Those of you who are newcomers to this blog (I honestly have no idea how many new people there are from day to day, but the numbers are gradually getting larger so I can only assume…) won’t understand the context of the title of this post, or the 4 or 5 others in this series that precede it. A common trope in Canada (and yes, I actually do hear it) is that racism isn’t really a problem anymore. People seem to believe that racism is all stuff of history, but now we’ve progressed beyond that as a society. At least, in developed countries, members of visible minority groups don’t experience any racism. This is a transparent attempt to divest one’s self from any responsibility, since anyone who thinks they’ve experienced racism is clearly just overly sensitive and needs to “get over it.”
And so I’ve started throwing these stories up from time to time to keep poking my audience, reminding them (and myself) that racism is still alive and well, and won’t go away until we take concrete steps towards addressing it.
So today it’s New Zealand’s turn:
A television presenter in New Zealand has been suspended for suggesting on air that the country’s governor-general was not a proper New Zealander. Sir Anand Satyanand was born in New Zealand to Indo-Fijian parents. Presenter Paul Henry provoked a storm of criticism by asking the Prime Minister, John Key, whether the next governor-general would look and sound more like a New Zealander. “Is he even a New Zealander?” Henry asked. ”Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time?”
In case you missed the oh-so-subtle insinuation, a “real New Zealander” is a white person. Never mind, of course, the fact that white people are a recent addition to the human species in New Zealand, whereas someone who is Indo-Fijian has a much more legitimate claim to being “really” from there. Let’s ignore all of that. This is part of the centuries-old branding by white Europeans to define the “default” human being as white, whereas everyone else is some departure from that. The evils of “Darwinism” have shown us that, in fact, racial differences are less than 100,000 years old; and in some cases even more recent than that. Certainly since we have records of when the first white people landed on New Zealand and encountered people already present there, it should be ridiculous to even suggest that any white person is more a “real New Zealander” than anyone else. But then again, these are logic-based arguments, whereas racism is based on prejudice and intentional ignorance of fact.
Oh yeah, please believe it doesn’t end there:
India has condemned “racist and bigoted” remarks by a New Zealand TV presenter who made fun of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s surname. TVNZ breakfast show host Paul Henry broke into laughter a number of times as he mispronounced the surname – which sounds closer to “Dixit” in English. Mr Henry’s comments were broadcast last week on the state-owned channel TVNZ, but took a few days to be noticed in India. In the footage, Mr Henry mispronounces Ms Dikshit’s surname several times – apparently deliberately. He added: “It’s so appropriate because she’s Indian… I’ve known about her for a while and I’ve been laughing ever since.”
If you were ever looking for an example of white privilege, here it is. This is a guy who is on state-sponsored radio making outrageous and hurtful comments about someone’s last name for a cheap laugh. And why does he get the cheap laugh? It’s not because the jokes are particularly well-constructed or insightful, it’s because he has an audience that buys into the background cultural racism that says that someone from another culture is wrong or weird; not by virtue of any harm they do, but because their language is different than English.
I’m completely comfortable calling out Iran’s terribly destructive cultural practices because they’re destructive. I’ll bag on China for shutting down free speech because it hurts people. And if Mr. Henry were making a coherent critique of India’s performance hosting the Commonwealth Games, I’d have no problem with him shitting on the Indian government. However, that’s not what this is. This is an asshole with a microphone playing to the never-spoken racist feelings of his fan base (who I’m sure would swear up and down that they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies).
But of course New Zealand doesn’t really have a race problem, right?
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