Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973
Race Conciliation Fails
Race Conciliation Fails
Sir Guy Powle's report on his job as Race Relations Conciliator last year is a sad story. The Race Relations Act is being shown to be pretty useless in its present form and Sir Guy has seen fit to take a tentative and apologetic approach to the racism in our society. Part of the trouble goes back to the way the Act was conceived by the National Government. It was a whitewash effort to enable-New Zealand to say that it outlawed racism, and so escape criticism from the United Nations.
In the first draft of the Bill you had to prove that an action had been done "solely on grounds of race." This meant that if the person complained of could think up another reason for his action then the case couldn't proceed. This was too blatant to get away with, the National Government took out the word "solely". This means you only have to prove racism present in the action, even if some other reason might have been part of the story. But practice is showing that there is not much difference in the second way of saying it. The cases detailed in the Conciliator's report show how many "misunderstandings" there are when someone complains of racism and the Conciliator is called in. Of course the person wasn't thinking about race! Or if it seemed like that it was unintentional! Any way I sure won't do it again, sir!!
The Conciliator has very little chance of proving what was in the mind of a racist, and when he says, sorry I won't sin again, that's as far as the Conciliator can take it. It's only the stupid recalcitrant racist who sticks to his guns that would warrant asking the Attorney General's permission to prosecute. No one's been that stupid yet, or at least they haven't been caught twice.
As a result of all this the Conciliator's efforts look fairly unproductive There is not much known about the individual cases — there is a quiet backstairs air about conciliating that protects the racist. If his name were publicised there might be plenty of corroborative evidence supplied from his other actions — but then the innocent would suffer from publication of names.
Involve the Community
One way of nailing the consistent racist would be to involve the community organisations in the job of combating racism. Very few members of any racial minority have much confidence in approaching a government bureaucrat. It seems certain many don't. If they do then they're on their own — and its one man's word against another. You often don't get believed in preference to a white man — or so minority people have reason to think. If their own people in a community organisation had some way of working in this field then the person complaining could go to them and talk about the problem with his own people. Others in his organisation might have cases of their own against the same racist. There would be a chance for the community organisation to send another member along to the shop, land agent etc. and see what extra evidence could be obtained by testing the alleged racist. And if he was acting as a racist, he would become known in the local community for what he was. There would be something solid for a Conciliator to bite on.
There is really no reason why Advice Bureaus, Community Centres and minority associations couldn't do this right now. Just, I suppose the lack of confidence, and desire to let officials do things, which para lyses a lot of people in our society when it comes to taking action personally. But if one local organisation got on the job it might encourage a lot of others to act in a field where they seem to be the only agencies capable of getting results. The official conciliators seem to have crapped out, from what they say themselves.
Expectations to Conform
"Much of the racial discrimination that occurs in New Zealand" Sir Guy says on page six of his report, "is racism stemming from the insensitivity of the dominant culture, which expects minority groups to conform to its way of life." Later Sir Guy says terms like "white racism" are a mistake when applied to New Zealand. He does not think institutions in New Zealand discriminate "purposely against citizens on the ground of their race or colour" But taking his first statement about the dominant culture which "expects" the rest to conform, it can be asked on what is such an expectation based? Surely on an implicit assumption that the dominant white way is the right way for everybody.
More than that, the dominant culture does more than "expect conformity" — it punishes nonconformity, penalises those who are different and by reasons of the standards it has the power to set, governs major areas of social activity.
The minority race is not the only victim of the power structure. Much of the power structure, though generally white, operates against white working class people The power structure is racist, even if it can oppress in ways not connected with race. The dominant culture makes all kinds of men its commodities, exploits their lives and creativity, and as part of this process has destroyed the culture of New Zealand's indigenous people.
To change this situation involves issues beyond matter of race relations — but at least when talking about the way capitalist society has exploited Maoris and Polynesians, it is necessary to face the facts of what has happened, and is happening. In the light of our past and our present it isn't good enough to makes excuses — and say we're not such bad jokers — it is not very convincing to those on the receiving end of the power structure of New Zealand.