One thing in New Zealand you can’t get away from – racism


A cartoon about the Samoa measles epidemic has led some to ask if much has changed in New Zealand.

New Zealand does not have a great track record in its relationship with Samoa:

  • The influenza epidemic killed over 22% of Samoa’s population in 1918, a disease that was introduced to Samoa by sick passengers on board a ship from New Zealand. Survivors blamed the New Zealand Administrator, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Logan, for failing to quarantine the ship and for rejecting an offer of medical assistance from American Samoa.
  • Dec 28, 2018, New Zealand military police fired on Mau independence demonstrators in Apia, killing 11 Samoans, including the independence leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III.
  • In the 197os with the economy in recession and unemployment rising, the spotlight was turned on Pasifika ‘overstayers’ – immigrants whose temporary visas had expired. Accused of overloading the welfare system, some were detained and deported. Dawn raids on the homes of alleged overstayers by police began in 1974 and intensified in October 1976.

In 2002 the then prime minister of New Zealand  apologised to the Samoan people for “events in our past which have been little known in New Zealand, although they are well known in Samoa.”

But  it seems “… there’s one thing about New Zealand you can’t get away from. And that’s the racism that never totally went away, that hits you when you’re not expecting it,” says  Christine Ammunson, writing for the Spinoff,

She says she thought that  “being brown is cool now”.

“So when I saw a cartoon that turned the death of our Sāmoan babies into a joke I was for once lost for words”.

“I know that Tremain would never have made a cartoon joking about the precious souls lost in the Pike River tragedy”.

“And even if he did, the Otago Daily Times (ODT) would never have published it.

And that’s because Tremain and the management at the ODT saw that tragedy through human eyes, and with empathy.”

Ammunson says she is glad the ODTs has apologised for the cartoon.

But I will always wonder: if so many of us hadn’t roared in rage at the ODT’s heartlessness at this, one of Sāmoa’s darkest times – would they have apologised?

She is dismayed at Tremain’s attempt to brush it off.


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News category: New Zealand.

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