Confronting racism with justice and unity – A youth statement on race relations in Aotearoa

 

Since 15 March 2019, our society has been having a long-overdue conversation about racism, prejudice and unity. Many voices have been heard. By and large, young people have not.

This statement represents the views of over 150 youth and young adults aged 15 to 30 from around Aotearoa who gathered to discuss race relations in Aotearoa at this year’s series of Race Unity Hui, held between March and May 2019. They came from cities and rural towns, from Kerikeri to Riverton. They represented the full ethnic and religious diversity of Aotearoa. They brought with them their diverse perspectives as high school students, university students, young professionals, activists and community workers. The views they shared, summarised below, are a call to action for all New Zealanders.

 
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Every individual in Aotearoa is responsible for confronting racial prejudice. Instead of attacking one another we need to examine our own prejudices, and help others to do the same. This is difficult work, requiring compassion, empathy, humility and courage.

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Our young people need an education that helps them overcome individual and institutional racism, both at home and at school. We are calling for greater diversity in school leadership and changes to curriculum, education policies and school culture.

 
 
 
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If we are to become a truly inclusive society, we need social spaces in our communities where people of all backgrounds can talk about race relations and share their culture. These kinds of gatherings can help us move beyond mere acceptance or tolerance of different cultures to identify shared values, aspirations and goals.

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The continuing lack of diversity in positions of influence, the cultural bias of institutions, and racial inequalities of wealth, health and education are all examples of institutional racism: social structures that reflect and reproduce racial prejudice and inequity at a societal level. Responsibility for dismantling institutional racism sits not only with the leaders and members of institutions, but with all of us as citizens, stakeholders, employees and consumers.

 
 
 

Race Unity Hui

 
 

Race Unity Hui are spaces where young people advance the conversation about race relations in Aotearoa. All people aged 15–30 are welcome to deepen their understanding of race issues and speak their minds on how we can become a more just and unified society.

 
 
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National Race Unity Hui

11 May 2019, Te Mahurehure Marae, Auckland

 
 

The National Race Unity Hui brought together over 100 young people to discuss the way forward for race relations in Aotearoa. Attendees included high school students from all over the country, young professionals, university students, and adults who are supporting young people in their efforts at social change. The Hui was distinctive for the diversity of its participants and their unity of purpose – to make race relations in our society more just and harmonious.

The heart of the Hui was two hours of small group discussions, focused on the key themes of the Hui – changing individual hearts and minds, changing collective attitudes and norms, changing institutions and social structures, and the power of speech. Participants highlighted our education system as a key lever for improving race relations, suggesting changes to both the content of our curriculum and the culture of our schools. The youth also identified values and responsibilities we can uphold and fulfill, such as empathy, humility, courage and questioning our own prejudice and privilege. Another area of learning was how we can negotiate and change the power imbalances that allow racism to persist. Participants suggested that one key step forward would be to give people of colour greater visibility and real influence over decision-making that affects their communities.

Another highlight was a panel discussion between Māori lawyer and activist Kingi Snelgar, Kiwi Muslim and communications specialist Mehpara Khan, and the award-winning journalist and writer Lynda Chanwai-Earle. The discussion was facilitated by Aidan MacLeod from the New Zealand Baha’i Community’s Office of Public Affairs. A video of the panel discussion can be viewed at www.youtube.com/raceunity.

In the afternoon workshops were held, including a collaborative art project with artist Tessa Lew, where participants created a sculpture out of fibre and lights to express their ideas about race, justice and unity.

The day’s events were attended by the Minister for Youth Peeni Henare, the Minister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa and MPs from the National Party, Labour Party and Green Party.

 
 

Wellington Race UNity Hui

6 April 2019, Lower Hutt Events Centre

 

 
 

The Wellington Race Unity Hui brought together high school students, young professionals and university students and youth representatives of multicultural councils to discuss how we can build race unity in Aotearoa.

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The heart of the Hui was nearly two hours of small group discussions, where the participants shared their thoughts on how we can build unity and stand up for justice. The insights from these discussions will help shape a youth statement on race relations, to be released publicly in May 2019. The discussions were facilitated by young leaders from around the Wellington region, including a number of youth and young adults from the Baha'i Community.

A few insights reverberated throughout the small group discussions. One such key insight was the importance of creating more social spaces - particularly for young people - where race relations and race unity can be discussed. The youth suggested that these spaces should be shaped by a common purpose, reflect the diversity of our society, and provide people an opportunity to build meaningful relationships and identify shared values. This emphasis on relationships carried over to discussions about individual action: a posture of listening, empathy and trust was identified as a key to change in individual hearts and minds.

Another highlight was a panel discussion facilitated by Aidan MacLeod (New Zealand Baha'i Community). The panel featured community leader and management consultant Pancha Narayanan, policy advisor and advocate Martine Udahemuka, and student activist Jack Liang. The discussion delved into how what we can do to seek justice and unity in the face of racism in its various forms. The panel's diversity of age and experience yielded some great insights into how we can work for unity as individuals, as a community and as members of institutions.

In the evening the Lower North Island Race Unity Speech Awards were held. The top speakers this year were both from the Wairarapa: Parekura Pepere from Rathkeale College and Nina Gelashvili from Kuranui College. These eloquent young people will represent the lower North Island at the National Race Unity Speech Awards 10-11 May in Auckland. The Speech Awards are organised by the Baha'i Community with sponsorship with NZ Police, Human Rights Commission and the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust.

The day started with a welcome and karakia by representatives of Te Atiawa, the local iwi, and opening comments from Tribhuvan Srestha (President Lower Hutt Multicultural Council), His Worship Ray Wallace (Mayor of Lower Hutt), Dr Paul Hunt (Chief Human Rights Commissioner) and Pancha Narayanan (President of Multicultural New Zealand).

The Hui also included a workshop on the Youth Aotea-Reo project, run by service designer Ross (Roshan) Patel, artistic workshops by performers Sam Manzana and Bohemian Thanni, and a workshop on using 'respectful relationships' to respond to racial prejudice by Rob McCann of White Ribbon NZ.

The Hui was a joint initiative of Multicultural NZ and the New Zealand Baha'i Community. MC Peter-Clinton Foaese (Office of the Children's Commissioner) kept things moving and kept the participants engaged, and members of the Lower Hutt Multicultural Council were behind the scenes providing transport and making sure things ran smoothly.