Black Lives Matter. That’s a given — or at least it should be. But here’s something else that matters: speaking up about — and against — racism. Not just blatant racism, the sort that was apparent in the sickening killing by police in Minneapolis of George Floyd. But also casual racism, the kind we may note in comments overheard in a cafe, or the “joke” that makes us feel uncomfortable.
This is my chance to speak up — as an individual, and also as the representative of a company determined to practise, and exhibit, the ethics and standards our community at Goodness Gracious should expect of us.
Since George Floyd’s death, we have all seen, and in some cases participated in, a protest movement that has swept the world. We’ve seen further brutality in the way some of those protests have been handled by authorities. (Of course we’ve also seen, in the US, the actions of individuals who have inexcusably used the cover of the protests as a chance to loot businesses big and small, and to riot.)
We know that George Floyd was just one of many, many blacks who have suffered at the hands, and weapons, of racist authority figures in the US. In my lifetime, an equally famous case was that of Rodney King, beaten mercilessly by Los Angeles police who were tried and — at first — acquitted, their acquittal sparking the LA riots of 1992.
Part of the reason I want to speak up is personal. I have a mixed-race background (Chinese-Fijian, Maori, Spanish, German, English and Irish). It is thanks partly to my seamstress grandmother’s move to New Zealand, from Fiji, that I am a New Zealander. But it’s thanks to our race that many in my extended family have learned first-hand what it is to be excluded. When I was younger, I watched my mother being blatantly abused and told to get off “white man’s land”.
But I have never felt fear myself because of my skin colour. I appear to be white, and that fact has put me in a slightly different position. Because of their assumption that I’m white, I’ve often had other people share their casual racism with me, expecting that I would agree with it, and them. I don’t.
Against blatant racism, I have spoken up. But I confess I haven’t always done so against casual racism, and this is something I regret. This is something I will change; I know that the world will change only when individuals do.
None of us can be unaware of the discriminatory treatment of indigenous peoples all around the world. Including here, in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s my view that racism is intertwined with economics; that indigenous populations are disadvantaged from the start by the unequal distribution of wealth; that oppression begins with a societal structure that, either by chance or by design, keeps them at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. And that, because it’s a pattern repeated generation after generation, people on all rungs of the economic ladder come to believe that’s as it should be — that the indigenous people at the bottom deserve to be there.
They don’t. And it’s up to this generation to prove it.
I want to see, to hear, a real conversation about radically restructuring our tax system, about redistributing our wealth fairly. To change attitudes, to change prejudices, we need to change systems.
And, of course, to change ourselves. I intend now to expand my knowledge of my own Fijian and Māori ancestry and my practice of each culture’s customs. I intend now to advocate more strongly for the redistribution of wealth, and to do more to support indigenous people.
Police brutality and other such violence can, and must, be addressed by the law, by prosecutions. But it will take much more to address the issues and the racism that underlie it. In this country as elsewhere, it will take people with the courage to reshape our society. It will take more of the leadership displayed, and praised, during the pandemic.
It will take a determination in all of us to support the principle that Black lives matter. And, for starters, a willingness to speak up.