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State Acknowledgment of Institutional Racism


4.3 State Acknowledgment of Institutional Racism

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In the aftermath of the Lawrence inquiry, activist scholar, Bourne (2001, p. 18) documented assorted claims of ‘political correctness gone mad’ from critics opposed to substantive reforms instigated by the Macpherson report (1999). The populist circular arguments have been used to powerful effect in shutting down informed policy debate in favour of recycled rhetoric about individual rights.

Critical theorist, Wilson (1996, p. 6) explains:

The genius of using a term like political correctness was that people would never declare themselves politically correct, so it was virtually impossible to counter the conservative attacks when a culture of soundbites defied the kind of analysis needed to refute the presumption that political correctness existed.

Claims of political correctness, he suggests, are an attempt to silence dissent and block progressive reform.

In summary, discourses with their roots in western libertarian ideas favour the rights of the individual over collective interests and rights-based discourses.

Racism within this standpoint is the outcome of “wayward individuals” and not the product of systemic inherited disadvantage as a result of colonisation and/or slavery. Efforts to address racial disparities from this standpoint should therefore not compromise white privilege but instead, there is a need to focus on the purported endemic failure of minorities to take responsibility for themselves and their children.

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Bourne (2001, p. 19) concurs, arguing that it is the state – the legislature, the Executive, the judiciary - through their administration of public services that sets the tone and tenor of race relations in society. This tenor setting is complex, balancing out historical injustices while attempting to honour public commitments made within the international community to human rights agreements that seek to minimise racism and enhance race relations.

Within this section, I examine the legacy of colonial racism, contemporary inquiry based findings of institutional racism and the challenge of addressing ethnic inequalities as key themes of state discourse associated with institutional racism.

Legacy of Colonial Racism

In recent years, there has been increasing attempts by nation states to reposition their relationships with indigenous peoples. These developments are in response to both domestic and international pressure and highlight the increasing lack of acceptability for historic colonial engagement with indigenous peoples. A reconciliation agenda driven by indigenous and non-indigenous peoples lies at the heart of these attempts at healing and transforming relationships.

State defined reconciliation processes however typically do not address the substance of indigenous sovereignty claims. MacLennan (1995, p. 2) quoted former New Zealand Prime Minister, Right Hon. Jim Bolger in The Dominion saying, “We cannot negotiate the division of sovereignty between various groups of New Zealanders. That is not possible and won’t happen”. This unwillingness to address issues surrounding sovereignty has also been reflected in the public statements of the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and the United States governments when they voted against the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Banks, 2007).

Despite these pragmatic denials of the contested nature of unitary parliamentary sovereignty various reconciliation processes are underway that acknowledge historic colonial racism. Within this subsection, I examine Waitangi Tribunal processes in Aotearoa and the stolen generation reconciliation process in Australia.

Waitangi Tribunal Processes

The treaty settlement process is clearly one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples, and that settlements already achieved have provided significant benefits in several cases (Anaya, 2010b, p. 2).

Attempts at reconciliation within Aotearoa remain centred around Waitangi Tribunal processes. The Tribunal is appointed by the government of the day to provide advice to the Crown as an independent part of the judiciary. Tribunal process entails formulating the extent of breaches of either treaty text and

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recommendations are made to the Crown around the scope of the settlements.

Crown negotiators working with Māori claimants determine the final settlement, which usually involves an official apology.

Waitangi reports are revealing in that they are independent commentary on the historic and contemporary behaviour of successive governments. The following excerpt from the report into the Taranaki claim (Waitangi Tribunal, 1996, p. 309) powerfully demonstrates this:

The protests of the landless were protests of desperation, but for their actions they were imprisoned in their hundreds, at will, without trial, and with all civil rights suspended. The ultimate consequence, the invasion and sacking of Parihaka, must rank with the most heinous action of any government, in any country, in the last century.

The following is from the Te Reo claim (Waitangi Tribunal, 1986, p. 20):

The evidence and argument has made it clear to us that by the Treaty the Crown did promise to recognise and protect the language and that that promise has not been kept... But educational policy over many years and the effect of the media in using almost nothing but English has swamped the Maori language and done it great harm.

Cumulatively the thousands of pages of Waitangi Tribunal reports provide a comprehensive picture of the harmful effects of colonial racism.

Stolen Generation

The Australian government has been slow in accepting the harm of their historic colonial policies and practices on indigenous peoples. Augoustinos, et al. (1999, p. 355) contend the myth of terra nullius was embodied in Australian law for 200 years. This doctrine was rejected by the High Court in the Mabo v State of Queensland (No. 2) decision in June 1992 which “…found that indigenous people who have a continued connection with their land may hold native title” (Pedersen, Dudgeon, Watt, & Griffiths, 2006, p. 90).

Soon after this ruling, a national inquiry was called into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, resulting in the Bringing Them Home report (Lavarch, 1997). The report focussed on a seventy-year period when Australia had active laws, policies and practices that separated indigenous children from their families. As part of this process Van Krieken (2004, p. 127) asserts:

[t]he state was made the legal guardian of all children of Aboriginal descent, overriding Aboriginal parents common-law rights over their children, who were to be removed at official will and sent to a mission or a

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child welfare institutions, or to be fostered with a white family if sufficiently light-skinned.

The justification for the forcible removal of children of mixed blood from their families and their placement with non-indigenous people, was on the basis that the successful integration of the races in the best interests of the child (Lavarch, 1997). The children at the heart of this policy have become known as the stolen generation.

The Bring Them Home report (Lavarch, 1997) is populated with detailed first-person accounts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families’ experiences of this policy. It includes strong recommendations from the judiciary to the Australian government. Among the recommendations was a commitment to funding the recording of indigenous testimonies, reparations guided by the van Boven principles (United Nations, 2005), and called for an official apology from the Australian parliament. The report concluded by noting that the gross violations of human rights indigenous communities had endured were acts of genocide. Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner (2008) contends implementation of many of the recommendations remains unfinished business. However on 13th February 2008 the Prime Minister of Australia, Right Hon. Kevin Rudd (2008, February 13), offered a much anticipated public apology to indigenous communities.

These acknowledgments of historic racism and apologies by the state in both Australia and New Zealand were not casually offered, rather are the outcome of sustained activism. They are part of a wider process of reconciliation between state parties and indigenous peoples.

Inquiry Based Findings of Institutional Racism

For politicians and senior public servants acknowledging colonial racism as a

“dark chapter” of the past is fundamentally different from recognising it within current state practices. In recent times, when institutional racism is acknowledged it is often within the context of a crisis in a specific area that needs to be investigated and risk managed through an inquiry process. Over the past forty years, particularly within both England and the United States, there has been a series of inquiries into the incidents within the health and education sector and actions of the police and military that have identified institutional racism as a cause and/or a contributing factor (Blofeld, Sallah, Sashidharan, Stone, &

Struthers, 2003; Kerner Commission, 1968; Macpherson, 1999).

Within this section I focus on two landmark inquiries that address institutional racism and had a wide impact on policy development within their specific localities. I examine Puao Te Ata Tu (Ministerial Advisory Committee, 1988), the investigation led by kaumātua John Rangihau into racism within the provision of

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social welfare in Aotearoa, and the Lawrence inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson (1999) into police practices in England.

Puao Te Ata Tu

In 198664 the then Minister of Social Welfare, Hon. Ann Hercus commissioned an inquiry into the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) responsiveness to Māori, following a series of complaints from Māori. Puao Te Ata Tu (Ministerial Advisory Committee, 1988) the subsequent report identified endemic inadequacies around policy, planning and service delivery for Māori and proved a wake-up call for many government agencies working in the arena of social policy.

Evidence showed that the Department did not serve Māori well (p.78); rather they systematically addressed the interests of Pākehā. The authors named these failings institutional racism, as:

…the outcomes of mono-cultural institutions which simply ignore and freeze out the cultures of those who do not belong to the majority.

National structures are evolved which are rooted in the values, systems and viewpoints of one culture only. Participation by minorities is conditional on their subjugating their own values and systems to those of

“the system” of the power culture (p. 19).

The primary recommendation of the report was to establish an overarching policy objective around eliminating cultural racism (p. 9) by incorporating the values, cultures and beliefs of Māori in all future policy development. Spoonley (1993, p.

67) contends the authors were unequivocal in their expectations that effective bicultural policies were to be adopted by government departments to provide Māori communities with “the power to direct and allocate resources that the State [currently] has at its command”.

Walker (1990, p. 280) and Huygens (2007, p. 65) hold that Puao Te Ata Tu linked the roots of Māori socio-economic hardship to the history of colonisation and its contemporary outcomes in institutional and cultural racism. Furthermore, it suggested the rigid functioning of the DSW had fed a cycle of dependency and located Māori as end-users of government services rather than treaty partners.

Many of the recommendations for action were an attempt to curtail the very mono-culturalism that had been nurtured through Crown’s historical policy platform of assimilation as outlined in chapter three.

64 An earlier report by the Women’s Antiracism Group (Berridge et al., 1984) in response to Māori claims of systemic racism also undertook a systematic analysis of perceived institutional racism within the Department. It did not reach such a wide audience, but helped pave the way for the Māori advisory groups’ work.

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Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

In 1993 Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, was stabbed to death by five or six white young men in what was likely to have been a racially motivated crime.65 Those that were put on trial were acquitted due to lack of evidence and could not be retried under English law because of extensive publicity around the case that could prejudice another trial. Macpherson (1999) who was commissioned to oversee the inquiry into this unsolved murder concluded police failed to prosecute the alleged killers due to institutional racism. By this, he meant it was a collective system failure. He found no evidence of racist policies as such and maintained the intentions of the individual police involved were not important, but the issue was the racist outcomes of the policing interventions.

The inquiry acknowledged that for institutional racism to be addressed it needed to be openly recognised and its causes addressed by policy, example and leadership. If this were not done, institutional racism became embedded in the ethos or culture of an organisation. Macpherson argued his findings were potentially applicable across public institutions throughout England. He maintained (1999, p. 46) that:

It is incumbent on every institution to examine their policies and the outcomes of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities. ...there must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutionalised racism and its nature before it can be addressed, as it needs to be, in full partnership with members of minority ethnic communities.

Critics of the report findings, particularly amongst the police, argued that using the term institutional racism implied all police had racist intentions, which they argued was not the case or particularly helpful (Murji, 2008, p. 843). In their evaluation of the impact of the Macpherson report on the police force Foster, Newburn and Souhami (2009, p. 33) found many police argued that police involved in the case were not racist. Rather they were incompetent and their incompetence was colour-blind. Media critic, Daley (1999, February 23) asserted that the claim of institutional racism was vague and dangerous and it had invented a form of ‘thought crime’, while political commentator, McKinstry (1999) likened Macpherson’s analysis to a ‘indulging in a series of sweeping generalisations’.

The then Labour government however endorsed Macpherson’s analysis, which marked a significant turnaround in official policy from complete denial of racism

“...as a trait in British society to official acceptance of it as a matter that was embedded in all the institutions of government and society” (Murji, 2008, p. 850).

A series of substantive policy and legislative changes were subsequently launched.

65 That being one of 200,000 racist incidents involving attacks, abuse and harassment in Britain every year (Bennetto, 2009, p. 39).

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Both Puao Te Ata Tu and the Stephen Lawrence inquiry involved recognition of embedded systemic racist bias within public institutions. The contrasting impact of these inquiries on public policy development and implementation are examined in more detail in chapter eleven.

Addressing Ethnic Inequalities

...despite the many efforts of communities and successive governments, social and economic inequalities, accentuated by the economic recession, remain unacceptably high. An unrelenting focus on the elimination of racial inequalities is needed, so that future generations of New Zealanders are free from this blight.

It is also time to examine whether there are still systemic or institutional barriers to racial equality that need to be addressed to make other interventions more effective (Human Rights Commission, 2011b, p. 4).

Since the release of the Hunn Report (1961) across public policy, discourse within New Zealand there has been a commitment to reducing ethnic inequalities between Māori and non-Māori. This focus has been heightened by the consistently expressed concerns of United Nations monitoring bodies about racial inequalities in Aotearoa. In the late 1990s, these efforts were championed under the umbrella of ‘Closing the Gaps’ (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2000c) and were by the early 2000s rebranded as programs to ‘Reducing Inequalities’ (Ministry of Health, 2002g).

These programs have aimed to generate greater equality of opportunity, so ethnicity is not a major determinant of life chances and wellbeing.

Considerable effort has been invested in describing ethnic disparities within health, education the criminal justice system and elsewhere as compiled in the Human Rights Commission (HRC) (2011a) report on structural discrimination.

Within their report (2011a, p. 37) the HRC identify that even when culturally responsiveness programs are in place that practitioners across the spectrum including public sector managers can continue to exhibit biased practice, a notion that is explored more deeply in the context of this research in chapter eight. They argue that a focus on universal provision of public services assumes everyone has equal access to services thus entrenching inequalities.

Through their research with informants from across the public sector, the HRC isolated a range of initiatives they consider best practice in relation to tackling ethnic inequalities. They include cultural competency work within the health sector, Te Kotahitanga program (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh, & Teddy, 2009) within the education sector, neighbourhood policing programs in Counties Manukau and youth courts and Māori focus units within the criminal justice system. Common elements across these programs are collaboration and a consistent approach, building understanding of structural racism, meaningful partnership and consultation with Māori, targeted interventions to address inequalities and building evidence through the strategic use of evaluation.

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The results from the Ministry of Social Development’s (2010) latest Social Report indicate that the piecemeal approach currently being pursued to addressing ethnic inequalities has yet to produce substantive change. Alternative strategies to address structural racism are discussed in depth in chapter eleven.