Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974
Racial Stereotypes in the N.Z. Press
Racial Stereotypes in the N.Z. Press
Every few days on one or other of the talk-back radio programmes a speaker with something to say about race relations is featured. And every day as a result, callers chip in their two cents worth on the topic. Many of them make worthwhile comments, but almost all of them incorporate racial stereotyping in their remarks. In the last few weeks I've heard on the radio and elsewhere Maoris described as lacking ambition and initiative, irresponsible, having a tendency to obesity, having a poor work record, and so on. A few positive stereotypes crop up Maoris are cheerful, care about their aged relatives, are often courageous, etc.
Where do these and other common stereotypes originate? Partly they come from careless conversational language. People typically try to describe an individual in terms of the group they associate him with, and conversely they describe groups in terms of the individuals they know within the group. But certain agencies in society seem to be actively promoting racial stereotypes. The most glaring example of such an agency in New Zealand is the daily press.
Gone are the days of bold headlines directly linking Maoris with negative news like assaults and murders. Public protest has made daily papers slightly more watchful about including race in headlines of court news. Not so Truth—a recent (6.1.73) headline over a rape story for instance had inch high letters saying "Struggle in the Mud with Amorous Islanders." We're all islanders, actually, but usage in conversation and in the press gives negative connotations to people who once came from certain small Pacific islands, and they suffer unnecessarily because of this usage.
While mindful of Maoris the Evening Post let slip their bias against Arabs on 24.11.73 with a headline "Fight not over yet, Hiss Arabs". Fortunately people complained, and soon after the Post printed an apology, going as far as to admit that there was nothing in the actual story to warrant the headline. Of course, they didn't apologise for their basic prejudice and deliberate negative stereotyping of Arabs.
The NZ Race Relations Council jumped on them, saying 'Even if it were true the naming of the race of the culprit serves no useful purpose whatever, is quite irrelevant to the news item and can only serve to arouse ill feelings against Maoris in general. But it was false. It was revealed later (but not reported in the Sunday Times) that the person referred to in this article was not a Maori at all, but was ¾ European and ¼ Samoan.'
In recent months, the Evening Post and the Dominion have been going overboard with a new and sometimes subtle form of stereotyping. On Waitangi Day, printed underneath some patronising Gabriel David drivel ("Fearsome Warriors in Mighty Canoe taking on Navy"), was forty square inches of photograph of a young Maori man eating a mussel. The headline: "He's doing what Comes-Naturally".
The Dominion also likes characterising Polynesians as happy-go-lucky food gobblers On 15.1.74 the top of the front page photo was captioned "Workers repast: If eating and drinking abilities are any test Willis St will never cave in. To celebrate the re-opening of the street the boys on the job more than 200 had themselves a hangi last night. Rangi Kaimoana, Tim Taewa and Brownie Rogers helped lay the water and gas mains for the complex to be built under the street. They had half a day off work on full pay yesterday to cook the hangi.
"Tim said last night he worked 10 to 12 hours a day on the street, but it was great the way everyone worked together, he said."
Apart from the caption's obvious reinforcement of the class position of Maoris, the other stereotypes come through clearly enough. Another example at hand is the top of the front page, 7.1 2.72, which has a small boy gobbling up ice-cream. Of course, he's a Polynesian again.
Gabby David reached a new low in journalism on 10.1.74 with a back page feature article "Cheerful Trio of Telephonists Make Calling up the Airways a Real Pleasure". Of course, the girls were all Maoris. "They may not earn the handsome salary of NAC management but they certainly deserve every cent they get." crowed Gabriel, unintentionally summing up the whole issue Maoris are okay so long as they're good and cheerful workers. Of course "they may not earn the handsome salary of management". A far higher proportion of Maoris than pakehas are in unskilled or semi-skilled occupations. The sort of writing that David does and the press encourages will keep them there.
"The three operators are always helpful, commendably informative and unfailingly courteous. Above all, they are fun.
"The NAC people on the Terrace affectionately dub the three girls, "the Black Power department". The girls love being so called. As Mr Feslier (NAC's Public Relations Officer) puts it: "Black is beautiful."
"A wonderful trait of the Maori race is realism. Someone once noted that bad humour is an evasion of reality; good humour is an acceptance of it. Humour, loads of it, is a quality the three Maoris NAC operators spread."
Recently in the NZ Heritage magazine a Maori writer complained that too often newspapers print pictures of Maoris leaning on shovels. As if to prove her right, the Evening Post 20.11.73 had a front page photo feature "Walking in the Sunshine". Three flash pakeha office girls were pictured one flash pakeha businessman, and a Maori labourer leaning on a digging tool.
Next day the weather changed. "Weather Changes with a Vengeance" headlined the Post, with photos of office girls being blown around by the elements. But to remind readers of yesterday's weather, the Post re-ran one of yesterday's 'sun' photos... and they had to pick the labourer. "Remember our friend who was caught soaking up the sunshine as he worked yesterday..." went the blurb. To rub the stereotype right in, they had another picture of the same labourer "huddling away out of the weather" in a workmen's caravan" quite happy about playing cards."
In an article entitled "Race and Culture Prejudice" published in Affairs magazine, A.C. Walsh summarised various favourable and unfavourable stereotypes. Among the unfavourable he includes categories of (1) child-like (irresponsible and unsophisticated). (2) Primitive (lacking self control, superstitious, lazy, dirty). (3) Degenerated (having a culture inferior to the ancestral culture).
Walsh points out that the unfavourable stereotypes result in patronising attitudes, the belief that Maori culture today is not worth keeping.
Among the favourable categories Walsh mentions (1) Unqualified acceptance (the Maori is all right in his place, or the Maori has special compensating virtues) and (2) Qualified acceptance (the Maoris is all right when he is like us).
These favourable stereotypes result in Maoris being encouraged to live up to them. But as long as any form of colour bar prevails, economic and social discrimination will ensue. The stereotypes create embarassment and hardship to Maoris that happen not to conform to them. Those Maoris who are 'okay when they're like us' are forced to discard their Maoriness.
Walsh's conclusion is that 'whether favourable or unfavourable, stereotypes lead to prejudice in one form or another.'
In March 1970 the Race Relations Council addressed an open letter to NZ editors inviting them to endorse or to comment on the following proposals:
|1)||Not to cite race when individuals are charged with or associated with criminal activity, except when mention of race is clearly in the public interest. (Such cases might include escaped prisoners.)|
|2)||To examine any news about minority racial groups to see whether its publication would or would not assist in the strengthening of harmonious relations between races in this country.|
|3)||To actively seek news stories and features that will assist in building racial harmony and friendship.|
There was little response to the Council's appeal. In the light of the press's lack of improvement in the reporting of racial matters, it may be time for them to reappraise their policies. It may be time for their readers to call on them to do so.