Leading amidst the BLM movement

added by Craig Steel
Arm with tatoos resting on a table with other people in background

Despite the fact a number of countries are facing a second wave of COVID-19, the question on most people’s minds today is whether the protests George Floyd's death in the US has prompted will lead to true and lasting change.

As we know, minorities in the west continue to experience worse outcomes in virtually every metric modern societies value than their Caucasian counterparts.

Although thousands of blacks and whites alike have dedicated their lives trying to correct the imbalance for decades, only time will tell if the uprising leads to change or whether it cements the differences that impede the US’ prosperity.  

Needless to say, the question those concerned will be asking themselves is whether Floyd’s death will be a lightning rod that divides the nation further or whether it will be an unexpected catalyst that lifts the country out of its troubled past and onto a more humane and equal trajectory.

In this respect, the BLM movement is both timely and important. However, what concerns me is whether the vandalism and expressions of hatred spurred on by the protests not only deafen their calls for change but undermine the efforts of those trying to engage their nations in the discussion they need to have to improve outcomes for those they represent.

Regrettably, Floyd’s final moments in Minneapolis not only symbolise the plight of millions around the world, they reflect the issues facing Maori and Pacifika (in particular) in this country.

As a white New Zealander, it is sobering to accept that there is indeed evidence of institutionalised racism in this country. However, it is also important we acknowledge the fact that there is evidence of long-standing efforts by thousands to try and address it.

Irrespective of our skin colour, I believe the majority of New Zealanders know that unless Maori and Pacific people succeed here at home, we as a country cannot. I also believe most of us want to see every New Zealander prosper irrespective of their background or ethnicity.

The fact is, everyone knows those who are marginalised by the system or deprived of opportunity (intentionally or not) cost us in the long run. Equally, we also know that if those same people were enabled to contribute to society in a positive way, they would become the asset we and their children need to progress as a nation.


So, what is the answer?

While the escalation of violence around the world is troubling, answering the pleas for change shouldn’t be. By that I mean it’s not unrealistic to expect our political leaders to acknowledge the request for change; to acknowledge that things need to change and that they are committed to modernising our polices and legislation to ensure it.

That doesn’t mean we have to buy into the argument that ‘white silence is violence’, it simply means we have to support the country’s efforts to improve outcomes for those the movement is focused on.

For many, there is a concern that the request for change demands a relaxing of rules to offset the discrimination we see when it comes to law and order, rather than instituting policies that break the cycle of oppression that preserves preferential outcomes for Europeans.

The hardest thing for whites today is to understand the difference between deliberate racial abuse enacted by individuals and the tacit support of policies and institutions that ensure differential outcomes between different communities remain.

Having spent most of my life in New Zealand, I am pleased to say that I see less abuse directed at Maori and Pasifika by white individuals today than I used to. However, what troubles me is the fact that there is very little evidence to suggest their situation in real terms is changing. In other words, it doesn’t matter where we look, both Maori and Polynesians not only experience worse outcomes in health, education and employment, they are overly represented in terms of crime, poverty and victimisation.  

My suspicion is that what the BLM movement offers the majority of us is not the opportunity to march, but to do what we can as an individual to ensure those who continue to suffer in our communities are supported to the extent they need to correct the imbalance.

The fact is, if we as a nation viewed these communities as ‘our’ sisters, parents, brothers and children, we would understand the benefits of fast-tracking programmes that would help them navigate their own path to success. However, if we continue to push back on the view that targeted assistance or corrective policies are somehow unfair to the rest of us, we will miss the point and thus prevent the advancement of this nation.


It’s all a question of leadership

To aid our recovery, we need those in leadership positions to embrace it. For too long, too many leaders have argued the cause of ‘their’ people at the expense of others rather than contextualising the needs of their people in terms of the nation’s success as a whole. Yes, every group needs representation but at the same time, it cannot be positioned as a set of policies that are designed to worsen outcomes for others.

At the end of the day, the greater the number of those who struggle, the more we as a nation will struggle. Conversely, the more we can help those in need find a more productive and prosperous way forward, the more we will prosper as a country.

For this reason, it is important those in a position of leadership understand that their aspirations for everyone must precede their ambitions for those they represent. If, on the other hand, they get the order wrong, our chances of capitalising on the opportunity in front of us will not only be thwarted, Floyd’s death will only ever remind us of all that’s wrong in the world rather than the strength of the human spirit that unites us.  


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Following the Government’s decision to lower our COVID Alert Level to 1, we will reduce the frequency of articles to one a month.  


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