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Racism exists in black and white

While New Zealand has an excellent record of human rights, the country is not free of racism and there are tendencies that become apparent from time to time, Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy told Indian Newslink.

She was expressing her views ahead of the 10th Annual New Zealand Diversity Forum due to be held in Christchurch on Sunday, August 24.

Diversity Forum

The Forum has chosen ‘Migrant and Refugee Employment: Valuing Diversity,’ as its core theme, with a number of speakers representing a cross-section of the society deliberating on various aspects of the issue.

Dame Susan, who will be among the keynote speakers at the Forum, said that the theme reflected the influx of migrant workers to the Canterbury region following employment opportunities created in rebuilding the quakes-ravaged City.

Speakers and participants at the Forum will share the best practice, acknowledge positive contributions and provide networking opportunities, she said.

Experience teaches

On the broader challenge of discrimination, she said that anyone thinking that racism does not exist in New Zealand should walk in the shoes of a person from an ethnic minority for a day to understand their thoughts.

“Only last month I condemned the despicable racist abuse faced by some taxi drivers in Queenstown. While New Zealand has a reputation for excellent human rights, the fact that this still happens to New Zealanders who are just trying to do their job shows that we have a long way to go. I think we are doing better than we ever had, but I think we can do better,” she said.

According to her, diversity is not new to this country and hence there is potential to do better. She said that people of Indian and Chinese origin have been partners in the progress of New Zealand since long, with the early settlers arriving before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.

Early settlers

Dame Susan said that her grandfather celebrated his first birthday on a ship bound for New Zealand, with his family leaving the shores of Ireland for a better life and a brighter future like all migrants.

“Our family worked hard, my grandmother was a cleaner at the Government House and when I was small, I would accompany her on some occasions. Migrants work hard and strive to fit in to mainstream New Zealand,” she said.

“It saddens me when people suggest that migrants need to relinquish some of their identity to fit in, because they should not do so. Cultural diversity makes a nation stronger,” she added.

Commission justified

In an obvious reference to recent criticisms, Dame Susan said that the need to preserve the office of the Race Relations Commissioner was underscored by thousands of complaints received every year on human rights issues.

“About a third of these complaints relate to racial discrimination. Our expert mediation team successfully resolve more than 90% of all complaints. We have work to do because we are all responsible for positive race relations and realising human rights in our communities,” she said.

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