April 23, 2020

BEHIND THE MASK – Superdiversity Institute hosts Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon to discuss increase in racism and discrimination during COVID-19 pandemic

On 24 April 2020, Mai Chen, Chair of the Superdiversity Institute and Race Relations Commission spoke at a session with nearly 300 attendees registered on how to decrease the sharp rise of racism and discrimination against people who look like foreigners and migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are sharing some of the attendees comments below:

Dame Marilyn Waring

“I am in lock down in a retirement village with my terminally ill mum, so I am sorry I cannot join the session. I have observed that this place simply could not function if not for migrant New Zealanders. It was my observation in North Shore hospital for the three weeks after mum’s stroke that this was similar. Many of the ‘essential’ workers at level 4 are women, many of them migrants. A significant amount of the economy, food production, processing, storage and huge range of services did not stop: they just moved to the unpaid economy. Households are specifically excluded from the boundary of production in measuring ‘productivity’ – so everyone working from home has been at leisure, according to the rules of GDP.”

Caren Rangi,ONZM, FCA
Principal Consultant Ei Mua Consulting; Deputy Chair, Creative New Zealand; Governor, Radio New Zealand; Board Member, Te Papa Tongarewa

“There is nothing quite like a major catastrophe to bring out the best and worst in people. At best, here in NZ, we have a leader that consistently and actively advocates for kindness to our fellow human beings, and we see many examples of that kindness being exercised every day. And at worst, there is the dark, ugly side, where people use fear and disaster to justify baseless, cruel and ignorant sidelining of a whole race of people
who are “clearly to blame” for Covid19. That ugliness is the real virus here. We need to call this out, and at the same time, reinforce the power of kindness.”

Hema Patel
Senior Business Leader and former CEO of Lightbox

“It is in times of great difficulty when we really see people. The shootings in Christchurch was one such time, and Covid-19 brings another. A time I did not expect to see in my lifetime but here we are. I often wonder about Christchurch; I wondered what would have happened if the roles had been reversed – that is, what if the shooter was Muslim and the crimes occurred in a church. What underlying prejudices might have surfaced? But alas, it did not and it was a time where New Zealand came together in unity. If we asked the same question about Covid-19, then how different would people’s thoughts, opinions and attitudes be if the virus originated in heartland Texas for instance? Would the same attitudes laced in racism have surfaced? Would Donald Trump be holding back on the US contribution of $500m to the WHO?

Traumatic times can shape us for life. We need all aspects of our coping abilities, resilience and patience. Inevitably we learn a lot about who we are. I mentioned to an acquaintance recently (a Caucasian male in his 40’s) that I thought Covid-19 was quite a leveller. He responded by saying that he did not believe in levels! I found myself thinking how privileged that viewpoint is. Of course there are levels in society. And Covid-19 is rebalancing all of that – doctors, nurses, supermarket and other essential workers are disproportionately represented by ethnic minorities. We are learning the value of cleaners, hygiene and we are missing fast food and takeaways. The people who provide these varied services are more visible than ever and my hope is that society’s attitudes are somewhat rebalanced after this lockdown

Behind the mask, we are all the same. Or as the 10 year old version of myself illustrated in a school project – we are all the same colour in the dark. Let’s treat people how we should all be treated – with empathy, compassion and kindness.”

Dr Andrew Zhu, Director Trace Research Ltd; Founder of New Zealand Chinese Immigrants Research Panel

“So far as I know (the ones in contact with me and Waitemata DHB) more than 100,000 unites of PPEs (masks, isolation gown, gloves etc) have been kindly donated to different medical organisations across NZ voluntarily by our local Chinese businesses, families, and individuals since the lockdown. Significant financial supports have also been given to both government and non-government agencies from the local Chinese community.

Behind the Mask, ethnic Chinese are with Hearts of Gold, and maybe because all their kind and reciprocations to the community are “behind the mask” (being low profile), most of New Zealanders don’t know how much they have contributed, but I believe time will tell.”

EeMun Chen
Senior Consultant, MartinJenkins
“The spread of COVID-19 nationally and internationally, and the measures to curb its impacts, has had an unprecedented effect on economies and our social structures. Unfortunately, it appears to have also given rise to increases in racism and discrimination. When we have our sense of normality and control violated – whether that is brought on by being in a mandatory lockdown, fear of contracting a deadly virus or not being able to access an essential item – it is often the heuristics, stereotypes and biases that we fall back on. Often this can be an adaptive response to uncertainty, but in contemporary society this typically exhibits itself negatively in the form of racism and discrimination. COVID-19 has magnified and brought out what appear to be deeply held negative views against visible minorities, particularly against Chinese given COVID-19’s origins. The virus does not discriminate but people do.

Another dimension that is important to consider is effects on employment. International and national research shows that migrant workers and minority ethnic groups are also particularly vulnerable during economic shocks. Across the world, the global financial crisis led to much higher unemployment rates of migrant workers and minority ethnic groups than predominantly white native-born populations. How do we address the hardships that might be facing our migrant workers?”

Anya Satyanand
Chief Executive, Prince’s Trust New Zealand

COVID-19- mixing metaphors, managing fear and connecting to hope.
Aotearoa New Zealand is currently charting a course in the fight against the virus which diverges from the paths that other nation states are taking. A new path involves leadership, and leadership in New Zealand in the words of the Director General of Health is ‘an invitation to collective action’. The destination is ‘elimination’. Over the last four weeks we’ve coalesced into ‘bubbles’, locked down, but joined together in our country’s response to COVID-19.
In my bubbles – IRL and online – I’m surrounded by people who are on the same page as me. There’s agreement that the leaders navigating New Zealand’s waka through the COVID-19 storm are making good decisions. Crucially, those in charge are taking into account New Zealand’s unacceptable health inequalities and making calls that keep our most vulnerable community members safe. They’re prioritising the economy AND people’s wellbeing, balancing people’s livelihoods and people’s lives.

It’s a cliché to say we’re living through a time of great uncertainty, but it’s nonetheless true. It’s impossible to see what lies ahead, our present reality confined and obscured by Level 4 restrictions. At the same time comes a flood of data tracing the virus’s global path, a tide engulfing the world. Our lizard brains respond predictably to this stimuli by kicking fear responses into gear. And when fear kicks in, bad things can happen.

My bubble has limits and I know I’m missing stuff. The media is under pressure at the moment, and somehow this has meant that people with reckons who are given media platforms have tended even more than usual to the pale, male and stale. I’m hungry to hear new migrants’ experience of this extraordinary situation. I would very much like to listen to some of NZ’s many international students who have been affected by COVID-19. I’d love to hear voices of young people in the regions who will be making sense of this in different ways to me. Instead, like some kind of horror movie, we get Paul Henry back on the screen, regurgitating his tired drivel. We get Mike Hosking, spouting intolerance and rage. Voices like theirs have shaped and amplified the worst parts of New Zealand’s identity over the last two decades. I fear what will happen if we stay in our echo chambers longer.
I was writing an email to a colleague in the UK last night and reflecting on what ‘Unite Against COVID-19’ actually means right now in Aotearoa. There’s no doubt that I’d prefer to unite for something than unite against something. But at the same time I have a growing feeling that we are on a shining path toward defeating this awful virus in New Zealand. I am proud to read international analysis of Jacinda Ardern’s leadership. Our prime minister has spoken consistently (and at times necessarily) to our better selves, calling for kindness as we respond to the fear inspiring events going on in the world, in direct contrast to other world leaders. I hope that when we emerge back into the world, blinking, that New Zealanders look around and see the diversity of the many peoples of Aotearoa who have worked so hard together to flatten the curve, collectively and successfully taking care of each other. At the same time I hope we recognise that New Zealand is bound up in a global destiny, and while I feel so very lucky to be a New Zealander right now, I know that this is no time for nationalistic fervour. Our way through this is together- in our bubbles, in our communities, in our nations, in our humanity. And out beyond the edge of all of this, I can see the future shape of a world changed for the better- a world reshaped with equity and sustainability and wellbeing at the heart.

Arundhati Roy has named this pandemic a portal to another world in an incredible essay in the Financial Times.
“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Amelia Longuet
Director, School of Business and Public Sector Training

COVID 19 lockdown has given us time to reset our values
The swift world wide spread of this virus demonstrates several key points:
  • The need for transparency of facts and data from respective Countries’ leaders which in this case, unfortunately, China’s leaders were not transparent in the initial stages and only after it became a fact did the Chinese leaders admit that there had been an outbreak of the virus
  • Increase in racism as a result of the virus is symptomatic of how superficial mainstream New Zealand community’s attitude is towards other ethnicities. That there is a veneer of tolerance towards other ethnicities which breaks down whenever there is an excuse to blame others.
  • For example, some Asian people who may have been born in NZ and never been to China are treated as if they came from Wuhan in the last month and are responsible for the outbreak
  • However, aside from mainstream NZ community’s superficial tolerance of different ethnicities, some ethnic communities are themselves just as intolerant of other ethnicities apart from their own. They form associations that claim to represent different ethnicities but in reality and practicality, the senior leadership team is made up of members of their own ethnicity. This is done covertly through a support base made up of their own ethnicity, and at every annual general meeting, the covert lobbying before the elections to ensure that the senior leadership remains of the same ethnicity is masterly crafted in a manner that Machiavelli would be proud of.
  • As a culturally diverse person, I believe that we should keep our respective culture and traditions alive. I do not believe in categorising myself as Asian or Chinese because it was a few generations ago when my ancestors left China, hence I am not really Chinese from China but ethnically I come from Chinese genes. However, there are ways of keeping one’s culture alive, so that it is acceptable to all mainstream New Zealanders. I have been living in New Zealand since I was a young girl and It is not right to ignore one’s own culture but neither is it right to continue to practise traditions that are not acceptable in New Zealand society either. I do not think the way many ethnic men behave and treat their women is acceptable. There is a lack understanding of what constitutes bullying. Bullying includes speaking rudely, brusquely, patronisingly, sarcastically, writing emails in a rude manner, or that contain veiled threats. Bullying is also publicly pointing out a person’s faults, making a person feel small in speeches and shutting down a person trying to say something publicly.
  • Acting with integrity and being completely open about our business dealings helps build confidence and trust in businesses owned by persons from ethnic backgrounds.
How do we stop increasing racism? By educating our ethnic communities to appreciate that there are certain behaviours and certain bad traditional attitudes, towards women in particular, that are not acceptable to normal mainstream New Zealanders. These are behaviours, attitudes and mannerisms that annoy mainstream New Zealanders and because we are culturally different, and/or look different, it is more obvious. Hence, until and unless we, from culturally diverse backgrounds learn to stop these irritating and bullying attitudes, we cannot expect mainstream New Zealand to fully accept and include ethnic communities and to treat people of different ethnicities with respect. This is not to say that such bullying attitudes and irritating behaviour is not practised by many mainstream New Zealanders but we of ethnic backgrounds need to show by example that we have discarded such bad behaviour and are no different to a normal thinking mainstream New Zealander.”

Dr Sarah Sandley
CEO and non-executive Director, AKTIVE Sport & Recreation

COVID-19 and fear are a lethal combination, creating prejudice against ‘others’.
My partner, my colleagues and my table tennis playing friends include many migrants – from India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, the Philippines and Colombia. Some are refugees; many have vulnerable family members in desperate situations overseas. Every person has worked hard to build a life in New Zealand; every person is trying to the best of their ability to make a productive contribution to their workplace, their community and to others.

I am a migrant myself.

New Zealand is a country that prospers from immigrants and diversity is at the core of who we are as a nation.

A superdiverse New Zealand is a strong New Zealand, and I stand by these principles of inclusion and diversity.”

Vaughn Davis
Creative Director and Owner, The Goat Farm

“The worst thing about Covid-19? Seeing my tribe – white, well off business owners – agitate for economic recovery while people are still dying. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. The voices demanding a reopening are almost never from poor, indigenous or otherwise marginalised communities. They’re from the ones whose already comfortable lives stand to be slightly less comfortable if they continue to sacrifice financial gain for the good of everyone.”