We need to talk about immigration without being racist
Sadly immigration is so linked to racism in NZ we seem incapable of having a discussion about our population without xenophobia taking centre stage.
We’ve seen this too many times, most recently as a result of an emotive piece by Duncan Garner. It starts off with a promise that it was not “intended to be racist or anti-foreigner. But…” which is the most obvious sign that it’s meant to be racist and anti-foreigner. If this was written by someone with less experience, I might forgive them for being naive. But Garner knows better and this is clearly intended to do what it’s done.
There are some who are claiming that the outcry is oversensitive and just political correctness but the truth is pretty clear. The article describes seeing people who are different as a “nightmarish glimpse into our future” and a “massive human snake”. These are unnecessary and designed to get a reaction. Garner’s comments are about the appearance of the people (“I looked around, it could have been anywhere in South East Asia.”) which shows that this is about people who look different (“Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Syrians, and many others.”).
There was no effort to talk about other immigrants when those from the UK, South Africa and USA feature high in the top ten countries of origin for residency (3rd, 5th and 8th respectively). When you look at work visas, Europeans are almost half with UK, Germany, France and USA featuring in the top ten (2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th respectively). Another fact often ignored is that we’re also experiencing one of the lowest rates of people leaving NZ (lowest in 14 years) making our net migration even larger than normal. These facts aren’t hard to find yet are so rarely talked about, instead focusing on the appearance of our newest citizens or the language they speak. Textbook racism.
Could Garner’s piece have been written in a way that discusses our future without lowering itself to racism? Most definitely. But for whatever reason (controversy, click bait or pure racism) it wasn’t. Instead of discussing what is an important issue, the debate has been dragged down by hysteria and ignorance. The comments (on the piece and throughout the internet) reflect some of the best and worst that we have to offer as a nation.
Garner makes some suggestions that have some merit including a minister for population and planning. But by burying it amongst phobia about people who look different, the discussion becomes derailed by intolerance and hate. Yes we need to be talking about what NZ might be in 20 years, but not what we should “look like” but rather what needs to be done to support our growing population. We need to invest in infrastructure, housing and transport now, to catch up with the shortfall and to prepare for our new residents (those born here or who will arrive at our borders).
UnitedFuture has been clear that we need a compassionate and responsible approach to immigration. Our policy lays this out in detail but at it’s core is recognises that immigration is about people. It also recognises that there are some significant challenges which can be opportunities if we take a proactive approach. We need to do more to support our newest residents and citizens, to help them reach their full potential. There are many ways that we can do this, but the first is to stop treating our immigrants as a problem.
Perhaps I’m sensitive to the issue, as a descendant of Irish immigrants who came here to escape the Great Famine and have a chance at a better life. But the challenges they faced coming to NZ are nothing compared to what many modern day immigrants face – from casual racism and discrimination to being blamed for poor investment in transport, housing and infrastructure. I even saw someone go as far as blame immigration for our high levels of suicide rates.
Which is why publishing pieces like Garner’s is so destructive – it legitimises the racism that is so prevalent. Racism which is not acceptable, not matter the context or intent. Racism is not the New Zealand way, despite how it may appear. It’s definitely prevalent and rampant but it cannot be part of our culture if we are to move forward. It’s not pro-New Zealand, it’s anti-New Zealand. My great-grandfather did not lose an eye fighting for New Zealand so that immigrants like his future wife would be blamed for a lack of infrastructure.
This isn’t the first time (and I suspect unfortunately not that last) we’ll see someone use immigration as an excuse for racism. In our recent election we saw a number of parties do exactly this, some more than others. One party seemed to spend an incredible amount of time trying to convince the public that they weren’t racist, while doing nothing to condemn the racist vitriol many of their supporters where spewing. I’ve been very clear on my opinion of those that spark debate and then claim to have no control over the discussion – I don’t accept this. We all have a responsibility to speak out against intolerance and hate, regardless of our position. Those who spark the debate have an even greater responsibility. Not condemning something is accepting it, condoning it. You accept what you walk past and, as a leader, that sets the tone of your party. The same applies for journalists, commentators and public figures. Beginning your statement with “I’m not a racist but” is not sufficient – not being a racist or using racist statements will do a lot more.
So let’s talk about immigration, population and a proactive plan to meet our future needs, without resorting to racism.
UnitedFuture Party Leader