16 Nov 2016

Post-Trump: Diversity or division - Are we racist?

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 16 November 2016

“One thing that we’ve seen during the course of these elections is the increased attacks on mosques, even Black churches, people being killed ...” Anjum Rahman, Media Spokesperson, Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand (IWCNZ)

US president-elect Donald Trump employed some controversial tactics during his campaign to win the White House. And the effect on Muslims, Mexicans and migrants is being felt across the world. In New Zealand, ethnic communities  are jittery and wondering what impact his win will have on them.

Anjum Rahman is the community spokesperson for the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand (IWCNZ). Speaking from her home in Hamilton, she sounds concerned.

“What we’ve seen with Brexit in Britain is that the result has led to a huge increase in racist incidents against the Muslim community, the Polish community and ethnic communities in general.

“We often find with overseas events that it does have an impact on people here in terms of personal safety and harassment. My sense is that the worst rhetoric was happening during the course of the campaign.  [Trump] led a very clever campaign. His campaign was about getting the maximum amount of publicity for the minimum amount of dollars. He was successful because he got the coverage that he wanted and that he needed. That’s something we need to think about. When some random person says something outrageous does it need to be reported, does it need to be 'news'?”

Anjum recalls a visiting dignitary from Kuwait telling her: “If someone from Al-Qaida makes some outrageous statement its news all over the world. If I put out a press release saying something reasonable and sensible I’m lucky to make it to the local paper – and I usually don’t."

“It feeds into fueling extremist views,” Anjum says.

“It’s really important that we think about the vision we have for New Zealand. Social cohesion requires effort. My plea to my fellow New Zealanders; lets pull up our sleeves and work to make sure we get on with each other and we’re not mistrustful of each other.”

One former refugee turned human rights lawyer echoes Anjum’s plea: “Refugees and migrants are not invaders ... they’re not threatening you,” Sudanese Australian human rights lawyer Deng Adut says.

“Racism is a disease of the mind. I’d rather have HIV.”

Adut was kidnapped when he was six and endured life as a child soldier in Sudan.

Granted refugee status by the Australian Government at the age of 11, he is now a leading human rights lawyer, advocate and community leader and was the keynote speaker at New Zealand’s 12th Diversity Forum held at Te Papa, Wellington, this year.

The theme for the forum was Te Anga Whakamua, 'Our Future Focus.' The Human Rights Commission launched the 'That’s Us' online campaign inviting New Zealanders to safely share their experiences of racism.

“It’s time for Kiwi’s to talk openly and respectfully about racism and what kind of country we want our kids growing up in,” Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says.

She says she is inspired by Adut.

“Deng’s story was affirmation for us.”

“His comment (that) he’d rather have HIV [than racism] because that wouldn’t kill his soul – I thought that was really profound. It’s your choice.”

So what choices do New Zealanders make when it comes to racism?

In 2009, Auckland University launched the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), a unique, 20-year longitudinal national study into our country’s changing attitudes and values.

Associate Professor of Psychology, Chris Sibley, is the driving force behind the study, which includes 18,000 people in its latest wave.

“One goal of the NZAVS is to understand how New Zealand feels about different groups and what the levels of tolerance or intolerance and racism are in New Zealand, and to understand how these things are changing over time.”

“One thing we find is that warmth towards Muslim peoples in New Zealand is relatively low compared to warmth towards other ethnic groups or a variety of different groups.”

“Warmth towards Asian people (broadly defined) and Chinese people and Indian people are also quite low, but not as low as towards Muslim peoples or people of Middle Eastern descent. Warmth towards Pacific and Maori peoples are relatively high, and the warmth towards Pākehā or New Zealand European is among the highest.

Warmth towards Asians and Muslims, cartoon by Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Warmth towards Asians and Muslims, cartoon by Lynda Chanwai-Earle Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

“There are two core psychological factors that tend to predict racism. One is your orientation toward competition between groups and the other is the extent to which you perceive threat or are fearful of other groups, or fearful of difference.

"Those are the factors contributing to racism, all the phobias. We’re interested in the long term. Warmth towards Asians is slowly, steadily going up.”

Community leader Rehanna Ali (IWCNZ) is optimistic about a possible rise in warmth towards her fellow Muslims.

“We’re quite a young country and we’re still establishing our identity. I remember after the terrible events of 9/11, hearing about reactions against Muslims around the world.

"Here in New Zealand people delivered flowers to the [Kilbirnie] Mosque, just to show you people do think deeply about issues.”

“On a human to human level I think people have a goodness and optimism about themselves.”