Ethnic Group Stereotypes in New Zealand

Article excerpt

New Zealand (NZ) is a fairly small nation by international standards, with a total population currently approaching 4. 3 million. The NZ population is diverse and, like many nations, is called home by people from a number of different ethnic backgrounds. According to 2006 census figures, roughly 67-68% of the population are of European descent (referred to here using the Maori term, Pakeha). Maori, the indigenous peoples of NZ, form between 14-15% of the population. NZ is also home to many Pacific Nations peoples, who form around 7% of the population; and a number of Asian peoples (primarily Chinese), who form approximately 9% of the population and are the fastest growing ethnic group. (i) Intergroup relations in NZ appear relatively harmonious; at least insofar as a lack of organized large-scale ethnic or national conflict is concerned. NZ was ranked as number one in the world on the 2010 Global Peace Index, indicating it was the most peaceful country in the world in which to live in that year (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2010). Despite this impressive ranking, there remain considerable differences in the equality of outcomes experienced by different ethnic groups residing in NZ. For instance, according to data reported in The Social Report (2008), Pakeha had a median hourly income of $18.94, Asian peoples (including the category "other") had a median hourly income of $15.82, and Maori and Pacific Nations peoples had lower median hourly incomes of $15.34 and $15.00, respectively.

There are also numerous other differences in the ways in which Pakeha, Maori, Pacific Nations, and Asian peoples are socially constructed and (re-)presented in everyday discourse, national news media, and NZ culture in general. These vary from well-publicised political speeches and commentaries variously expressing concern about immigration policies, primarily those relating to Asian peoples (Liu & Mills, 2006) and also somewhat to Pacific Nations immigrants, to political/satirical cartoons such as the recent primetime comedy series bro'Town (produced by a Pacific Nations group), which depicts the experiences of young Pacific Nations youths living in NZ, and plays on societal ethnic stereotypes (see Teaiwa & Mallon, 2005). With regard to Maori, research shows a strong level of support for symbolic aspects of Maori culture and symbols interwoven throughout NZ society, paired with an equally strong resistance toward material reparation for historical and continuing injustices experienced by Maori at the hands of European colonials (Liu, 2005; Sibley, 2010; Sibley & Liu, 2004, 2007). New Zealanders, then, are well exposed to the different ways in which Pakeha, Maori, Pacific Nations, and Asian New Zealanders are constructed as essentialised categories. The vast majority of New Zealanders are also well aware, we maintain, of the core characteristics (or stereotyped content) used to repeatedly describe and depict these visible ethnic groups within NZ society.

What might the content of ethnic group stereotypes of Pakeha, Maori, Pacific Nations, and Asian New Zealanders look like? How might such stereotypes be produced by socio-structural relations between different ethnic groups residing in NZ? And more importantly, if systematic differences in ethnic group stereotypes are observed, then what implications might this have for understanding how existing inequalities and prejudice are perpetuated and legitimised in NZ? We present data from a national postal sample examining the core content of ethnic group stereotypes in NZ. We apply recent theoretical models of stereotype content developed overseas in an attempt to understand how systemic differences in the content of stereotypes of different ethnic groups residing in NZ might arise, and how specific stereotypes of different ethnic groups might contribute to our understanding of ethnic prejudice and discrimination in NZ's unique socio-political context. It should be noted at this point that we view Pakeha, Maori, Pacific Nations, and Asian New Zealanders as socially constructed identities rather than essentialised, biologically determined, immutable categories. …


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