The lesson that you can’t always judge nationality from appearance was brought home to me when travelling by train from Dundee to London.
The only other occupant of the carriage looked West Indian but I’d heard her speaking and her accent was home counties’ English.
After a stop the carriage door opened, a young man poked his head in looked around, saw the other woman, looked at me, said, “Bloody foreigners should go back where they belong” and walked out again.
Had he been blind and heard us talking it would have been me who was the victim of his invective because my voice would have shown what my appearance didn’t – I was a foreigner.
I was reminded of this yesterday morning Paul Henry asked the Prime Minister if the Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand is a New Zealander and if the next GG would look and sound more like a New Zealander.
Sir Anand was born here though his parents weren’t. I think at least one of Paul’s parents wasn’t born here either. That isn’t reflected in his name and appearance as it is in Sir Anand’s, but that doesn’t make him any less a New Zealander.
My father was an immigrant too. He and my mother gave me a name from his home country which many other people find difficult to pronounce. But I look like a Pakeha, shortened my name so it’s easier to say and I don’t have to put up with people questioning whether I’m a New Zealander.
I don’t know what Henry was thinking when he made those stupid comments yesterday, but bad as they were, the response from TVNZ was worse:
“”The audience tell us over and over again that one of the things they love about Paul Henry is that he’s prepared to say the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud,” she said.
I have no doubt some people do think that people who don’t look Maori or Pakeha and have unusual names don’t look and sound like New Zealanders. But there is no need for someone of Henry’s undoubted intelligence to sink to that level of ignorance and voice those thoughts, and a public television company shouldn’t condone it.
No matter how long we and our families have been in New Zealand, we’re all descended from immigrants. Until relatively recently most of us were of Maori or British descent. However, now there are growing numbers of people from many different parts of the world, some of whom look different and have names some of us find unusual.
I’m not sure what New Zealanders look and sound like now because we’re much more of a melting pot and that’s a good thing.
The fabric of our nation is enriched and strengthened by cultural diversity. We should celebrate and enjoy our differences and appreciate that although we don’t all look and sound the same, we’re all New Zealanders.
Henry has apologised.
I hope that means he and TVNZ understand that while going close to the line can be entertaining, crossing it is not.
UPDATE: Henry did a straight to camera apology this morning.