“The Ten 7 racism row is the only story round today,” said my boss in our production meeting on Monday morning, and my heart sank. Auckland councillor Efeso Collins had called for TVNZ to drop the Police Ten 7 show because, he said, it was offering a racist stereotype that sent a subtle message to viewers that if you are young and brown, you are brutal, thuggish and a criminal.
I have never seen Police Ten 7 – not for any particular reason; I just don’t watch much television at all – but from what I understand it shows people behaving badly and the cops coming out on top. It gave us the immortal Kiwi line “always blow on your pie” for which we should be grateful and it does a good job showing some of what our police do in their job.
Of course, there is much more involved in policing than dealing with dickheads but the community policing and the programmes police have initiated to prevent crime probably aren’t as exciting as car chases for television viewers.
As I hadn’t watched the programme, I had no idea if it was racist or not, but a quick google showed each week’s most wanted mugshots and they appeared to be a broad cross section of the community – the less savoury within our community, true, but there were plenty of Pākehā faces glaring sullenly at me from the screen.
So I threw it out to the audience. I wasn’t looking forward to the conversations. Having hosted talkback shows for more than 20 years, it’s difficult to get a thoughtful, nuanced discussion around racism. Just as it is for abortion. People have their own strongly held views and no amount of reasoned debate will change their minds – and to be fair, mine.
Also, I’m a middle class, blonde European woman. How could I lead a conversation on racism? I don’t think I make assumptions about people based on their ethnicity – I believe I take people as I meet them – but in this day and age, it’s really not for me to say. And besides, anyone who begins a conversation with, “I’m not racist …” has pretty much lost their audience from there on in.
I have experienced the feeling of being ‘the other’ when I’ve travelled, though. Of having assumptions and judgements made about me, solely because of the colour of my skin.
But I’ve never felt unwelcome in my own country. Sadly, judging from my callers, a lot of people have.
I heard from many, many Māori and Pacifica people who had all experienced everyday racism – little stuff, but little stuff that stings and leaves a mark. Like being asked to show your bag when leaving department stores. Like having to go in and pre-pay before the fuel pumps are unlocked – always – when your European partner never has to – ever.
One man tells the security guards in stores: “Just come with me, bro. I’d rather have you walking with me than behind me – we’re heading to the fishing rods.” Using European friends to get viewings for flats – on and on it went. European partners of people of colour could tell the same stories.
So yeah, everyday racism is alive and well in this beautiful country of ours. And probably media like Police Ten 7 doesn’t help. But all media could do better. We always refer to Māori champions as New Zealanders. We don’t identify them as Māori or give their whakapapa when identifying them as a matter of course.
There are Māori experts and commentators in every field, but we tend to be lazy when looking for experts to comment on issues and go for the old favourites. Having more people of colour as the go-to experts would be more representative of the real world.
There is a lot the media could do. There is a lot we could all do. And we all win when we start seeing each other beyond our ethnicity, our gender and our sexuality.
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