Define Racism

In general, we Kiwis don't like to rock the boat. We are pretty well-mannered and don't charge into confrontations at the drop of a hat. We're good-natured and laid back and tend to employ a "she'll be right" attitude.

Our good nature is being taken advantage of.

Throughout all of this radical change in our country, a particular weapon has been wielded against those of us who have raised objections. It is a weapon that strikes the heart of our desire to get on with our neighbours and be a harmonious people - the accusation of racism. 

Racism is something we all rightly abhor so to be called a racist is disarming and upsetting. It makes us stop and not want to speak up for rights and beliefs that we are entitled to. It creates a chilling effect that shuts down dissent relating to Government policies like co-governance.

Racism accusations are foundational to how this Government justifies treating New Zealanders differently depending on race. But the genius of this tactic is that they get to decide what racism is and we are not allowed to question this. When there is no set definition and the accuser can't be made to justify themselves, it is impossible to defend ourselves against the smear.

Seeing how often the Government is using this racially antagonistic tactic, we decided to ask ministers what definition of 'racism' they were using in the context of their ministries. We also asked them if it is possible for white people to be victims of racism and if there are degrees of racism depending on the race or ethnicity of the person being accused and their 'victim'. We also asked the Human Rights Commission.

The responses we received to our Official Information Act requests were disappointing, to say the least.

From the Human Rights Commission we received:

"The Commission does not hold a single agreed definition of the term "racism".

They refused to answer the other two questions. At least they replied though! The Race Relations Commissioner responded to our OIA acknowledging receiving it on 11 April 2023 but despite an "I’ll get back to you soon," we have heard nothing.

From ministers we received the following:

"Aotearoa New Zealand has no agreed definition of racism" - Marama Davidson

"The OIA cannot be used to force Ministers or agencies to engage in debate or to create justifications or explanations in relation to something a person might be interested in. There is no obligation to create new information to answer an OIA request.
Your request is therefore refused under section 18( e) of the OIA, as the information requested does not exist. " - Ginny Andersen

"Your questions appear designed to engage in a debate about the Government's policies to address racism...I am therefore refusing your request under section 18(g) of the Act." - Barbara Edmonds

"The questions you raise do not appear to be seeking any official information likely to be held by this Office." - Kieran McAnulty 

"This information is not held by the Ministry for Ethnic Communities, nor my Office." - Priyanca Radhakrishnan

"Your questions appear designed to engage in a debate about the Government's policies to address racism...I am therefore refusing your request under section 18(g) of the Act." - Ayesha Verrall

"Your correspondence does not meet the threshold for being a request under the OIA as in order to respond to your query would require an agency to form an opinion or provide an explanation and so create new information to answer." Nanaia Mahuta

"The questions you raise do not appear to be seeking any official information likely to be held by this Office." - Peeni Henare

"The information you have requested is not ‘official information’ and not something which would
be held in my capacity as a Minister." - Andrew Little

"An agency (or Minister) is not required to form an opinion or create information to answer an official information request." - Willie Jackson

"The questions you raise do not appear to be seeking any official information likely to be held by this Office." - Chris Hipkins

"Questions that require the creation of new information, such as forming an opinion or providing an explanation, are not requests for official information." - Jan Tinetti

"The questions you raise do not appear to be seeking any official information but rather appear designed to engage in a debate about racism." - Kelvin Davis

"Your questions appear designed to engage in a debate about the Government’s policies to address racism." - Kiri Allan

Additionally, Willow-Jean Prime, Carmel Sepuloni, and Michael Wood transferred the OIA to their ministries.

In fact the only minister who responded in a slightly fuller manner was Deborah Russell. She began by saying "Stats NZ does not have a standard definition of racism" but then made an attempt to discuss the Human Rights Commission's definition, how Stats NZ deals with discrimination, and explains that Stats NZ collects information on people's experiences of discrimination through the New Zealand General Social Survey.

In short, our Government and its ministers are either unwilling or unable to tell us what 'racism' is and whom it can affect. This is significant for many reasons but I'd like to raise two major ones here.

1. Our Government spends a lot of time and money on anti-racism programmes. If they don't know what racism actually is, what are they spending our taxes on? A few examples of this are the $2 million spent by New Zealand Police on research into 'where bias and racism exist within policing practices', an undisclosed amount spent by the Ministry of Justice on 'a national action plan against racism,' and $42 million spent by the Ministry of Education on 'an antiracism initiative for schools and communities aiming to help Māori students'.

2. Principles of Natural Justice are undermined when a Government is able to make sweeping accusations that can't be proven or defended. As New Zealanders, we have the right to be heard and to be protected by fair process.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights says:

27(1) Every person has the right to the observance of the principles of natural justice by any tribunal or other public authority which has the power to make a determination in respect of that person’s rights, obligations, or interests protected or recognised by law.

It seems that despite not knowing exactly what racism is, our Government is willing to use it to stifle debate and distract from key issues. 

This dirty and unethical strategy will continue until it simply doesn't work anymore and how long that takes is entirely up to New Zealanders like you and me.

We must refuse to allow our good-naturedness as Kiwis to be used against us. We must collectively refuse to be manipulated by race-baiting politicians and bureaucrats. It is entirely up to us.

We are bloody sick of the cries of racism and fabricating of victimhood in order to justify terrible, divisive, and damaging legislation and policy that distracts everyone from a Government that has failed by virtually every measure. By turning us against each other, they avoid the scrutiny.

And, to make sure their justification for racism continues, there is the propensity to cry victim no matter how successful and affluent the individuals concerned might be. As we saw this week when Arena Williams shamelessly used her father by claiming he was choosing health over heating.

So what can we do? Here are three suggestions we can all commit to in our everyday lives. Let me know how you go!

1. Refuse to be divided. Push back on rhetoric that divides us into white and brown by reminding people that we are a multi-cultural country made up of people from all sorts of backgrounds. It is not racist to demand that ALL New Zealanders are treated equally before the law

2. Start saying "that tactic does not work on me" when unfounded accusations of racism are levelled at you for speaking up about policy and law. Assert that you know you are not a racist and do not let underhanded and unfair accusations prevent you from speaking up. 

3. If you haven't already, please sign our open letter to Minister of Justice Kiri Allan. Click here to sign.

I think I have gone on enough for today! I just wanted to reach out because with all that is happening to us, we cannot allow our voices to be silenced.

Thank you for all of your ongoing support for our work. Without supporters like you we wouldn't be able to keep challenging the Government and its proxies.