless of intention. Joking about curry munchers, Asian drivers and niggas wouldn’t be caught under the definition of discrimination at law (neither internationally nor domestically). Problematic.
I remain a little sceptical about the moot. Racism is low hanging fruit. However, last month’s episode was great and the panel (mainly Salesa and Chen) is tops. I hope the show urges New Zealanders to think more deeply about racism and what it means. For me, racism falls into two categories: personal and political. Personal racism is experience: being called this or that, having assumptions made about you and so on. Political racism is structural: politicians, community leaders and so on arguing that race isn’t a proxy for disadvantage, MPs enacting laws that unfairly disadvantage an already disadvantaged group and so on.
Thomas Jefferson was right to argue that “there is nothing more unequal, than the equal treatment of unequal people” and Babasaheb (one of the architects of the Indian Constitution and an underrated thinker imo) was right to make the distinction between “equality in law” and “equality in fact”. Will New Zealanders accept that? Or does it even matter?***
*See Quilter v Attorney-General (1998) 1 NZLR 623 CA at page 561 per Keith J
**See page 532 per Thomas J
***The Supreme Court of the United States in Bowers v Hardwick (1986) held that minority rights are not subject to the principle of majority rules. The Supreme Court considered it illiberal and contrary to the basic democratic assumption that majorities aren't always right. I like to keep that in mind when people argue that this or that thing Maori should be abolished because the majority said so. Indigenous and minority rights are inherent (see the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People) and Maori rights are strengthened by Treaty guarentees. Something to think about.