Dame Susan Devoy
New Zealanders should be grateful to the young woman who spoke up about her encounter with Sir Peter Leitch this week.
I would like to thank Lara Wharepapa Bridger; she is a very brave young woman whose story is one that many Maori New Zealanders will recognise.
Many of us have said or done things that are hurtful to others without really realising what we were saying is offensive: but that is not the end of the story. The important thing is being able to recognise when we have offended someone, to work to resolve it with mana and to make sure we never do it again.
The thing about so-called casual racism is that it does not feel very casual if it happens to you or your family as Lara has shown us.
Fixing the offence
I know Sir Peter and while I believe he is a very good person at heart: that thing he did was offensive to Lara and it needs to be fixed up. I am confident he will do this and it’s great to hear the local iwi are able to help mediate as are our own commission mediators. It is pretty clear he had no idea how offensive his words were but he will definitely know this now.
We launched an anti-racism campaign “That’s Us” on September 1, 2016 and since then, more than 1 million New Zealanders have tuned in and listened to the stories of casual – and not so casual – racism from everyday people growing up in New Zealand. Shocking, funny and heart-wrenching: but all of them very familiar.
Often, the person saying the offensive or racist thing had no idea that what they were saying was racist or incredibly hurtful: and this is where we need to change.
Many people have reached out to us since we launched the campaign to say that they never realised some of the things that they had done or said was hurtful and that they would change their behaviour from here on: this is real change, when people are big enough to challenge themselves.
Comments from a media representative for Sir Peter who referred to Lara’s skin colour were out of line.
This is quite an ignorant thing to say, someone’s skin colour has nothing to do with anyone else except that person. Your colour doesn’t define your ethnicity or your culture.
Find out more about That’s Us at www.thatsus.co.nz
Dame Susan Devoy is Race Relations Commissioner of New Zealand.