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Paul Henry and all that

One of the simplest things to do in the Paul Henry affair is to join the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who found him obnoxious, and disgustingly arrogant.

The also found him unrepentant. His resignation from TV1 on October 10, somewhat took the sting out of the ongoing protests in New Zealand and India but the larger issue of public interest remains unanswered.

While his comments about Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand to Prime Minister John Key during his Breakfast programme (TV1) on October 4 were abrasive, his earlier tirade against Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit was equally nasty. The latter episode prompted the Indian Government to react with anger and summon our High Commissioner to deliver a demarche. This in itself is a strong move but we hope the issue does not become a diplomatic incident.

Not likely; to be fair to both New Zealand and India have seen their bilateral relations grow and mature to a level of enhanced mutual respect and understanding. The remarks by an individual would not and should not cloud friendship.

We received no less than 200 email and text messages during the first few days of Paul’s daft remarks about our Governor General. We have also spoken on various radio stations and appeared on a television programme to make New Zealanders know that the Indian community did not consider Paul funny. At a meeting held in Auckland, it was even suggested that some ‘hot action’ was essential to make the Government and the management of TVNZ know of their feelings.

While Paul’s remarks about Ms Dixit and Sir Anand were outrageous and deserve the strongest condemnation, we must be careful not to over-react. Criticising the Prime Minister for failing to be decisive and asking him to sack the broadcaster are naïve, to say the least. For, firstly, leaders do not react in front of the camera and secondly, the Prime Minister has no authority to sack an employee of a Company. All that he, like the rest of us can do is to lodge a formal complaint.

Racism is always controversial. Everyone is against it, no one likes to admit to it, and yet it exists, in one form or another, almost everywhere. Therefore, it has hardly been a surprise that every discussion on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance have themselves generated plenty of controversy.

All this is open to question. Racial discrimination is still a huge problem. Lawmakers widely and rightly legislate against it. Racial discrimination appears to be on the wane in many places.

Senior and second generation New Zealanders tell us about the discrimination that their ancestors suffered in this country in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Organisations and people devoted to keeping whites up and blacks down eventually stood aside peacefully to make way for multi-racial democracy. Two generations ago, most white people probably disapproved of inter-racial marriage. Now, among the young, it is both common and uncontroversial.

As countries have grown richer, so the poorest ethnic groups have benefited too. Sixty years ago in America, 60% of black women with jobs worked as domestic servants. Now, only one in 50 does, and black female college graduates earn more on average than white female graduates.

Racist attitudes may still be widespread, but in fewer places do they determine an individual’s life chances. Several ethnic minorities suffer discrimination but are still richer than the majorities among whom they live: the Chinese in South-East Asia, the Indians in East Africa, and the Jews in many places.

People from different tribes are not doomed to squabble. Where ethnic antagonism leads to bloodshed, it is usually because politicians have inflamed passions to secure their own grip on power. The tribal wars in ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda started this way, as did the milder violence in rural Zimbabwe.

Back to Paul, several Indian and Pakistani associations have reacted strongly, asking us to register their protest against his unsavoury remarks about the incumbent Governor General. We have done so in discharge of our duty elsewhere in this issue.

We reiterate the need for restraint because people are often carried away by emotions, which have the tendency to snowball into something totally unexpected, unwanted and tragic, with long-term, interminable effect.

Overstating circumstances can only fuel the unwanted thought process.

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