Racism online in New Zealand

30 August, 2011

At the National Diversity Forum in August 2011 CACR presented some new research about New Zealand's national communication.

A summary is given below the presentation.

Social Media Analyses of Paul Henry and Hone Harawira as Racists: Kindergarten One-Upmanship meets the Basement of our Society.

A research team at the Centre of Applied Cross-Cultural Research, part of the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington, analyzed on-line responses to the Paul Henry and Hone Harawira through YouTube and TVOne News. They found there is little consensus as to what is acceptable behaviour for public figures in New Zealand regarding race talk.

More than a thousand comments posted online were analyzed.

The Harawira case demonstrates the dark shadows cast by the unresolved model of Biculturalism in NZ. People opposed to Hone charge reverse racism, where there are double standards applied to Maori that protect them from being sacked. Maori are treated with kid gloves, according to the prosecution. The defence for Harawira rests on the case for a historical grievance that justifies a tit-for-tat between Maori and Pakeha. On the internet the dialogue between the groups resembles a sparring match more than a rational discussion of a resolvable issue.

In the Henry case the defence rests on humour and tolerance for being juvenile. Henry is “one of us”, saying things we are all thinking. Targets of his humour should lighten up or harden up, because Paul’s not a racist but an equal opportunity discriminator. He insults everyone as part of his job. Besides, this is a country where free speech is valued, so can always just turn him off. The prosecution argues that he is unprofessional and embarrassing, immature, irresponsible and just plain racist.

It appears that very little is set in stone in NZ either in terms what is acceptable public talk in race issues, whether they involve bicultural issues or Asians. Everything is negotiable on a case-by-case basis, and what can be amusing or tolerable in a private company leads to highly contentious debate in the public arena that has little hope of resolution.

Around 20% of the TVOne comments involved obsene insults, whereas a majority of the YouTube comments involved obscenity, and many exchanges involved the kind of passion that would have resulted in violence if the encounter had been face to face. We should not look on the British riots with complacency, because there was a significant amount of race hatred in the responses we examined.

Caren August and Anne Waapu, a Pakeha and Maori student researcher, have done this work under the supervision of Professor James Liu. Arama Rata and Caren presented with James at the Human Rights Commission’s Diversity Forum on Aug 22 in Hamilton, New Zealand.

What kind of democracy do we want in New Zealand? One in which the lowest common denominator prevails, or one in which we agree to refrain from playing certain race cards in the public interest? Various options for improving race talk in NZ include educating young people about how to participate in social media, and using pocketbook politics (e.g. boycotts, complaints) to encourage mass media websites to behave more responsibly.