Embracing Diversity

While New Zealand has made considerable social progress over the past 100 years we are still a country where affluent white heterosexual males dominate. Our laws may prohibit discrimination related to gender, sexuality, race, culture and income but it takes more than a law to change thinking.

Two stories since the New Year has made me aware just how far we still need go as a society.

The first regarded a Portuguese visitor to our country who was deported back to his home as soon as he arrived here. This man met all requirements as a visitor to our country, he had a return ticket, insurance, money and did not need a special visa. Airport immigration officers refused him entry because they believed he was intending to work here despite a lack of concrete evidence that he was.

Not only was this a humiliating experience for the man and his friends but it exposed possible cultural bias on behalf of immigration officers. I am fairly sure that had he come from the UK, Holland or the US there would have been little problem. I have heard a number of similar stories from people of different cultural backgrounds who have suffered because of a clear bias in our system. A local medical specialist, who happens to be Libyan, discovered that his brother was not allowed to visit him purely because of the country he came from.

In the colonisation of New Zealand we did have a white only policy and although the written policy has changed it seems as if this has really been to accommodate the likes of wealthy Chinese and cheap labour from the Pacific islands and the Philippines. The bias against ordinary people who may not come from the previously preferred nations seems to have continued to some extent.

Mai Chen has been leading a Superdiversity Stocktake and is recommending we embrace diversity to enrich our culture and to energise our economy. After a very successful and high profile legal career Chen still finds that she is treated as a visitor by many European New Zealanders (this is despite the fact that there has been a substantial Chinese community here for well over 100 years).

It seems that the knowledge and skills those from different cultures have are not properly appreciated. Recently the Invercargill City Council sent a team to China to negotiate the purchase of some new Christmas lights and it was never thought advantageous to include a local Chinese person as part of the team.

The other story involves two top former students of Auckland Grammar who had to wait until they had left the school before coming out as gay. Despite their academic excellence and general success (one was the 2012 Dux, the other was the Head Prefect for the same year) both had to hide their natural sexuality and suffered considerable stress because of it.

The school website describes a safe environment for students of different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds but makes no mention of sexual orientation or individual emotional needs. Sadly we have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD and many of those who take their own life are young members of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community. Given that around 5-10% of people would identify as LGBTQIA it would mean that up to 251 students would feel challenged and not supported by Auckland Grammar's dominantly heterosexual culture.

I remember discussing a student as part of the senior management team of a local intermediate some years ago. Others of the team were concerned about a male student who openly stated his wish to have a sex change. He was a very popular student whose personalty enabled him to rise above any potential teasing through a great sense of humour and a very likable personality.  Most of the senior staff questioned the naturalness of the boy's behaviour and wanted him to receive psychological counseling. I voiced the opinion that the teachers needed counseling more because they couldn't accept that the student concerned was managing his sexual identity extremely positively. I can imagine many schools would still have staff that would hold similar concerns in the same situation.

Henry and Joel have since created a website to support others like themselves but I can't help wondering why in this day and age the school leadership couldn't display greater awareness and compassion.

The world didn't end when we had female Prime Ministers just like it wouldn't end if we had one who was Gay or possibly Iranian at birth. Talent just doesn't come out of white European heterosexual males and by not celebrating and accepting the diversity within our population we are effectively limiting our potential as a nation.


Philip Todd said…
Cultural and social change takes time. It is almost a generational thing and I am not sure what can be done to speed things up. Leadership can be brave and make the law changes such as the homosexual reform bill but that just stops the authorities thinking they need to act.
I personally think in race relations we are ahead of many countries because we have worked alongside the Maori ever NZ started being inhabited by the Europeans. We never always got it right but we did co exist and the average Kiwi were happy to work alongside them. Our armed forces are well respected whenever they go overseas because they embrace the cultural differences and appreciate other races have different cultures. Maori are respected and represent their race at all levels right up the Chief of the Armed Forces.
The same cannot be said for the US or Australian forces.
I think the gay issue will be overcome as people get to know openly gay people and understand they are just ordinary people. That would not have happened a few years ago as most hid their sexuality.
It is sad to hear stories about young people hiding their true feelings because they feel they need to but I think those will be the people who go on to help breakdown the barriers for others.
It is easy to be part of the flow but brave people will walk against it and bring about change.
I doubt there is a person in NZ who thinks woman should not get to vote or not be allowed to stand for elected office. That was the biggest cultural revolution ever for NZ but other countries are still stuck back in those days where they are happy to see woman treated as second class citizens.
We don't get it right all the time but I think we are heading in the right direction
bsprout said…
I'm afraid I don't agree with you Philip. Maori still dominate our prison populations, those struggling in our schools and those who are unemployed. It also appears that the exploitation of foreign and migrant workers is a growing problem and there are fewer women in management positions than there were ten years ago. We are ranked 90th in the world for the number of refugees we accept per head of population. We can't rely on our past reputation (which was still patchy) when we are behind many other OECD countries in embracing diversity in all levels of our society. If we are heading in the right direction, we are doing so very slowly.
Philip Todd said…
I think what I am trying to say is that at grass roots there is an acceptance that all people are not born equal. Various government policies have failed Maori such as forcing them into South Auckland many years ago in order to provide cheap labour. Such policies never took into consideration cultural aspects of their life and over subsequent years this migration flow has proven to have caused huge issues.
Schools embrace cultural diversity today and that's where progress come from.
I doubt we will see a government in our lifetime brave enough to take on the prison inequality problem as it will lift the lid on some poor decision making over many years. There has been a big shift in how prisons are run and Invercargill is a good example where huge money keeps being spent on security and razor wire when only a very few have ever escaped. Just crazy and diverting funds from where they should go which is onto programs that can show good outcomes in prisoner rehabilitation. However law and order is a nice easy political football to kick around at election time and it keeps the general public happy seeing large fences covered in razor wire keeping the dreaded criminals at bay from raping and pillaging out in the public. Now the corporates are eyeing up the easy money running prisons and there focus will not be on keeping people out so that will make the thought of something a lot more progressive even further away. The biggest issue facing NZ when it comes to inequality issues is the lack of courage amongst those who could make some radical change. Helen Clark showed courage in identifying the issues around tertiary education but still tip toed around the prison debate
bsprout said…
Philip, when the Treaty was signed a higher % of Maori could read and write than Europeans, they owned all the flour mills and owned ships that they used for trading goods in Australia and the US. There was nothing economically backward about Maori until they were forced of their productive land, refused money from banks because they didn't have single title to their land and were blocked from retaining their economic dominance. Metiria Turei's Dad had no choice but be a labourer and they struggled to live in a decent house because few people liked renting to Maoris.

Being marginalised for multiple generations creates disfunctional behaviour, it wasn't just cultural ignorance in policies but the ongoing colonisation that has pushed Maori to the margins of society.


Sorry about the lecture, but I did a Treaty workshop with our Young Greens when I was supporting their Summer Camp and it has been uppermost in my mind.

I agree that law and order has become a political debate every election but the the causes of crime are never addressed while the punishments and length of sentences continue to rise.
Philip Todd said…
No problem with the lecture, we can all learn something new. Far to much of our own countries short history has never been recorded or embraced as part of our education system. We tend to celebrate what isn't about NZ. And with our own to much is overlooked because it was swept under the carpet. Like the suicide rates amongst returning soldiers in 1918/9. I have been working on putting together the story of my father who spent time in a concentration camp during WW2. It was against the Geneva convention so in 1962 the Germans paid the British soldiers compensation. The Australian and NZ Govt argued none of their soldiers had been held in such places against strong evidence even going as far as saying the concentration camp my father had spent time in never existed. It was still behind the Iron Curtain back then so could argue that. Finally in 1979 they accepted that 16 Kiwi and around 40 Australian servicemen has spent time in theses places and those who were alive got a small payout. Why they argued is beyond me but shows that it is not just the minorities that can be treated badly or discriminated against.
Those are the stories that need recorded and should become part of our NZ History education. Onc we fully understand the true unedited NZ history we will see why we need to change moving forward

Popular posts from this blog

NZ now ranks at bottom of developed world

Invercargill's Deepening Housing Crisis

The Destruction of New Zealand's Public Education System