11 March 2013

Grumpy old Grey Power guy. But was he racist?

A representative of Grey Power has come under fire for suggesting that the lifestyle of the elderly is under threat due to the projected growth of the 'Asian' population in Auckland. In his submission to the Auckland Council he suggested that there be a decision made about an "optimum size and ethnicity" of the city. (I haven't read his whole submission, only the Herald article.)
Now, it's no secret that the population of immigrants from Asia (which refers to a huge range of countries and cultures) in Auckland has grown and is projected to grow much further in the coming decades. There has been much public discussion of this fact and what the effects are.
It's also a fact that some people embrace such change, and others don't. 
So far, so good. It's possible to have such a conversation without offending anyone. To suggest though that Auckland is in danger of becoming an "Asian city" and that some kind of "optimum" level (presumably a limit) should be placed on numbers of immigrants specifically from Asia (and hence not on those from Europe or North America) takes things to a level beyond mere factual discussion. It introduces the idea of an immigration policy that explicitly targets certain 'Asian' peoples for stricter controls than others. And, according to the gentleman who has raised the issue, the justification for it would simply be that the elderly who presently live in New Zealand (who themselves must surely be of many diverse ethnicities) are said to feel threatened by the changes going on around them. I'd like to know what evidence there is for the actual prevalence of a supposed sense of 'threat' among the elderly anyway. But the submission's suggested 'optimal' policy sounds suspiciously like a policy targetting a racial group on the grounds that the natives 'just don't like them'.
So, I have to conclude that the submission to the Council, as reported in the Herald, has implications that are racist. It reminds me of the objections caused by the Maori academic who said we should have fewer immigrants from South Africa because too many of them, she thought, were 'white supremacists'.
We should not ignore the fact, though, that there may be a portion of our community who do feel threatened and uncomfortable with the demographic changes being wrought by younger New Zealanders leaving and people of many different ethnic backgrounds arriving, most of whom are in pursuit of their various hopes for a better life 'somewhere else'.
The social changes happening in New Zealand (and especially Auckland) at present are not the most dramatic ever seen, but they are substantial.
We must condemn ideas that have racist implications. But then we should also face the fact that not all of us embrace these changes. Some level of tension or resistance to change is always likely.
The only consolation that I can offer to elderly neighbours who may feel threatened by the amount of new arrivals with whom we share the footpaths is that we need these skilled, aspiring people to boost the economy so that we can continue to pay for NZ Super... And, one day, if not today, that lovely nurse in your nursing home could be be from India or Malaysia.
If you feel threatened, you may be hanging on nostalgically to a past that probably never really was, and certainly will never come again, and so you might as well get out there and learn to love the diversity of our sprawling, gorgeous city. I would never suggest that, just because you're old, you can't appreciate what's new.


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