Racism complaints hit five-year high

WELLINGTON – The number of people making complaints about racism in New Zealand is at its highest level in five years.

Records released to Stuff under the Official Information Act showed that 458 complaints were made nationally to the Human Rights Commission last year. In 2016, 358 complaints were lodged.

The Human Rights Commission works under the Human Rights Act 1993 to promote and protect people in New Zealand.

The complaints fell under one more grounds of discrimination such as race, colour, ethnic or national origin, racial disharmony and racial harassment as outlined in the Human Rights Act.

From 2012 to 2017 the commission received 2440 complaints from across the country, the written response said.

People lodging complaints could voluntarily provide demographic information such as ethnicity.

Of the 1732 people who provided their ethnicity, the three groups who lodged the most complaints identified as Maori, New Zealand European/Pakeha and Indian.

There were 375 Maori complainants, 282 New Zealand European/Pakeha complainants and 246 complaints from people who identified as Indian.

Complaints from Auckland made up nearly half of all complaints last year with 170 racism-related complaints filed, the written response said.

Both nationally and in Auckland the three main areas of complaints involved employment, government activity and provision of goods and services.

Some complaints alleged that “overseas workers on the Christchurch rebuild were barred from local drinking establishments because of their face and were being subjected to racist comments”, the written response said.

Another complaint said parents were banned from speaking their own language to their children at a daycare.

In another instance an employer paid workers on visitor visas “Asian rates” and, in a separate complaint, a supervisor used “derogatory names to workers from the Pacific Islands”, the commission said.

Complaints were also lodged about how “a beauty pageant was only open to non-whites” and how “media typecasts middle-aged European males as privileged and part of an exclusive separate group within society”, it said.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy said most people did not complain formally when they experienced racism.

To raise awareness about racism, the commission started the campaign Give Nothing to Racism and set up a platform where people could share their stories of racism because “many Kiwis didn’t believe racism was a problem or indeed that it existed here”, Ms Devoy said.

“We want New Zealanders to stand alongside those people who experience racism and to let those who are abusing them to know that their prejudice isn’t welcome,” she said.

Auckland University of Technology associate professor Camille Nakhid said a greater understanding of racism and acknowledging institutional racism was needed in New Zealand.

“Racism is having power to deny people opportunities but people hide behind ignorance which allows them not to address it,” Nakhid said.

The areas which people had complained about were mostly to do with institutions, Nakhid said.

“That’s where you have the greatest ability to marginalise people and stop progress because it reverberates across all factors of life such as income, education and health.”

In terms of New Zealand’s race-relations, Nakhid felt New Zealand had “not even gotten on the road much less started the journey,” she said.

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