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That's a Bit Racist: The new doco exploring New Zealand's racial biases

That's a Bit Racist.

One of our most taboo subjects comes under the spotlight in the light but informative two-part documentary That's a Bit Racist.

If, as academic Arama Rata comments, “it’s not up to Māori and people of colour to educate Pākehā about racism, it’s something that Pākehā people should be doing among themselves”, then perhaps two-part documentary That’s a Bit Racist (TVNZ 1, Sunday, 8.30pm) is a start.

In the first episode, Shavaughn Ruakere and Jo Holley make fairly light work of what is acknowledged as one of our most taboo subjects. Getting out and about, they test Kiwis’ knowledge of the pay gap between Māori and Pākehā, who is on the $50 note versus the $5 note and whether anyone knows the full cost of Treaty of Waitangi settlements compared with a year of transport or defence funding.

There is also a cute series of Play School-style spoofs in which Manu gets the rough end of just about everything. Talk about spelling it out, but it was a conscious decision to keep it light, says producer Jane Andrews.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

“Bashing people over the head never works. We’ve tried to make it something that people can watch and learn a little bit of New Zealand history.”

However, there is also more serious research to take into account, which will be revealed in episode two: the results of unconscious-bias research done for the film-makers by Harvard University. Andrews says they turned to Harvard because there was no research like it being done here.

“You start looking for experts and numbers and data, something to go on, but when it comes to racism, nobody’s asking questions. We have some data that comes through when we study other things, but not the general population.”

Harvard’s Implicit Association test is well known around the world and measures attitudes and beliefs that people don’t put into words.

“It’s testing the reactions that you have without even knowing you’ve had a reaction and that’s a deeply hidden bias. It might be about which Uber driver you take, or who you sit next to on the bus. You may not know you’re making decisions, but you are, and a lot of them are based on race.”

The results, says Andrews, were disappointing. “The levels of data that we got from testing are very similar to other places in the developed world.

“People might come back to us and say it’s not 100% accurate; well, I’m sure they aren’t 100% accurate, but with the results we got, even if it’s 50% accurate, we should be horrified.”

This article was first published in the July 6, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.