By Mayyah Gordon
May 27, 2019

Xenophobia & Uni Culture

+ Real Student Stories

The term xenophobia itself is defined as a strong dislike or prejudice against people from other countries, often associated with a fear of the unknown.

As a nation set on the fringes of global atrocities and conflict, I’m sure many New Zealanders would like to believe that there are few spaces within our society where xenophobic ideologies exist. We may believe there are even less that cater to the individuals who foster the ideals of bigotry, racism and discrimination. However, our own history of the systematic oppression and marginalisation of others provides us with the evidence that these dangerous dogmas are deeply rooted within our societal structures. The simmering state of racial affairs alone has reached its boiling point. It’s time that we, as a country, faced the tough conversations that can challenge our cultural thinking, our moral standings and the subconscious prejudices we may harbour. It is these underlying beliefs that have the potential to manifest into greater forms of hatred. What occurred within a sacred place of worship in Christchurch on the 15th of March 2019 was the heinous outcome of what a contaminated heart filled with xenophobic hatred, extremism and unprecedented violence can create. It is time we began dismantling the tightly woven structures of institutionalised racism as well as discrimination and strove harder to prevent the prolific circulation of hate. In an age so immersed in our online experience, the line between what is said out loud and what is said behind this veil of digital anonymity is so often blurred.

It is time we insisted on an understanding and appreciation of others who have different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, without considering our own at some sort of jeopardy.
Although racial discrimination is said to be the largest form of discrimination among our population, the statistics of perceived discrimination are dated and limited at best. As of April 2016-April 2017, 25.7% of recent migrants were reported to have experienced discrimination. Similarly, 27.5% of Maori reported discrimination based on race from 2012. Although, would these percentiles be greater if we had more widespread means of reporting and documenting incidents of discrimination? Would they be greater if we were actually able to recognise them as discriminatory acts in the first place? Since the shootings, a first of its kind website in New Zealand has emerged to enable individuals to report incidents of abuse and discrimination. highlights the forms of discriminations, and defines abuse as either “verbal or physical”...“[which] includes comments and behaviours that makes anyone feel unwelcomed and belittled.”

Forms of discrimination that produce xenophobic ideologies (among other barricades of social injustice) are often not as deliberate and outspoken as we may think. Due to the founding nature of colonialism and its exploitative social implications that are so deeply embedded in our social understanding, discrimination can often fly under the radar as a normative issue. This is where subconscious prejudice becomes apparent. We may not even recognise the small, seemingly innocent, discriminatory statements that continue to feed our social interactions at the fault of our own ignorance.

Uni culture: Is casual racism ‘a thing’ on campus?
Let's face it; no one likes to be considered a bigot or a racist. However, as a society and, more specifically, as a collective within higher educational contexts, we must question the prevalence of forms of discrimination such as casual racism on campus grounds. If our society harbours the tendencies to allow, excuse, and humourise casual racism in the social spheres of club rooms, bars, salons and smoko sites, then why not hubs of education where we come face to face with the diversity in question? It leads us to consider our university culture. The topics we raise in a social context have the potential to open doors for discussion, debate and defamation. Universities across the country have their own protocol when it comes to standing up against discrimination on campus - including, but certainly not limited to, providing a means of education, support and policing on the matter.

For example, Otago University has most recently aligned with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission to promote the Give Nothing to Racism campaign. The campaign runs in a bid to highlight the culture of casual racism in New Zealand and the implications of such views within a greater social construct.

Since the shootings, there is no negating the fact that universities have done their bit in showing their love and solidarity with the public and the Muslim community. However, it is arguable that in a world where thoughts and prayers are not enough, these means alone are not enough to prevent future hate crimes. Racism starts small and has the ability to manifest into greater forms of discrimination if left unchallenged.

Take the allegations against the University of Auckland in negating the issue of white supremacist activity on campus in recent years. The Spinoff most recently covered an article which highlighted the university’s attempt at making light of the situation, with students of the institute accusing the university and its Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon, of being complicit in white supremacist ideologies by lack of rebuttal. Despite the disbandment of the university’s student-run ‘European Club’ in 2017 which propagated messages of “preventing white genocide”, McCutcheon failed to rebuke an on-campus incident of a student allegedly threatening others while sporting a neo-Nazi t-shirt. He responded to the incident and the allegation that the university was experiencing an increase in white supremacist activity as nothing short of “utter nonsense.”

The Kiwi Identity Crises
With New Zealand’s refugee quota set to rise to 1,500 per annum by next year, there is some unrest over the increase that has some Kiwis questioning the true nature of our welcome mat. Despite xenophobic concerns, the matter seems to have created an existential identity crisis for New Zealanders over the debate of whether taking in migrants is the best choice for the country. Would the diversification of our nation’s people create a culture shift in ourselves, or would it continue to shape the ever-changing face of Kiwi identity?

The fact of the matter is that the elements that define us as New Zealanders are extremely subjective and can range from how much we rate the Warriors, to lineage and nationalism, to our capacity to integrate with aspects of traditional kiwi-dom - think bat down cricket and Bunnings snags. Therefore, perhaps the issue with those who see our historical culture at risk of fading into the background is not whether someone from a different cultural context can be deemed a kiwi or not, but rather whether they are ‘kiwi’ enough to assimilate into our societal ideals?

As the process of assimilating into the dominant culture, acculturation stems from the concept that an individual may be plucked from one cultural context and adapt to another through the five stages of acculturation. These stages are categorised as Enthusiastic Acceptance, Doubt and Reservation, Resentment and Criticism, Adjustment, and Accommodation and Evaluation. However, depending on the assimilation period in which migrant individuals are received (either welcomed or shunned), many individuals face strategies that best help them feel at ease within their new environments. According to a thesis published by California State University which highlights the processes of acculturation, these strategies were identified as assimilation, separation, integration and marginalisation.

Tongue in Cheek Politics: Using political stages to encourage xenophobic ideologies
Therefore, in recognising our integral role in the assimilation of new New Zealanders, consider the nature of political agenda and beehive banter. Influential individuals have always used their platforms to promote messages of peace, inclusion and acceptance in protest or support of particular social issues. With regard to producing a message of fear to the masses, none are so notorious for their role in stirring the pot than politicians themselves. The nature of tongue in cheek political commentary alone has, for some time, gained serious attention and traction as more than a passing satirical mention. Our political leaders and lawmakers have the ability to instill ideologies within their fellow citizens. The support they’re able to gain by broadcasting their beliefs and political agendas has serious consequences for our societies. Take Queensland politician, Senator Fraser Anning, as a prime example of the sort of traction that such perverse notions of hatred can spur. The governmental letterhead that launched its way into the debate elicited not only a strong recoil, but also a terrifying rejoice from people across the Trans-Tasman in response to the Christchurch shootings and our immigration policies. Does censuring and dismissing these politicians on account of their statements have any real effect in minimising the real world affect their words have when resonated with closet racists? This forces us to question where we, as New Zealanders, draw the line between freedom of speech and the propagation of hate speech.

The issue of xenophobia within our diverse society is not a problem unto itself. Its ideologies are constructed upon the basis of hatred that is formed through racist and discriminatory views. As a country, we need to be creating a positive, constructive social dialogue that is being met with immediate action to free us from the shackles of historical and ongoing institutionalised oppression. Despite our differences in cultural backgrounds, religions and ethnicities, we must stand in the unity of our shared humanity; that’s the real factor at stake here.

In saying so, here’s what we can do to help combat hate and xenophobic ideologies within our communities:

  • Support and celebrate your local migrant and minority groups - enjoin and appreciate the cultures from which they come from
  • Proactively contest hate speech
  • Stand up against casual racism that could disempower others
  • Report incidents of verbal or physical acts of discrimination
  • Seek to educate yourself upon the different perspectives of others by interacting with people who come from different backgrounds to remove stigmas


Q. Do you believe that there is a strong prevalence of casual racism here in NZ?

“100%”- Harry, Auckland University.

“Yes, definitely! More often than not, subtle forms of racism are more prevalent than direct forms.”- Zhane, Waikato University.

“Yeah, I hear it all the time. I feel like it’s a pretty normal part of our kiwi humour, I didn’t even realise that I was pretty racist in my humour until the shooting when people started making a point of raising awareness of casual racism. I think most people don’t really think twice about it because at the time it seems pretty harmless when really it can slowly alter our mindsets in terms of how we look at people of certain races.”- Elisa, Waikato University.
Q. Has your personal perception of Muslims shifted in any way since the CHCH Masjid shooting?

“Not particularly. I still view Muslims as equals as everyone should. Just because they come from different upbringings and areas of beliefs doesn’t make them any less human.”- Shannon, Waikato University.

“No, not really, I’ve never had anything against Muslims....I’ve always admired how bold they are in representing what they believe in”...“That respect has multiplied since the shooting.”- Elisa, Waikato University.
“Not much, I’ve always had a lot of respect for people of different cultures who practice different religions.”- Zhane, Waikato University.

Q. Have you personally experienced forms of discrimination on campus?

“In hindsight, yes. People are usually quite joke-y about things they actually agree with I guess just to test the waters with you, see what you’re willing to accept as a little banter when in reality it can be quite hurtful.”- Isaiah, Victoria University.

“Nah, everyone treats me with love all the same. Most people don’t even know I’m Muslim anyways.”- Hassan, Otago University.
Q. Do you think your university had the adequate means to support students and staff after the CHCH Masjid shooting?

“I mean we had some support, but probably not enough to tackle the real issue. It’s still pretty heavy.” Anon, Victoria University.

“I certainly believe they had...the support after the shooting was immense, walking through uni and seeing heartwarming messages and flowers shows the support the university has for ALL students.”- Liam, Waikato University.

“Yes - counsellors, support sessions, zero tolerance speeches.”- Iman, Auckland University.

“I personally haven’t had much involvement with these things, but I do notice that they are constantly reaching out to any students that could use those resources.”
- Elisa, Waikato University.
Q. What makes us ‘Kiwi’?

“I think our inclusion of all people no matter their backgrounds or beliefs, kiwis are straight up and honest which is a good thing because we’re not afraid to stand up to things that are wrong. We’re strong people.”- Zhane, Waikato University.

“Drinking Cody’s (and pavlova)”- Jay, Auckland University.

“I think just being friendly; I think we’re a ‘love thy neighbour as yourself type’ of country. That’s what I think at least.”- Hemi, Auckland University.

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