He ao kotahi

It's not just Māori that experience racism in Aotearoa. Our growing multiculturalism means that ethnic migrants and their New Zealand-born children receive abuse on a daily basis. Is there a Treaty-based solution to growing a multicultural society?

It's a social science term that sounds awkward at first, like a super power no one's sure how to use.

The word 'superdiversity' emerged around 2005 to describe cities with large populations that have many new, small and scattered, multiple-origin immigrants who have arrived over the last decade. Auckland is considered one of the most superdiverse cities in the world.

Almost 50 per cent of the Auckland population is Māori, Asian and Pacific peoples. 44 per cent were not born in New Zealand. There are over 200 ethnicities, and 160 languages spoken, and according to Statistics New Zealand, nearly a third of the city's population in 2038 will be Asian—up from the current one in five.

But what does diverse multiculturalism look like in a country that has struggled to embrace constitutional biculturalism?

In 2017, an election year, the issue of immigration once more finds itself in the spotlight, with unlikely alliances being made across parties. There are fiscally responsible arguments both for maintaining and decreasing immigration numbers to New Zealand. Migrants have substantially contributed to our GDP, but New Zealand seems to be experiencing a strain on its resources, or at least suffering from their mismanagement.

However, these complex and many-layered arguments are not as often discussed among New Zealand citizens on social media, so much as racial epithets are traded about immigrants and the perceived damage they're doing to the 'Kiwi way of life'. That a large proportion of New Zealand migrants come from the UK and Australia is largely ignored.

Overt racial attacks on Māori and Pacific peoples have been considered socially unacceptable for some time (casual and institutional racism notwithstanding), but the same taboos don't seem to exist for Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern immigrants, who regularly experience public verbal abuse. In April, a New Zealand Police appeal for information on a suspect saw their Facebook page light up with hundreds of racial slurs based on the suspect's appearance. Another video featuring an officer speaking Mandarin fared little better. Winston Peters' accusations of 'fake news' over the NZ Herald's data analysis of current immigration trends attracted thousands more.

Instead of seeing less racism, in 2017 people are simply spreading it further. Our superdiversity is being taken as a threat to New Zealand life and liberty.

Mervin Singham, a chief executive for the Department of Internal Affairs and member of NZ Asian Leaders, says it's time to revisit our approach to diversity.

"We are no longer so naïve as to think we can simply bring people from all parts of the world together and expect them to integrate or adapt to each other. Multiculturalism is a complex issue with potential for both disaster and opportunity.

"Some commentators have gone so far as to question whether people from diverse cultural backgrounds and different values can actually live in a sustainable environment of peace."

Like most Western countries, it's not as if New Zealand has wanted for practice. Māori saw the arrival of new settlers from around the globe in the early decades of the 19th century. After the English and Irish migrants there were the French and Italian settlers of the late 19th century, the Chinese gold miners in the Otago gold rush, the Dutch settlers of the 1950s and Pacific Island peoples in the 1970s. These have been followed by a new wave of migrants from non-traditional source countries such as India, China and Thailand.

With xenophobia and white supremacy on the rise throughout the Western world it's reasonable to suggest that globally, race relations are getting worse, not better. Though we've yet to see the emergence of any far-right nationalism, New Zealand has not been immune.

Article continues in issue 135

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