Racism should not enter healthy public debates

Dame Susan Devoy

Wellington, July 14, 2017

New Zealand’s first nationwide anti-racism campaign has reached millions of New Zealanders since its launch less than a year ago.

Early on we realised many people did not think that prejudice existed or was a problem here so by raising the voices of everyday New Zealanders and sharing their personal experiences we helped others understand what racial prejudice sounds and feels like. It seems people were keen to listen with our ‘That’s Us’ campaign reaching more than 4.2 million people and engaging with 1.3 million.

Give Nothing to Racism Campaign

A month ago, the Commission launched the ‘Give Nothing to Racism’ campaign with the help of some of New Zealand’s most well-known artists, athletes, actors and leaders.

The tongue in cheek video has been shared widely as have the video memes created by well-known Kiwis.

Checking our own behaviour when it comes to everyday racism was our next focus and it seems people have been keen to listen.

So far, we have reached 4.2 million people and engaged with 2.1 million.

We have had enquiries from overseas as other countries want to see how they can also utilise our hard case but hard-hitting campaign.”

Racial intolerance and attacks are on the rise globally. Encouraging Kiwis to treat each other with respect is not about being PC; it is about giving others a fair go.

The Levy source

The campaign was almost entirely funded from non-taxpayer levies. At a total cost of just under $270,000 with the majority of funding coming from the levy paid by migrants via the NZ Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy and $20,000 from the Export Education Levy – an industry levy paid by providers enrolling international students – that is administered by the Ministry of Education. The NZ National Commission for UNESCO and the NZ Human Rights Commission provided $25,000 respectively. Every celebrity involved in the campaign donated their time and their involvement for free.

Casual Racism

We think that ‘casual racism’ is something more of us need to talk about and reflect on but it takes many forms. We have let everyday New Zealanders tell us what casual racism looks like and feels like to them, so have a read of our website http://www.thatsus.co.nz/learn-more to find out more, it is their voices that matter. Raising the voices of real people and enabling them to share their stories has been an important way we are enabling Kiwis to realise what prejudice looks and feels like.

Any korero about racism will be politically sensitive no matter what community or country you are in. But this should not– and has not – stopped us from doing the right thing and standing up for the human rights of New Zealanders to live in peace without racial persecution.

All of us have the right to debate important political issues: we just need to do so without racism. Safeguarding human rights in New Zealand and holding people to account is our role 24/7, regardless of whether there is an election or any other event taking place.

Likewise, freedom of expression and freedom to offend goes both ways: we reserve our right to stand up for human rights even if other people disagree. We have our critics and they are free to disagree with us.

Dame Susan Devoy is Race Relations Commissioner based in Wellington.

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