Bill Ralston: On Taika Waititi's 'racist as f---' comment

by Bill Ralston / 14 April, 2018

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Taika Waititi. Photo/Getty Images

Taika Waititi is right about people’s ill-informed, bigoted, prejudiced opinions about others.

Movie director Taika Waititi told a foreign magazine that New Zealand was “as racist as f---” and the country immediately spiralled into an angst-ridden storm of denial and confirmation. As a white male, I did not grow up directly exposed to racism of the kind Waititi says he experienced, but it’s obvious there is truth in what he said.

I presume Pasifika, Chinese and Indian kids suffer from racism, too. A lot of young European migrants experience it in the form of pejorative labels such as Pom, Yarpie, Yank and, er, Aussie. That last one may look okay on paper, but often it’s the tone of voice used that makes it sound so negative.

I agree with Waititi, because many people do hold ill-informed, bigoted, prejudiced opinions about others, particularly those of a different ethnic, racial or religious group. It’s called ignorance.

However, one of the reasons he considers the country racist is a little unfortunate: “People just flat out refuse to pronounce Maori names properly.” I have noticed, especially in the big cities, a new generation of school leavers who do make a real effort to get their pronunciation right. Auckland’s harbour, for example, is now increasingly called “Wai-teh-mah-tah”, rather than the old fashioned “Why-da-madder”.

Provincial areas are straggling a bit on that trend. I live in Te Awanga, a village near the base of Cape Kidnappers, which everyone seems to pronounce “Ti Ah-wonga”. A Māori journalist friend corrected me, saying, “It’s Teh Awa-ngah.” So I started saying it that way and was met by blank stares of incomprehension from locals. I give up.

The media love straightforward arguments of the “Yes we are! No we’re not!” kind that everyone can have an opinion on. There is not a race of people on Earth that does not, from time to time, stereotype other people. Accept that fact, try to correct it and move on.

The more important argument in the media at the moment is one that simply washes over most people because they lack a true understanding of the issue. As we head towards the new Labour-led Government’s first Budget, a row has emerged, with the political hard left and the hard right curiously glued together in horror that the Government is adopting the centrist position of adhering to the Budget Responsibility Rules.

Hello? Anyone there? Anyone still reading this? It is important, more so than Waititi ruminating on his childhood and suffering some prejudice. The Government is not borrowing big, not spending big and being conservatively cautious about its coming Budget.

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub has argued that any government that does not borrow when interest rates are at the lowest level in a century is a “fiscal idiot”. The problem is that interest rates will not stay low indefinitely; one day, the Government will wake up with a much bigger debt hangover to repay at much higher interest rates, which is bad news for you and me because we will need more of our taxes to repay it.

I suspect the inflation rate is already poised to rise. Increased fuel taxes across the country, with potentially twice as much in Auckland, will have an upward inflationary effect because virtually every one of the goods and services we buy and use has to be transported, so prices will go up.

Yes, I know, this is much more boring than arguing whether New Zealand is racist or not, but it will affect our future much more.

This article was first published in the April 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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