Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Reducing Racism against Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Reducing Racism against Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand

Article excerpt

Introduction

Throughout history racism has resulted in slavery, extinction, and marginalisation, particularly of indigenous peoples, and been justified by a belief in the superiority of the dominant race. Psychological researchers began the analysis of racist assumptions in the early twentieth century, when racism was considered intrapsychic (Duckitt, 2001). Growing acceptance of the importance of contextual influences by psychologists led to racism being reclassified as personality interacting with environment (Lewin, 1936). Allport's contact theory (1958) recommended controlled interaction in a time of apartheid and segregation, and included consideration of personality, context and cognition. Further studies in group cognition led to the development of ingroup outgroup theories in the 1970s and 1980s (Tajfel, 1978; Turner, 1985). In 1969 racism was legislated against at an international level (United Nations, 2016), a precedent followed in Aotearoa NZ in 1971 by the passing of the Race Relations Act (NZLII, 2016), the 1990 New Zealand Bill of Rights (Parliamentary Counsel Office, 2016), and the 1993 Human Rights Act (Parliamentary Counsel Office, 2016). Under these laws, racism and discrimination, ethnic slurs, and the inciting of racial disharmony, became prohibited. The result was a move away from blatant racism, to a more subtle, modern racism (Kinder & Seers, 1981; Pettigrew & Meertens, 2001) in which racist intent was implicit but not openly declared.

Research into racism in Psychology traditionally drew on a positivist hypothetico-deductive model where it is assumed that people hold stable, essential and universal characteristics and attitudes regarding prejudice and racism, and that these function regardless of political, social and economic influences. This deductive, 'top down' research approach generally employs surveys or experiments, quantifying peoples' attitudes and views and subsequently making generalisations to specific populations based on statistical analyses of the findings. However this dominant paradigm is problematic because results are assumed to be universal, thus ignoring or marginalising minority and indigenous perspectives and opinions. Historically, Pakeha studies have compared Maori data unfavourably against Pakeha standardised norms (Gavala & Taitimu, 2007) and discredited Maori perspectives (Black & Huygens, 2007). Tick boxes or Likert lines designed by Pakeha researchers have not always included ideas outside a Pakeha ontology, and such omissions in psychometric measures have at times invisibilised serious issues. Furthermore, researchers working within this paradigm struggled to identify subtle versions of racism due to the nature of their psychometric tools, which were incapable of separating racism from other confounding variables (Bernal, Trimble, Burlew & Leong, 2002; Roets, Van Hiel & Cornelis, 2006).

In contrast, the 'turn to language' in social psychology throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Gergen, 1985) and the rise of research drawing on ideas from social constructionism led to research that focussed on people's everyday talk about racism. Research from a social constructionist framework emphasizes how our knowledge and understandings of the world are socially and culturally derived. Thus knowledge is not viewed as neutral but influenced by history, politics, culture, societal power imbalances and other contextual factors (Burr, 2015). Research in psychology from this tradition suggested that racism arose almost entirely from contextual, social and situational features.

In Aotearoa NZ, understandings of racism against indigenous Maori were expanded using methodologies informed by a social constructionist perspective (Tuffin, 2013). Discursive studies contributed to perpetrator theory by analysing perpetrator talk and text in context, and underscoring that racism was a subtle, social process constructed, generated and re-created in everyday language. …

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