What Can be Done About Prejudice?
Are you prejudiced? Or rather, to catch you out, are you not prejudiced? I don't like admitting it, but I am. If you can say that you are not, you must be practically unique. But if for example you dislike Roman Catholics, or think that all Maoris are generous, then I'm afraid that you must join the countless ranks of offenders. No-one escapes the tentacles of prejudice. It may be towards race, colour, nationality, religion, class, beliefs, or even towards other tribes within our own race. Whatever is involved, whether it be trivial and harmless or serious and pernicious, it is prejudice.
When someone's ideas and beliefs are prejudiced, he is incapable of forming impartial opinions on the subject concerned. When he acts on these distorted judgments, he is showing unfair discrimination. Thus, when A says he doesn't like Maoris because they are dirty he is prejudiced, but when A refuses to rent his house to a Maori because of his opinion of Maoris, he is discriminating.
Race and Colour
Racial and colour prejudices are probably the most prevalent ones in New Zealand, and are those with which we as Maoris are most concerned.
Racial prejudice is the result of a gradual accumulation of biassed generalisations culminating in the development of a ‘stereotype’ of a particular race. We hear therefore of Italians who are all bad-tempered, of Australians who always swear and gamble, of spendthrift and lazy Maoris, of Jews who have crooked noses and hoard their money. Nor is such prejudice one-sided. Many whites are prejudiced towards coloured people, but at the same time they may be prejudiced towards people of their own colour, for instance European immigrants; many Maoris are prejudiced towards their coloured neighbours the Islanders, and vice-versa.
Colour prejudice is not always as clear-cut as racial prejudice; often it is more refined and subtle. For instance, a ‘fair’ half-caste Maori may manage much more easily in European company than a darker half-caste. The latter would be more conspicuous than the former, and Europeans may be more tempted to avoid him, especially if other Europeans are around. At socials and gatherings many Europeans feel too self-conscious and scared to associate with a person of coloured skin; they feel themselves being singled out, and wonder what their European friends may be saying about them. European parents whom I once knew found it impossible to accept the idea of their daughter marrying me and bearing ‘throw-back’ children. Not that they had anything against me personally—in fact, they thought I was a ‘very nice chap’—it was just that, well, they had to protect their daughter (and themselves too, I suspected) from the gossip of neighbours, if we had dark children. This is colour prejudice.
There are many reasons for prejudice, but some seem to be more universal and significant.
One of these is to be found in the economic gains which often follow prejudice. In the nineteenth century Maoris were generally regarded as inferior to the white settlers, and this was felt to be an excuse for depriving him of the asset reserved only for more civilized and worthy people—land. In South Africa the Africans are kept in virtual slavery, partly to provide essential cheap labour and services for that country's (or more accurately, the Africaans') economy. And in the United States discrimination is also an economic necessity; if it were not for this, Negroes would be competing directly for white men's jobs, causing hardship to the white man and a lowering of his living standards.
Political stability and ambition may also be a cause of prejudice; the success of some political parties has depended largely on their ability to carry out programmes of domination and repression of a minority race. Hitler's
success in Germany rested largely on his ability to indoctrinate Germany with racial pride. In Africa Dr. Verwoerd further cements his political grip by guaranteeing more stringent repression of the black majority.
Fear Often a Cause
Animal fear may compel one race to discriminate against another one, especially if the former is the minority; they are afraid of being overwhelmed, and therefore all possible access to power is denied the subjected race. South Africa is of course the classic example.
Prejudice may stem from fear of pressure from a social or economic group. Until the last few years, it was virtually impossible for a Maori to acquire a position in a banking firm. Banks distrusted his integrity and efficiency, and it was felt that by his very presence, a coloured person may have lowered the bank's all-important prestige with its customers. Many Europeans refuse to let their dwellings to coloured people, especially in high-class residential areas, through fear of a drop in the value of the property.
A people may be prejudiced towards another in order to disguise a sub-conscious feeling of jealousy and envy; they see the other race being maybe too happy, care-free, spontaneous, uninhibited, or even as a group superior in such activities as music or athletics. So they prefer to ignore these strengths which they themselves lack, and to emphasize the weaknesses which the other groups may possess.
Another factor is that most people seem to need to feel superior to someone else. This seems to be human nature; and unfortunately this urge is often magnifiesd to a racial level, so that some races are generally believed to be superior, and others inferior. Some interracial attitudes have been moulded in very recent times, but many are of ancient origin.
Ignorance a Formidable Obstacle
Insofar as human nature is responsible for this mental distortion, we cannot cure it. We can take certain steps to prevent it, we can guide, and teach a rational approach; but we cannot suppress or stamp out a person's way of thinking. The ultimate decision lies within each person.
Probably the greatest contributing factor in the nurturing of prejudice is ignorance, which grows fundamentally from lack of personal contact between the prejudiced and the prejudged. People who cannot be bothered going out of their way to find out more about other races tend to arrive at set conclusions from the largely inaccurate opinions of others. These opinions are applied to the pre-judged race as a whole, and they may become exaggerated as they pass from one person to another. Members of that race who have proved themselves contrary to the stereotype are either irrationally ignored, or are regarded as very rare exceptions who can be divorced from the inflexible general impressions gained of that race. Ignorance is one of the most formidable obstacles to closer human understanding.
Our immediate problem concerns the need for improving the theoretically harmonious, but in fact indifferent relations between our country's two main races, Maori and Pakeha.
Teachers Could Do More
This problem can best be tackled in childhood, and I cannot stress enough the vital role of the teacher who, from my experience as one, can play a very large part in promoting better relations. Next to parents, teachers can wield the greatest influence over a child. In six hours a day children can soon come to reflect something of the way of thinking of the teacher.
Many teachers conscientiously strive to teach their children to regard others as equals. But it seems to me that the majority of teachers either do nothing in this direction, or else not as much as they could. Why is this? Firstly, many teachers themselves are prejudiced, and are not going to teach something which they do not believe in; secondly, some teachers still entertain the romantic notion that ‘there is no colour bar in New Zealand’; thirdly, many teachers remain unaware of the potential dangers of bad race relationships. They think that all this does not affect them, or else they just couldn't care a damn if the problem existed or not—and thus the teaching of racial tolerance tends either to be ignored, or to receive only very isolated attention.
Compulsory Study Needed
If the seeds of racial harmony are to be sown in the school, it is obvious that first we must have wise nursery-men, for teachers cannot teach racial harmony if they do not understand and practise it themselves.
This brings us to the education of the teachers. In my opinion the study of race relations should be one of the compulsory and essential subjects to be taught in the Teachers'
Training Colleges. It should entail a closer and fuller study of other races, discussions on race relations, where they fail and how to improve them, discussions on the problems of different peoples and informal lectures by people of different races, all aimed at fostering a deeper and healthier understanding between races. I have seen this carried out to some extent very admirably at Wellington Teachers' College, but not all European students were involved; it affected only those who had Maori students in their groups or who chose to specialise in Maori studies. At Training College I knew many European students who had never even conversed with a Maori before they attended the College (and not solely because no Maoris lived in their district). After mixing freely with us for two years they knew much more about us, and were not so quick to condemn. If all teachers were thus educated, they would pass on their knowledge and understanding to children who in their turn, would transmit their wisdom to another generation.
Should Try More Systematically
Of course this is an impossible ideal; it would naturally be impossible to mass-produce an entire generation of enlightened teachers. But it would help if we were to try more consciously and systematically to achieve this end.
Children learn their early prejudices mainly from parents, but also from other adults and from their own peers. They may observe these people's expressions of distaste for someone or something, or they may be subject to constant warnings—don't associate or play with those Maoris—don't mix with those Maoris or they'll eat you—or keep away from them or you'll catch sores or nits. Subject to such influences, the child's vulnerable and impressionable mind is likely to develop permanent prejudices.
Social Contact is Important
Teachers should consciously watch for such attitudes and should do what they can to eradicate them. It is especially important to encourage as much social contact as possible between the different races, both in the classroom and in the playground. They should be intermingled during school projects, sports etc., and so far as possible, they should not sit in separate groups in the classroom.
The teacher should ensure that all children are treated equally; when some do need more attention than others, this should be done as smoothly and naturally as possible. This is necessary in order to prevent a connection being made—as can frequently happen—between a particular child's weaknesses and his race or colour. Teachers should also impress upon children that basically and collectively all are equal, although individually some may not be up to the standard of the ideal citizen.
Teaching and Discussion
Children should be taught as much Maori culture as possible. By this I don't mean just how they lived in the stone-age or last century but how they live today, and what problems they still have as a group.
Quite important in any democratic classroom, children should be given the chance to discuss what they believe or have been led to believe about other races. This will give them the chance to analyze their beliefs, and through more sober observations and objective reasoning and discussion with other children, they should be able to arrive at more truthful (not necessarily glowing) conclusions about other races.
Help Him to Understand
A middle-aged couple were inspecting a a house for sale next to ours a couple of weeks ago. The woman talked quite cheerfully and politely for a while about the house they were looking at, and ended her conversation by saying, ‘Oh well, at least it's nice to know we'll be living next to white people.' (Needless to add, I appear more European than Maori.)
A child once wrote in an essay: ‘Maoris are dirty. They never wash and they have sores on their legs. They are always in the pub and they come out drunk. They always eat fish and chips, they eat like pigs, and their houses are like pig-sties. I hate Maoris…’
Well, I don't see that lady or many thousands like her contributing anything worthwhile to a bi-racial society. They live with their prejudices and they will die with them.
But what of the child? For his own good, and our country's good, is it wise that he should grow up with these ill-informed and semi-true opinions of the Maori race, because of a few Maoris he has seen or been told about? And what of those Maoris who are increasingly lifting themselves above the boy's criticism, or those equally culpable Pakehas whom he has forgotten about? I say, help him now, to understand and see the truth, before his numbers increase, before it is too late.