the human rights commission is doing some consultation prior to their next 5-yearly report to the UN on the convention on the elimination of racial discrimination. some of you may be familiar with similar consultations that happening prior to the CEDAW report.
the HRC is asking 2 main questions:
1. what are the 5 five most positive developments in race relations in the past 5 years (2006 - 2010)?
2. what are the 5 greatest race relations challenges for the future?
i've been thinking about this over the last few days, and i find them to be really quite difficult questions to answer. however, i've made an attempt below with issues in no particular order.
in terms of the positive developments:
- the increasing awareness and coverage of maori language week, with the media picking it up and incorporating more te reo in greetings etc. despite this being, on the face of it, a superficial thing, i think it's important in terms of maori language & culture being part of nz culture and what it means to be a nz'er.
- the new school curriculum, which includes diversity under the values section, and includes the treaty of waitangi, inclusion, & cultural diversity under the principles section. these factors will lead to the inclusion of diversity in all teaching areas, which can only be a good thing. i especially love this sentence: The curriculum reflects New Zealand’s cultural diversity and values the histories and traditions of all its people. i think the new curriculum will have long-lasting impact, if implemented correctly.
- various cultural celebrations becoming much more part of the landscape here. diwali celebrations have been happening throughout the country over the last couple of weeks, but also many more events that ethnic minority communities are sharing with the wider communities. some of these will be national days, or cultural celebrations or religious celebrations. i love that waitangi day is now celebrated around the country with full day events that involve the participation of a variety of cultures.
- not a nz development as much as an international one, but i think the internet is a great tool for race relations, in that it helps with: networking, the spreading of positive messages, debating of ideas, organisation & publicity of events, engaging in conversations & learning from others. for example the conversations we've had here regarding the te papa thing, while difficult at times, really did add to everyone's understanding even though we might not have agreed with the views put forward.
- the HRC diversity forum's are a real positive development. i missed this year's one, the first in i've missed in several years. but the numbers of people now attending, the agencies & organisations wanting to be part of the conversations about diversity is truly heartening.
in terms of the challenges:
- the biggest one, for me, is again not just a nz thing but one that is being seen across the world. it's the way that politicians will pretty much incite racial disharmony with a view to increasing their profile & their votes. we had it here with winston peters & don brash, with pauline hanson & john howard in australia, the BNP in UK, the BJP in india, the tea party movement in the US, and a whole range of parties across europe. it's a deliberate political tactic, it's guaranteed to create headlines, and any criticism of the person(s) doing the inciting is pushed aside or silenced either with the label of "political correctness" or some kind of attack on freedom of speech (as though those who are critical should have none). politicians not only have the ability to affect public opinion but to put in place policies that entrench inequality or to block policies that will reduce inequality.
- the second challenge is pretty much the same as the first but it's the use of this same tactic by media personalities. i classify it as a different challenge because politicians don't often have the same level of on-going access to the public as the likes of paul henry or leighton smith. there are the politicians who also do media, like michael laws & previously, john banks. but mainstream media, in it's impact, is much stronger and wider. it seems that the easiest way to build and sustain an audience is to be as controversial as possible, regardless of the consequences to your target group. also, the framing of stories, and the stories that are chosen to be reported, can and do have a hugely negative impact.
- i'm also going to put the internet in the negative category as well. while it has so many positives, the internet also gives us the "your views" section of the herald & similar types of comments on stuff, lots of nastiness on facebook, and general online harassment & trolling. because of the impersonal nature of online interactions, the abuse can be at a much higher level than a face-to-face interaction might.
- cuts in government funding and widening social inequality both have consequences for race relations. positive race relations happen when a government is committed to developing policies that will foster good relations. whether that is in terms of well-funded settlement support programmes, funding for educational programmes, funding to create spaces and places to have those difficult debates, and any number of other programmes: all of these require a government to be active and to invest in social harmony. similarly with social inequality, tensions are higher when there is greater unemployment, for example, because certain racial groups face higher levels of unemployment and there tends to be a greater backlash towards visible migrants (ie those who are of an ethnic minority) at times of high unemployment.
- finally, the change in demographics is going to be a major challenge. as various ethnic minority communities grow in numbers and become a more established part of nz society, the chances of increased tension are much higher. how those minority communities fit into a bi-cultural framework must be resolved, because i think many of those communities don't have a good understanding of the treaty and of nz history. there is a real gap in understanding, which doesn't bode well for the maori struggles around treaty issues.
so those are my main issues. the only thing i've really left out is the rise of ethnic-specific media, which is both a good and a bad thing. it's good because it allows for self-expression and for communities to put forward their own view of things. it's bad because it stops the various communities talking to each other as they become more internally-focussed. but compared to the other things i've listed above, i don't think this one is as important.
anyway, i'd encourage people to give their feedback to the HRC. i'm sure your input will have some impact on policy development and recommendations for the future.