WENDYL NISSEN: Brace yourselves for more casual racism

14/06/2017

I was standing in the enormous queue which is standard at my local mall's department store at the weekend.

There were about 20 of us and up ahead, at about number 10, a woman was shouting at a woman wearing a burqa.

"Go…to…the…end…of…the…line! For God's sake we shouldn't have to put up with this," she yelled.

The burqa woman, obviously a new immigrant or visitor and understandably a bit confused about this particular department store's self-checkout policy, eventually got the idea and moved off.

The shouty woman then proceeded to regale everyone in the line with her take on immigration, which was blatantly racist along the lines of nativism, the need to preserve her white Kiwi culture.

I had my daughter with me so held myself back from having a bit of a chat to her about that. My daughter was very grateful.

And then an Indian man cut the line in front of me, gesturing with a thumbs-up signals that it was okay for him to cut in.

"Of course," I said, magnanimously waving him in. "Not a problem."

"Do you really have to be the gracious non-racist immigrant lover just to prove a point to that woman?" my daughter asked.

"One must lead by example," I replied.

What we witnessed during our Sunday shopping session is something I predict we will see more of as immigration takes off as a major election issue here, just as it did in Trump's election campaign with talk of building walls and banning Muslims, and as it did in the Brexit referendum with voters concerned that their country was being taken over by foreigners.

But unless you're Winston Peters, whose race-based tendencies are an important part of his brand, it is going to be very difficult for politicians to tread the fine line between appealing to the racists and appealing to common sense as Andrew Little attempted to do on Monday, claiming that closing up a loophole in student visas will mean more jobs available for more deserving foreigners such as a 45-year-old oncologist. Nothing racist about that.

Because let's be honest. Immigration is not popular with those in the older age bracket of our society where casual racism is the norm, with comments like "He's Indian but he's very nice," and "There isn't one white doctor or nurse in this hospital." Their desire to keep things the way they were is overpowering.

These are the people who are most likely to go to the bother of voting, so their racism is worth capturing.

Talk to younger people who are less likely to vote and you will find an acceptance, even an enjoyment of the multicultural society New Zealand has become. They've grown up with it. It's the norm - what's the problem again?

Meanwhile across the ditch in Australia, Pauline Hansen at the weekend claimed Australians were too scared to shop at the mall anymore because the Muslims might blow it up, and therefore immigrants should be banned.

If my mall experience is anything to go by, the most frightening thing we are likely to come across in New Zealand is someone explaining their own racism.

Wendyl Nissen is an experienced magazine and television journalist, and will host RadioLIVE's Afternoon Talk, weekdays from midday until 3pm, from Monday June 26.