Former Race Relations Chief’s empathy for Judith Collins

“Ethnic communities want to be treated as equals- nothing special”

Venkat Raman
Auckland, May 28, 2020

Gregory Fortuin (Photo Courtesy: Salvation Army)

New Zealand can profess to be a multicultural nation and governments can talk of inclusiveness and ‘all-embracing polices and programmes,’ we may all rise to occasions and express our solidarity, but deep-rooted in our social fabric are undercurrents of racism.

Former Race Relations Conciliator Gregory Fortuin has often been at the receiving-end of racist remarks, even while heading an office that says, ‘Give nothing to racism.’

Mr Fortuin is a friend of Indian Newslink and is known to this Reporter for more than 20 years.

He has been a victim of racist remarks and chides even in his native South Africa during Apartheid, and here in New Zealand from time to time.

He therefore sympathises with victims of racism, the latest being National MP and former Ethnic Communities and Police Minister Judith Collins.

“No one should be superficially judged on the colour of their skin and ethnicity,” he said.

National MP Judith Collins (INL File Photo)

The Judith Collins Episode

According to a Radio New Zealand Report, tensions flared over race relations again on Wednesday (May 27, 2020) in Parliament with Ms Collins saying that she was “sick of being demonised” for her ethnicity.

Her Party has been under fire for not having any Maori in its top 12 line-up under the leadership of Todd Muller. “Is something wrong being White?” she asked reporters earlier in the day and took a swipe at Labour MP Tamati Coffey who was asking questions on the Treaty of Waitangi Partnership and government procurement issues during a Select Committee meeting on Finance and Expenditure Committee.

“Oh, Jesus, stupid questions,” Ms Collins said.

Labour MP Deborah Russell retorted, “A White Girl comment; crikey.”

“Oh, No,” replied Ms Collins. “It is actually someone who is utterly sick of being demonised for my ethnicity; thank you very much.”

Trauma of verbal attack

No one would disagree that racist comments, directed by someone or the other, against some community or the other, are repeatedly heard throughout New Zealand ever so often.

Mr Fortuin, who is also National Director (Education & Employment) of Salvation Army, said that the trauma and demonisation for many people in New Zealand was the “daily degradation of being a lesser human being than your fellow white country men and woman.”

“I understand why many fair-skinned coloureds had themselves legally reclassified as ‘White’ in order to live as First Class citizens. However, I am proud of who I am, created equal in the eyes of God; all I wanted was to be judged on the content of my character and my ability to make a difference,” he said.

Christchurch Massacre

A devout Christian, Mr Fortuin was among those on the frontline to manage the aftermath of the Christchurch Massacre of March 15, 2019.

“We have just remembered how a so-called lone wolf white-supremist defiled Mosques and slaughtered 51 peace-loving Muslims and maimed 50 more in their sacred places of worship. During Covid-19 lockdown, we have experienced unprecedented racist attacks with the Human Rights Commission reporting a 600% increase in race-based concerns,” he said.

Mr Fortuin is also pained by the tongue-bashing of Maori by some people.

“The systemic racism, especially with regard to Tangata Whenua being over-represented in all the negative statistics (unemployment, poverty, imprisonment, homelessness and so on) and nowhere to be found in the upper echelons of state and private enterprises is stark for all to see,” he said.

‘While Equal

“I am sure that the millions of slaves wrenched from the African continent and degraded as chattels of their white masters in America, Britain and the Caribbean wished they were white-equal. I am sure that those who were lynched or hung from trees and Church rafters wished they were white-equal,” Mr Fortuin said.

Stating that racism continues to thrive, he said, “Don’t tell me that was in the past when under Make America Great Again, young black men are still being gunned down by white supremist whilst out jogging or murdered by white policemen kneeling on their necks. I am sure that George Floyd wished he was white-equal.”

“Ethnic communities do not want tokenism or special treatment; we simply want to be treated as equals and live in an inclusive society. We do not wish to question or demonise anybody’s ‘Whiteness.’ We should all be able to celebrate who we are without fear or favour.

“What is painfully disturbing in 2020 is the continued blatant discrimination; exclusion and the implication that we are not good enough to be around the top tables. What gives me hope is the knowledge that New Zealanders are better than this,” Mr Fortuin said.

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