Why my opinion on race matters

I’m not racist. Maybe I just like Jesus and bonfires

Please pay attention. A white person is discussing racism.

When I wrote a partial defence of Labour’s release of housing data based on “Chinese-sounding” names a couple of weeks ago, a few people took issue. They said that as a privileged white male, I really wasn’t qualified to make a call on whether Labour’s move was racist.

This really annoyed me. As an educated white man, I know heaps and heaps of things. And I’m pretty sure I know what racism is. Racism is what bad people do, and I don’t think the people who released the data are bad people. That should have been the end of the debate, but of course it wasn’t. People were offended.

There’s been so much debate about racism these last few weeks, but some of this stuff is starting to get silly. I mean really silly. You can’t do anything in this country without someone calling you a racist.

It’s getting so you can’t even don white robes and a hood and burn crosses in your front yard, without some crazy person accusing you of being aligned to a racist organisation.

Maybe I just like Jesus and bonfires. Did you ever consider that?

It’s time we had a mature conversation about race, rather than resort to accusations of racism every time someone wears blackface, or uses their privilege to make fun of a disempowered minority group.

The problem with calling everything racist is that is cheapens the word. It means that when genuinely despicable instances of racial bias come along, we fail to see them in their proper light.

I’ll tell you what’s not racism. It’s not racism when Winston Peters says Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has a better understanding of corrections issues because of his Polynesian descent. That’s no more racist than suggesting that we should always have a white Finance Minister because white people have almost all the money in this country.

It’s not racist to wear blackface or brownface at a birthday party. How can it be, if the person whose party you are going to is not white? You can’t actually be a white racist if you have even one non-white friend.

But I’ll tell you what is racist. It’s our justice system. Look how many Maori appear before our courts every working day. Did you know that about half of all prison inmates are Maori? Isn’t that disgusting? Why should Maori get all the places? This preferential treatment has to stop!

See, that’s genuine racism right there. But this other stuff white people are being accused of on a regular basis? No, that’s not racism. So let’s not deploy the “r” word needlessly.

Look, I get that as a privileged white male I can’t possibly understand the harm racist words can cause. I get it that my upbringing in a society modelled largely around my ideals and my beliefs leaves me with a potential blindspot when it comes to race. But just because I have a blindspot, that doesn’t mean there’s anything to see.

It’s true that I’ve never been the subject of any serious racial abuse, or been denied employment or housing or a loan due to the colour of my skin. I’ve never experienced real racism, the sort that can leave a person feeling hopeless and in despair. But so what? That doesn’t mean my point of view isn’t valid.

If anything, my opinion on race should be given more weight than the musings of a non-white person. A non-white person is much more likely to have been directly affected by racism, or perceived racism, so how can they offer a truly dispassionate and independent viewpoint on the subject? Their views on race will have been coloured (pardon the pun) by their own experiences.

But as a person who has never suffered racism, I don’t come with all that baggage. I can see more clearly. My vision is not clouded.

That’s why white people really are more expert on race issues than non-whites.

And that’s why it’s time a few of you brown and Asian people stopped complaining all the time and started listening for a change.

Here’s a tip. When you see, read or hear a white person opining on issues of race, don’t give them a hard time. Don’t scream “racist!” Try listening instead.

If you should ever hear me on the radio talking about racism, don’t flick over to another station. Turn the volume up and listen. And be quiet! The white man is talking.

My own experiences as a white person is that racism isn’t a serious problem. Maybe the problem isn’t racism at all. Maybe the problem is you. Have you considered that? Maybe white people wouldn’t be so hard on you all the time if you didn’t go on and on about this issue.

You know, there’s a word they use to describe people like you. People who try hard to bring race into just about every discussion. I’ll give you a clue. It starts with the letter “r”.

Yeah, go on, take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Do you see what I see? Just another dirty racist.