Over Easter weekend there was a series of brutal attacks carried out on Asian students across Auckland city. Six students were attacked across Albert Park, Queens St, Mt Albert and Newmarket. Two offenders have been arrested and identified as being between the ages of 12-20. The other offenders in these attacks have also been identified as youths. The New Zealand Chinese Students Association and the police have responded to these attacks by suggesting we need to make Albert Park a safer place and as a solution they have offered adding surveillance and lights to the park.
But many people feel like this response is inadequate. At a recent forum about the Albert Park attacks, Auckland University’s (UoA) Feminists of Colour suggested that we need to talk about long term solutions to racial violence instead of a quick Band-Aid responses. UoA’s Feminists of Colour have been requesting that responses go further than upping security and policing. They want to talk about tackling the underlying racism that leads to racial targeting and they wish to contextualise the problem by looking at factors such as poverty, inequality and anti-Asian racism. Although this response may be seen to be excusing the perpetrators’ behaviour, in reality, longterm solutions seek to stop the offence before it happens as opposed to only punishing the individual once the offense has been made.
According to the UoA Feminists of Colour, ‘yellow peril’ discourse still exists today within New Zealand’s mainstream media and within our politics. In particular they note that the pinning of Auckland’s rocketing houses prices on Chinese investors by the Labour Party and recent concerns about Asian immigration being a threat to New Zealand jobs have created an environment of resentment towards Asian students. Furthermore they suggest that international students are also largely looked at for their economic value, which has created a dehumanising narrative for students who already lack the strong local support networks and the local cultural knowledge of domestic students, making it hard for them to integrate into domestic student groups.
The UoA Feminists of Colour also note that adding to the questionable media focus on these attacks was the inclusion of thinly veiled victim-blaming but this opinion was not reserved for the media alone. In the public meeting held between Police, NZ Chinese Students’ Association and certain members of parliament last week, the police pointed out that these attacks are more likely to occur when students carry around expensive commodities and flash their phones at night, ironic in that some of the attacks were carried out in the daytime and also happened to students walking in pairs, often presumed to be a safer option. Although these victim-blaming viewpoints may seem to be common sense, they put the onus on the individuals and do not contextualise violence, nor look at the motivations of offenders or long term solutions to keep students safe.
Five of the speakers at the forum agreed that we need to counter separatist discourse with unity between people of colour. While it has not been confirmed whether these attacks were committed by Māori or Pacific Island students, the fact that the New Zealand Herald articles have included statements for Joe Tipene, the officer in charge of Māori, Pacific and Ethnic services suggests that there may have been Polynesian youths committing the offenses.
Sociology lecturer David Mayeda, suggested a more effective long term solution for Māori and Pacific Island crime will require a redistribution of societal resources and addressing how to offer Māori and Pacific Island students pathways to empowerment beyond violence. He suggested that moving beyond biculturalism to multiculturalism cannot be achieved simply through the celebration of cultural festivals, stating that we need to truly unite and integrate with other races – a point that Marama Davidson from the Green party backed up, suggesting we need stronger collective communities to achieve more racial integration.
In the final moments of the forum the audience widely applauded an audience member who spoke of the importance of remembering that unity between races has always existed throughout history despite the very strong narratives of hate and opposition to acceptance and integration, driving home the theme of the solutions-based talk. People of colour must unite against racism.