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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 5. 3rd April 1974

A. Definition by the Race Relations Conciliator

A. Definition by the Race Relations Conciliator

On 3.8.72 the Race Relations Conciliator wrote as follows to Moohr:

"I do not believe that the NZ public is sufficiently understanding as yet to give objective consideration to what is meant or conveyed by the word 'racism'. Consequently, I am deliberately refraining from using this word.

"Most people believe that it has implications of malice and ill-will and that to be a racist one must have an evil intent. In my view this is not a correct interpretation of the word, but until it can be successfully removed from its emotional overtones, I do not propose to use it.

"Your letter is an indication that in New Zealand we suffer from institutional racism which represents a largely unconscious development of institutions and practices which in fact operate to prevent the full development of a multi-racial or multi-cultural society."

In his Annual Report (dated 30.4.73) the Conciliator states:

"The expression 'white racism' and 'white institutional racism' have also been used with reference to the NZ scene. I think this is a mistake. I think there is no or little racist intent in NZ, either among the citizens, or in the system, or in the way of life. I do not think the institutions within the NZ system discriminate purposely against citizens upon the ground of their race of or colour....." (p.7)

Press reports after this Annual Report was tabled in Parliament, though generally sketchy, rather stressed this attitude of comfortable reassurance and the Conciliator issued a statement (published 20.6.73 by the Evening Post under the headline Confusion over Race Relations) that "he regretted that the statistics in his race relations report appeared to have confused some of the commentators. . . but the figures certainly gave no grounds for complacency".

This illustrates how, for some people (including probably most Pakehas), the word 'racism' is removed from its 'emotional overtones' by denying 'intent'—by denying the existence of racial discrimination if that discrimination is not done 'purposely'.

But such denials do not remove the 'emotional overtones' for the victims of racial discrimination or defamation. For them denials can intensify emotion and frustration by creating the climate in which "most victims of racial discrimination do not complain" (p.5 of the Report).

The Race Relations Act 1971, Section 25, requires proof of intent (to excite hostility or ill-will, etc) before a citizen can prove racial discrimination and defend his reputation against racial defamation or insult. But NZ law on libel or defamation generally does not require the ordinary citizen to prove intent in order to defend his reputation.

Photo of a man wearing a Maori cloak

The Conciliator's report (p.7) distinguishes between "stereotyping", 'racialism', 'racism' etc. But for the victims of racial discrimination the results are much the same whatever you call it (just as the results are much the same in what you may call the WC, lavatory, jerry, toilet or loo etc).

From the standpoint of the victims, or of those wishing to cure the outdated 19th century 'racism' disease, there is no basic difference between 'institutional racism' and 'white institutional racism', between 'deliberate discrimination' and 'unconscious discrimination'; the difference is one of emotional overtones.

The School Certificate English Course Plain Sailing, Ch. 3, 8, 10, 12 &c, instructs pupils how to deal with emtionalism in words and arguments, how to distinguish logical from faulty reasoning, how to test the difference between good and bad propaganda or advertising etc.

But secondary school pupils are shown that they cannot do this merely by juggling words. They must have facts on which to base their reasoning. Guided by facts they can give objective consideration to emotive or reference meaning of words (pp 34-36); emotive appeal, responsible or irresponsible, and fair or unfair advertisements etc (pp 102-104); clear thinking, faulty syllogisms, dishonest devices in argument etc (pp 131-135).

In the 1970s it is high time to include objective consideration of the term 'racism' in these studies—which means that it is also high time to equip teachers and pupils more full with the facts and lessons of our country's history. Advertising is part of our daily life. And since World War II 'racism' has also been openly discussed as part of our daily life; and as part of what NZ's Prime Minister this year described as "perhaps the greatest international issue" of our time.

The facts and lessons of our history point to the dangers of continuing the old official policy of denying the existence of racial discrimination and thus blocking the channels for objective consideration with two-way communication on race relations.

Once in a while Maori frustration hits the headlines—as when the President of the NZ Maori Council this year declared that Maori-Pakeha integration in NZ has failed and "Pakehas cared little about it. If they did care about it, they would think about it and do something about it," he said. (NZPA, 12.7.73). More Pakehas might do more about it if they were allowed to realise how many young Maoris today say "All Pakehas are racist"—and how many are no longer prepared to just live and accept this.

The dangers of the old official negative policies can probably best be seen in historical perspective, for example:

"Except when he wished to terrify the colonial office into agreeing with him by holding forth the prospect of a national revolt, a prospect dismissed as alarmist (in 1847), Grey never ceased to represent the racial harmony, and the great increase by civilised habits among the

"True too, that by posing as a friend, by the judicious distribution of gifts by the ostensible admission of powerful chiefs to the counsels of government, he successfully persuaded the Maoris that he was acting in their permanent interests. Yet he was not proceeding upon fixed principles of equity but upon opportunism. His goal was the steady accumulation of land for European settlement.....Unfortunately, he did not give his sincere attention to the advance in civilisation, to the creation of a bi-racial society, that might have made such a policy successful...." (Wards, pp 392-292)