Nov 18, 2013

Taking the piss at TVNZ: why Andrew Shaw makes combating racism harder

That's audio from Andrew Shaw - TVNZ's general manager of commissioning, production and acquisitions. In front of an audience of 1000 Shaw "joked" that Auckland is a shithole and Wellington and Christchurch don't get enough "Polynesians".

When Throng revealed the comments and Whaleoil and others publicised them, TVNZ responded:

"We've spoken to many people who attended last night and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and for many, Andrew's presentation was a highlight of the evening. There was no indication anyone was offended and the subsequent questions [yesterday] came as a surprise."

Which misses the point. Completely. It continues:

"Andrew had no intention to cause offence and unreservedly apologises to anyone who may have been offended at the event or subsequently."

I can't put it better than Ta-Nehisi Coates did when discussing Richard Cohen: "context can not improve this. Context is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear". It doesn't matter whether Shaw meant to cause offense. It's this sort of casual racism that makes confronting other forms of racism - like institutional racism - more difficult. Accidental racism is still racism and it makes parting the iron curtain between Polynesians and the rest of society more difficult. We're still talking past each other if we think intention absolves racism.

I'm not sure whether Shaw is sorry for saying the "joke" or sorry for getting caught. But what's grating is that TVNZ found the "subsequent questions... a surprise". TVNZ shouldn't have to rely on others to be their conscience. The fact that no one in TVNZ recognised the racism in Shaw's remarks is surprising. Is TVNZ a racist institution if it can't recognise the racism in joking about Polynesians being a problem and a reason Auckland is a shithole?  

And then there are the Polynesians in TVNZ itself. It must be hard knowing that workplace racism still exists. This isn't Rhodesia in the 1970s. And then there's the double standard: Paul Henry lost his job for racism, why not Shaw? I'm sure an argument will be made about degrees of racism. Henry's position was different and his racism was of a different kind (which is true). But is it really appropriate to differentiate between racism in degrees? To me, that makes the job of confronting other forms of racism harder still. 

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