To take action against racism we need to create an environment that encourages safe and productive conversations about how racism is operating in health and how we can work together to address it. We also need a shared understanding and language for what racism is and what good anti-racism practice looks like.
The Ministry has developed a video and podcast series to build collective understanding of the impacts of racism on health, while also exploring key levers in the health system that could be used for change. It does this through sharing different leadership perspectives on the presence and impact of racism on health, including how they promote collective responsibility and ownership for racism. It provides an accessible starting point for how we can engage in productive conversations about racism that promote positive changes in behaviour and practice at an individual and institutional level.
This series was developed as part of phase one of Ao Mai te Rā. You can learn more about this initiative at Ao Mai te Rā | The Anti-Racism Kaupapa.
Watch an episode of the video and podcast series:
There's a notion in this country that everyone has the same shake of things.
If that was the case, we wouldn't have significant socio-economic inequities.
And in the case of Māori, pretty much across every major indice we know.
If it was the case, that wouldn't be the case.
Welcome to Ao Mai te Rā, a podcast series where we investigate and discuss racism in all its forms, and how we can get rid of it.
With us today, we have our esteemed colleague, he manu mātārae tēnei.
He uri nō Ngāti Rakaipaaka, nō Ngāti Kahungunu, nō Ngāti Rongomaiwahine anō hoki.
Hoi anō rā John, John Whaanga thank you so much for sharing your time with us today.
Tēnā koe e te tuahine, oti atu rā, tēnā koutou katoa e mātakitaki mai ana.
So John, we're here to talk about racism.
Let's go back to your youth and your years in school maybe, university.
What kind of racist attitudes, and kōrero and behaviors have you experienced?
Oh I think to understand that I've most probably got to track back from when I first started noticing difference.
You know, there's a lot of things you grow up that are normalized.
So the circumstances of you, your whānau, those you're related to.
You kind of contrast them to other families don't necessarily look like you.
I think for me, it wasn't until later on that I started noticing difference.
And I think part of noticing that difference for me, I wouldn't have most probably even though about in terms of things like racism.
I noticed the difference that our tikanga was compared to European ways of doing things or Pākehā ways of doing things.
I kind of wondered why, why elders would tell me stories about being beaten at school for speaking the only language they knew, noble distinguished people.
And so, you know, for me, it was trying to understand more.
"Hang on, these are people that are beautiful people.
Why would someone beat them?
" And so, yeah, my arrival at understanding things like racism, I think started with my understanding, my history, particularly my Māori history, you know, my mum's Pākehā.
But understanding that difference and then understanding why it was that certain cultural things were valued over others.
So why it was that the European language, the Pākehā language, te reo Ingarihi, English, English customs.
Well to understand that you've gotta actually go through and understand the process of colonization in this country and its outcomes.
I think the other big driver for me, understanding, or trying, wanting to understand things like racism and discrimination is, I suppose if I've got a academic background, it's in education.
And I think education is a greater enabler, but also challenges you to understand things.
And I wanted to understand things like racial superiority, 'cause not because I wanted to embrace it, but I wanted to understand the why.
You know I'm a product of history.
I love my tribal history.
I like New Zealand history.
So actually getting it, understanding things like racism for me were about understanding the circumstances that I found myself in, that I was raised in, which were perfectly normal when I was young.
But I noticed differences.
I noticed that my whānau didn't seem to be the wealthy members of the- and I don't begrudge people in this country for being wealthy, but the life circumstances of our families vastly- I noticed that even more when I went to university, 'cause pretty much all of my university colleagues or the majority of them were white and privileged middle class.
And so you start noticing differences like that.
And I think I'm a believer that once you notice difference, you can't close your eyes or if you are closing your eyes, you're doing it deliberately - Mm, kia ora.
In terms of racism itself.
I think some of my, see, I mean, I grew up in a place called Nūhaka, high Māori population, yeah, we, but we had longstanding Pākehā families in our community too.
I grew up in an environment where everybody your parents age was an auntie or uncle regardless of ethnicity.
I wouldn't think of referring to them by their first name.
But, so I didn't really notice the difference there.
I noticed some of the difference later on, I have to say, but I really noticed the difference when I came to the city.
I'd never been in places that weren't strongly Māori.
I mean, I went to Māori boarding school as well, before I came down to Wellington.
I can still remember the first time I went to Christchurch.
It felt like an alien place.
The first time I walked into a bar there and the whole bar just stopped.
And I thought, "Hm, what are these Pākehā stopping for?
" Then I realized I was the only Māori in the room.
Yeah, so I, those things, I started noticing more, I think particularly as I went through university and in years where there are a lot of different people and actually my own awareness and understanding of our history.
History of Aotearoa or tribal history, history of understanding why current socio-economic inequities exist.
They haven't, they didn't occur in our generation.
They've actually occurred in generations beforehand.
So I think like anyone who goes on their travel it's to use a well used line out of Shrek, it's like peeling an onion.
I watched that God knows how many times with my children growing up.
- Ka pai.
Sorry that was a bit of a rave.
No, that's a good rave.
And there are many themes that I've heard from our guests around this, the invisibility of the different response, of the racist response.
And the word racism has only relatively recently been coming off our tongues, if you will.
Do you wanna talk a bit about that in terms of the readiness, and your role in the Ministry of Health at the moment and how perhaps you are capturing some energy of the moment to accelerate change around getting rid of racism?
I'll start with the current accelerator for change and then I might step back.
- Ka pai.
- So I think certainly for us at the time we were out engaging for the Māori Health Action Plan.
It wasn't called Whakamaua at that stage.
It was only some months after the horrific events in Christchurch.
And so off the back of the PM's call for a international and national call to action against racism and discrimination, that resonated with our communities we engage with, not surprisingly.
But also, so I think that's some of the current impetus and I think also, and it's terrible that it should have had to take an event like that, but that's, I think the shock of that horrified, I don't know anyone who wasn't horrified by that.
You know, for me, it reminded me of, I grew up kind of at the kind of tail end of village communities going en masse to church.
So it reminded me of what it would be like for me, going down to our local church Te Aranga and finding all my whanaunga there shot after going in there for karakia on a Sunday.
So I think anyway, that horrific event resonated with our community as much as in, as other New Zealanders and also people reflected back on work.
And this is part of the going back undertaken by people like Irihapeti Ramsden with Kawa Whakaruruhau and cultural safety.
But also reflected that for some time, at least a decade or so, it had been almost impossible to have the discussion.
And I think the tough thing about racism is there is no easy way to have that discussion.
But I do believe that if we can learn something off the feminist revolution and sexism, until you use those terms, until you call out that behavior and practice by name, you haven't begun the process of addressing it.
I think in our country, if I'm honest, we would have liked to think, so I'm talking here at a kind of broad national kiwi level, we would like to believe that we are not as bad as other places overseas.
And that's racially the sneaking part of our history.
You know, the practices of, the assimilationist and integrationist practices of government happened here.
They perhaps, because they weren't as brutal as some of the other areas, it was seemed to be not as bad.
But nonetheless, those things have an impact over time.
You might argue that, I forget who it was said, you know, it's not about the loss of land.
It's the loss of your mind, You know, it's your last bastion of mana motuhake, you know, you lose everything else, but if you lose it from here, it's gone.
- And we can certainly argue that there has been as a psychiatrist I can say there's been a loss of the Māori mind and the wellbeing of the Māori mind.
Oh, look, I think impact on all of that in our terms, absolutely an impact on our wairua.
- Mm, kia ora.
You know, you lose your ūkaipō, your whenua, that's gonna have a significant impact on your wairua.
so I think we haven't been ready in the past I think, in this country for a discussion about racism.
I think we want to have safer conversations about things like discrimination or bias or unconscious bias, because that doesn't sound as bad as racism.
But I think you have to take the opportunities when they come along and it is horrible, that something like what happened to those poor whānau in Christchurch happened.
But if there's some good out of there, which gets people to confront things like racism.
From our perspective.
getting back to the work we do, our interest is particularly to understand structural and systemic racism.
So that's when racism and racist practice comes into the operations and the policies and practices, in this case of government.
And unfairly discriminates or creates inequities for particularly New Zealanders, in this case, Māori.
Not just Māori, but you know, certainly in the work we're doing.
So our interest is in understanding that.
Personal racism is pretty much as old as humanity as I understand it, but where we have institutionalized practices, which discriminate unfairly and inequity, inequitably, and we have in this country.
We've got over 30 years of evidence, which shows that we have racism and discrimination.
We'd like to believe we have the best services in the world and we aspire to have them.
But the evidence shows that we don't.
And the evidence shows that at the heart of this or at the heart, or at least some of this, are unfair judgments and practice, which mean that people get a second class, third class or fourth class service.
So that's certainly an area of interest for us.
Also on the positive side of things, this is also about continuing the journey for safe, effective services.
I was lucky the first time I worked in the ministry in the 1990s, that one of the people I engaged with then was Irihapeti.
And I remember one of the last visits I went to see her and there was a lot of newspaper articles about cultural safety.
And they were all slamming culture.
"Why do we have to go and learn that Māori stuff?
" And I'll never forget that she said, "You know, they just don't get it.
" This is what we're supposed to be doing in health.
This is about the fundamental right of people to be people.
This is fundamentally about embracing people walking through our door and what they come, and what they bring with them.
She said, "You know, I sometimes wish that I didn't call it cultural safety.
I just called it safety, because they get hung up on culture.
" She said, "You know, there's a big job they have to do to address Māori health and Māori ill health as a result of Crown practice.
" But she said, "These are fundamental values about compassion, aroha, manaaki, fundamental human qualities.
" But you know, all the backlash is around things like culture.
And I'd like to think that if we've been building for something since the 1970s, through protest and march around te reo Māori first of all, whenua, you know, the sesquicentennial stuff, we are now looking at New Zealand history.
And I have to say, as someone who did treaty training for 15 or 20 years, I spent most of my time giving people a re-appreciation of New Zealand history.
It's a fundamental tenet I think, to understanding, even in this case, racism and discrimination.
We have to understand the history of how we got here.
It's important we understand the now and what we're doing in the now and where it relates to the future.
But there's a reason our people said, "Look backwards to move forwards.
" So, kaua e wareware te whakapapa o te take nei, ōna putaketanga, tōna orokohangatanga.
So it's really important we understand that too, to understand how it is we got to where we are.
And also to understand That we can't assume that there's a soundbite solution for all of our social-economic inequities.
They happened over a number of generations and we will have to start that journey to unpick them with an intergenerational focus.
The positive side of the things, and I suppose this is the educator in me coming out, go and look at our children who aren't socialized.
I mean, my children went to a school with a variety of ethnicities.
Their kapa haka group was the United Nations.
And those kids loved it.
They had no baggage.
They thought it was all cool.
They thought haka was theirs, regardless of what color of their skin was.
They were proud to know their school haka.
You know, so that gives me hope.
If we turn around some of these things.
But the first of that, which is the work we're starting off with, is what do we mean by these things?
So what does racism mean?
And then the variations of it, institutional racism, interpersonal racism.
What does discrimination mean?
What is bias?
I'd love it when, and I'll wait for the empirical advice to come in about what unconscious bias is.
I can't resist saying that, "I understand the bias part.
It's the unconscious bit I'm trying to get my head around.
" "So was someone sleep talking when they called me a less than nice name?
" I'm not sure.
Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it?
These kupu Pākehā and the history of those words and how those words are used in those contexts and the words, the word racism itself is, is only as I said before, quite a new word that we're becoming familiar with.
Why do you think it tends to attract such a powerful response?
What is it about that word and what it means to Pākehā people, to some Pākehā people who respond with such pushback and rejection of the term, in the face of evidence that they are part of a racist system, they're benefiting from racism and they're acting in a racist way.
What is it actually about, as far as you are concerned?
I just finished reading this book called White Fragility.
DiAngelo, I think her name was, Pākehā woman from the States.
The thing that interests me about it was that she, one of the things she talks about is those who have privilege cannot see it.
They fundamentally, those who don't have privilege can see it.
Those who have privilege, can't see it.
And, you know, to connect back to the point I was saying before about New Zealand history, one of the reasons I'm a great supporter of making sure that New Zealand history is taught through our formal schooling, is you have to have that understanding of history over time to understand how it is that what we deal with is what it is.
To understand, and actually to unmask privilege.
So there's a notion in this country that everyone has the same shake of things.
If that was the case, we wouldn't have significant socio-economic inequities.
And in the case of Māori, pretty much across every major indice we know.
If it was the case, that wouldn't be the case.
So, part of what you have to do is, and these are the things alongside it.
So to get to have a discussion about racism, you've gotta say, "Hang on, what are we talking about first?
" 'Cause we jumble it all up.
Everything from interpersonal racism to a racist state, to the racist police, it all comes together.
You've actually gotta unpick it, again to use the analogy, use the onion.
You gotta pick it.
Alongside that you've gotta have an understanding of how we got to where we are now.
And it's part of that to be open, to possibly understanding the world, as you know, being a little bit different.
That actually over time, we can clearly show and we have enough evidence to show, that the life circumstances across New Zealand populations weren't the same, particularly for Māori.
They were poorer, they were less employed.
They were less likely to be in a position to provide for themselves in retirement.
All of those things.
You can't get to that unless you've got an understanding of those things.
And understanding, I think understanding things like privilege is part of that key.
One of the other things she says, which I found really interesting was that white's the only color where you don't have to account for color, everybody else does.
And why is that?
Because it's normal.
I think there's also, I think part of the journey here for, so, if we've been on a renaissance for te ao Māori and tikanga Māori, te reo Māori, since the 1970s, I think, and you saw it coming out in the Sesqui, in the lead up to the Sesquicentennial celebrations.
On the other side, what it's caused, so we've been working purposefully at making sure we didn't lose our language and culture.
I think for non Māori New Zealanders, particularly European New Zealanders, it's raised questions about what are the elements of their, what are the dimensions of their culture?
Because many of them don't see themselves as European.
They see they have European whakapapa.
They don't see themselves as, they see themselves as being from here.
And again, I think that's another journey alongside this journey of racism.
It does connect to, I think, a sore point for Europeans, especially more generally.
You know, a large part of the world was dominated and conquered over 500 years by European colonial powers.
We were kind of late in the piece.
That's the one advantage of being in the Antipodes.
But there's that kind of, I think, residue feeling of guilt and saying, "Well, we weren't like that.
" And then quickly saying, "But things weren't like that here.
We didn't have a apartheid here.
" No, we didn't call it a apartheid.
But we had separatist policies.
We had institutional racism in our education system for a hundred years with the express purpose of making our people European.
So what are your hopes for the hua of this program?
What do you see as the core areas of influence and how might you measure that?
Yeah, it's a big question.
I think first of all, the most important hua or outcome is to talk about these things, is to have these things out in the public domain, is to have discussions about these things.
We can't run away from them.
That's the most important thing, addressing institutionalized racism over time or systemic racism, that's gonna require a range of different things from setting expectations about those who deliver services, there's roles in there for those who set the quality standards overall, there's the professional bodies themselves.
There's the requirements on employers, to make sure they've got safe and appropriate personnel.
It's mostly being led at the moment in the academic area, in terms of teaching around racism and discrimination in the medical and some of the science courses and that, for instance.
And then there's how we take this out into the general public as well.
And I think, alongside that is helping to reduce the current situation where we don't, at a general public level, have a good understanding of equity.
We still think in this country equity means everyone gets treated the same.
And of course, equity fundamentally is not about that.
The example I often use for people is that when we have a natural disaster, so let's say, you know, we've got a natural disaster in Nūhaka where I'm from, and they run out of soy flat whites.
And of course, Henderson here's blessed with soy flat whites.
And so, you know, if a tono went out to the residents who, in Henderson here, that people in Nūhaka were out of soy flat whites in a national emergency, I'm sure they'd say, "Give them as much as they like.
" And they wouldn't feel like someone had taken something away from them.
But the moment you take that into a discussion about government services, it's like, "You just took something off me, when actually I didn't need that much.
" Well, actually, "If people need six things, you most probably need two.
I might just need to borrow four of yours, to give me the 10 I need.
" But we, and the reason that's important, again, because fundamentally equity is about understanding fairness.
So there are these things.
So there's racism itself, there's the definitions of racism.
And as I said, we are particularly interested and vexed around institutional or systemic racism.
But then there are factors around it that impact on it.
There's history, including colonization impacts on there.
There's people's understanding of what's fair, including things like equity.
There's people's feelings about their own culture, comfortable or otherwise.
You know, there seems to be an undercurrent sometimes where it's almost like you're being unpatriotic to say you're a particular type of New Zealander.
Be it Māori or otherwise.
And I often find, it seems to be from people who lack some culture themselves.
They need to go on a bit of a cultural journey.
'Cause they don't think they're quite aware of who they are.
- Mm he pai tērā wero.
- They're quite quick to pick up on somebody else who looks a bit flash or brown or something else.
It does seem a fundamental mechanism of racism that it perpetuates the idea of scarcity in the very people that have the most.
And they guard this majority of resources that they have, but they have the idea that they, if they are to share any of that, that that's difficult because they have so little.
This to me is a kind of delusional thinking, but this is a way that people justify their withholding, their minimizing and their victim blaming of those of us who come from communities where that's where the actual scarcity in reality lies.
So, is that one of the tensions that you see also, is that these very different world views that are kind of continually kind of clashing together?
Yeah, oh, I think in that case, that for me at its core of that, is unpicking things like privilege and current circumstances.
As I said, there's a view that everybody, you know, everybody born today has got the same life chance.
It's not the case.
But to understand that you've gotta go on a journey.
And that's what I mean, you know, the kind of disappointing thing about the rise across the world of far right politics and nationalist thinking is they give you the soundbite answers, which seem to say, "Oh, well, let's blame somebody else.
There's your soundbite answer and that'll fix it.
" It never does.
So there's not a soundbite answer to racism.
It's a process we're gonna have to go through.
And there are other things.
But in that particular case, I think it is about understanding and unpicking privilege.
And on the other side, understanding and unpicking why those who don't have privilege, they're in the unprivileged state.
- Kia ora.
- And as I said, it's not, it's a journey.
It's not something that's, yeah, it's not as simple as one as saying one thing's gonna fix this.
On the positive side, you know, if you put a positive lens around these things, if people are comfortable about who they are culturally, if they understand their place in the world, if they're comfortable in relating with other people, if they understand it's okay to be different, we can still come together.
You know, if you've got those, if you're creating that environment.
So if I'm looking through the, you know, teaching of history and stuff in schools, and that, if you look at that side of things, there are other ways you can get a more positive, create a more positive view of things.
For too often, for over a hundred years in this country, we normalized the view that there was only one national language, English.
And that we were all one New Zealand club.
And you know, and socialized that view.
And so actually, you know, a lot of the, it's interesting when you talk to those old, older members of rōpū like Ngā Tamatoa, what they'll say to you is their hardest challenge was actually the kickback from our own.
Because they were seen to be disrespectful to our Pākehā friends, when actually they were trying to unpick some of these things to say, "Actually, the world's not what we think it is.
There's a reason you're all doing the gardens and everybody else owns the farm.
" Kia ora to that.
E te rangatira, e te whatukura, ngā mihi nui ki a koe.
Kia ora e te whānau.
Thank you for listening.
Thank you for watching.
And I look forward to seeing you again at our next podcast.
If you want to know more about this kaupapa whakahirahira have a look at our website.
A tōna wā.
The rest of the episodes have been uploaded to the same playlist on our YouTube channel.