17 Nov 2018

'Frankly that just shows middle-class white privilege'

7:29 pm on 17 November 2018

A Lions Club Christmas parade float featuring adults and children in blackface has sparked outrage in the town of Hawera.

A Lions Club Christmas parade float featuring adults and children in black face

A Lions Club Christmas parade float featuring adults and children in black face Photo: Supplied

New Plymouth's former mayor, Andrew Judd, was disgusted that no one spoke up.

"Nobody had the presence of mind around them to pull them up. You might be able to find a strand of ignorance within that group but surely those running the event, other Lions members, people of the community would have thought this is wrong on so many levels."

The Human Rights Commission is reiterating its view that blackface is offensive, and perpetuates the stereotypes that underpin racism.

The commission said it supports the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in urging people to challenge and talk about racial discrimination.

It said talking about and calling out racist behaviour is the first step in addressing discrimination.

Later on Friday evening the club posted a response on its Facebook page which has now been deleted.

"This is by no means meant to be derogatory as a racist commentary rather a celebration of all cultures.... This group of ladies work very hard for you - the community - and support all the diverse cultures within it.

"Let's not be too precious or PC."

Mr Judd said the response to the incident by the group was terrible.

New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd

Andrew Judd Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"It was pretty much doubling down saying we were being too PC and they were just trying to celebrate all cultures.

"Frankly that just shows middle-class white privilege."

The club's Facebook page has since been deleted.

Mr Judd said it proved New Zealand still had a long way to go in overcoming racism.

"We view ourselves as some utopian country on race-relations whereas we're actually just polite racists."

"I'd like to call on our Prime Minister actually to stand up and say this behaviour is not acceptable... if [our leaders] stay silent then they are condoning it."

He said better education was needed to teach people why acts like blackface were unacceptable.

"I'm sure they'll apologise, but are they apologising because they know they've done wrong or are they apologising because they got caught.

"In that space has to be real education and we have to do it with love and care because division doesn't get us anywhere."

The chief executive of Te Rūnanga O Ngāti Ruanui, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said onlookers were stunned into horrified silence by the sight of the Hawera Mt View Lions Club float at Friday's parade.

"But you would have thought that there would have been a vetting with the organisers who would have said: 'What's your theme? Oh gosh, that's not appropriate'. You know, that someone would have come in and said: 'We don't want to be seen as a district that promotes slavery that takes us back to when it was OK to stereotype and make fun of black people. That's not who we are'."

Blackface was hugely offensive, she said.

"But this is just one example of the normalisation of racism and bigotry in many community institutions. We have to call it out."

The Hawera Mount View Lions club and Lions NZ have been contacted for comment.