Mark Richardson says not all white people should be 'held accountable' for racism

White people are being "held accountable" for racial injustice regardless of whether they have perpetuated discriminatory behaviour, Mark Richardson says, claiming his skin colour should not make him "representative" of racism. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, AUT senior lecturer Ella Henry jokingly said she "hated white people 20 years ago" while discussing racism in New Zealand with host Duncan Garner. 

"They used to pick on me too much," said Henry, an associate professor and scholar affiliated with Ngātikahu ki Whangaroa, Ngāti Kuri and Te Rārawa iwi, despite adding she is "quietly optimistic" that New Zealand will continue progressing forward.

However, co-host Richardson disagreed with the idea all white people should be held accountable for historic - and current - racial injustices against people of colour.

"I think this is where we need to be careful and you could get a form of pushback is that as a white person, all of a sudden you're held accountable or representative of these ills," Richardson argued.

"I don't see myself accountable or representative of these ills in any way, shape or form."

Henry replied that as a person of colour, she is constantly seeking allies and collaborators who will work together to move society forward. 

"The people that are collaborators and allies don't feel like they need to [fear] pushback, because they are part of the change," she said. 

Richardson also questioned Henry as to how New Zealand could "have a system that perpetuates these issues" with such a "tremendously diverse" Parliament. 

"We have a Parliament that... has a great amount of Māori representation in particular," he said. "How can you say that we now have a system that perpetuates these issues that you're so sure are colonialism?"

"If you look at the faces of all of the leaders - politically, economically, financially - and where the financial power is in this country - it is not in the hands of Māori and it is not in the hands of the majority of us brownies," Henry responded.

"But again, I balance that with the fact that I think that as a nation, we're doing some things that are so credible, that we need to keep on doing them."

Henry and Auckland University Islam teaching fellow Zain Ali spoke of their experiences as people of colour in New Zealand, Henry as a Māori woman and Ali as an Indian man. Although both say that society has changed for the better since they were children, daily microaggressions are still significant. 

Henry says it has become ingrained behaviour to pay for her petrol before filling up her car, while Ali claims he can often be mistaken for a petrol station worker. 

"There is this widespread experience of discrimination but an acknowledgement that we're still in a good place here in New Zealand," Ali said.

"The issue of race is still very real. You look at my skin - I can't hide this. I look different, I have an accent."

"As long as we live in an unequal society, somebody's going to be driving the bus and telling someone whether they sit at the front or the back," Henry argued.

Following co-host Amanda Gillies' recount of a young girl's mother being turned away from a cafe bathroom based on her Māori heritage, Richardson noted that it's "hard to de-dickhead the world". 

"There's always going to be unfortunately, in all walks of life, dickheads. And we're just going to have to tolerate them," he declared. 

Henry added that New Zealand is showing promise at progressing toward a more equal society by engaging in "innovative and interesting" measures, acknowledging the peaceful protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

She also noted the controversy regarding the six-month trial of the NZ Police armed response teams (ARTs), a proposal which received widespread pushback in relation to the armed units disproportionately targeting Māori and Pasifika communities. 

Based on the feedback, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster confirmed the idea has been scrapped. 

Ali said New Zealand's protests, such as the Black Lives Matter march to Auckland's US Consulate General on Sunday, have remained peaceful as they are not being inflamed by polarising political leadership.

"A lot of the factors at play in the US aren't at play here - political leadership isn't as polarising here as it is in the US. After the March 15 mosque shootings, there was an emphasis on people coming together, something that wasn't seen in the US," he said. 

The Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against systemic racial injustice and inequality in the United States, has gained significant traction following the alleged murder of African-American George Floyd by a white police officer, sparking intensified calls for change which have been echoed around the world.