Thinking of cross cultural relations I instantly think of the two oldest minorities of New Zealand, our Māori and Asian communities. The two groups have been in close contact since the 1800’s but have been kept apart by the media and personal prejudices.
A looooooong time ago, New Zealand was once known to have the finest race relations in the world. News media at the time were referencing the Treaty, its fairness, and the coming together of Māori and Pākehā. However, with recent news events such as John Banks’ racist tirade on the radio and the evil ‘foreign buyer’ myth, it makes one think if this title of “world’s finest” still applies?
It’s the job of the media to reflect an objective mirror back on society. What often happens instead, is that the media has saturated the market with its own agendas. With the media’s favourite target being minorities, it has managed to fuel racial instability in New Zealand. By pitting minorities against each other and warping the general population’s perception of these communities, the media has Aotearoa separated for centuries.
History and the media have extensively detailed the relationship between Māori and Pākehā, but little is said about the relationship between Māori and Asian people. The two communities have had interactions that predate the treaty. However, digging through old newspapers, the same journals that preached racial equality and peace were also releasing content to keep the countries’ minorities apart. Carefully curated language, cartoons and articles have shaped each community’s perception of each other. Tabloids have given prime position for relationship damaging stories like Winston Peters’ racist ‘Asian Invasion’ tyraids and the media has kept a consistent place for racism and prejudice in its papers.
Newspapers, unfortunately, have detailed the long history of active racism within the New Zealand media. The famous ‘yellow peril’ and Hori comics of the 20th century emphasised that one community would be to the detriment of the other. The two communities are often portrayed as opponents in the media, shown to be inferior to Pākehā and constantly fighting over resources and opportunities. The comics are a representation of the ideas and the thought processes of the time. They highlight the rampant racism and prejudice felt by mainstream New Zealand towards not only its indiginous but introduced communities. As Māori and Asian people are some of the oldest minorities in New Zealand, their journeys of racism directly parallel each other.
This dark time in history heralds the introduction of anti-Chinese legislation and laws made to suppress our native communities. In an attempt to control the number of Chinese immigrants making their way into New Zealand, an entrance tax was implemented. The poll tax of 1881 was a fine for only Chinese immigrants who wanted to enter. There were no such rules for other immigrants, and New Zealand was the only country to impose such fees. Other extreme measures included an education test and asking Chinese men who came to New Zealand to come on their own, as the Government feared bringing women or families would lead to the growing of the Chinese communities.
Parallel to this, the Native Schools Act and the Tohunga Suppression Act were being passed in Parliament. This meant the establishment of white run schools in native areas in an attempt to ‘refine the savage natives.’ The Tohunga Suppression Act called for the banning of Maori language and cultural practices in the interest of limiting Māori healing practices in favour of western medicine. The repercussions, however, saw the near decimation of Māori identity and spiritual practices. Not until Helen Clark’s Prime Minister term did the people and families affected by the poll tax receive an apology. This apology was given in 2002, a whole 120 years after the tax was introduced. We have yet to hear an apology from the Government for the attempted decimation of the Māori language and culture though. (Tick tock!)
The sustained negative news coverage throughout the years has found to damage the self worth and sense of belonging from both communities. These feelings have only heightened with the recent surge in prejudice garnered from racist Chinese rhetoric surrounding Covid-19. To fight these damaging beliefs it is crucial more than ever to see our people come together. Seeing Māori and Asian communities unite under the umbrella of manaakitanga (shared respect and gift giving) would be to the detriment of media moguls and the white man. Groups like ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga’ and the growing numbers of Maori students in Asian Studies show the potential of coming together. We are also starting to see more collaboration between Māori and tauiwi under the scheme of business and cultural appreciation. From overseas interest interacting directly with Iwi and the availability of free Treaty workshops for incoming immigrants, we are developing cross cultural relations on an economic and ground level. The coming together of our communities shows a greater need for institutional and legislative initiatives that can ensure the flourishing of not only Māori, but all cultures. We are hearing from students the need of tikanga and cultural acceptance in schools and institutions. There’s an even greater call for positive representation in our places of work, education and TV.
Our greatest example of tikanga on the institutional level are trailblazers like Nanaia Mahuta, who have set precedent on not only being the first woman but the first wahine Māori to hold the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand. As the face and first respondent to diplomatic relations she fronts every issue with a moko kauae, quite literally bringing her culture with her wherever she goes. New Zealand has always been considered a ‘little Britain’ since our first contact with England. Mahuta is flipping this idea on its head represententing herself and our country by being unapologetically Māori. She has received great reception representing her culture abroad, much better than the reactions she receives back home. The good work of Nanaia Mahuta urges for more cultural inclusion in our schools, our workplaces and our general society. A great first step is to actually start singing the Māori verse in our national anthem rather than just mumble rap the whole thing.
In our societies’ attempts to become a more worldly country, citizens and the media need to see and portray people accurately in their best light. The words of Kingi Tāwhiao, “ki te kāhore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi”, a message for unification, emphasises that without vision, the people will be lost and in these dark times his words ring true. Looking at the steady growth of Asians Supporting Tino Rangitiratanga and newspapers like The Herald pulling racist opinion pieces from papers shows new hope in cultural representation and harmony. This is a new ground for press and radio media. These same institutions that fueled racial instability are now urging its viewers to not view te reo Māori on the air or on TV as ‘threatening.’ The Broadcasting Standards Authority’s decision to no longer take complaints from people upset about the use of te reo Māori on-air and on-screen shows hope for the revitalisation of language and culture. The media hold the responsibility of being the mode to share our culture to not only fellow New Zealanders but the world, also. Watching media industries practise accountability and attempting to be more egalitarian in their approach to reporting provides some hope that this is now changing.