Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere explains why Pākehā are 'asymptomatic racists'

Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere has explained why Pākehā are "asymptomatic racists" after he used the term during a party announcement.

The Māori Party wants to tackle racism head-on with a policy that would require a quarter of all government spending go towards Māori projects.

During a press conference at the announcement, Tamihere said "Pākehā people are asymptomatic racists", a term meaning Pākehā may not realise what they're saying and doing is racist.

He clarified during an interview on Magic Talk what he meant by the comment, and used a rugby metaphor to explain how Pākehā may not see their casual racism.

"Just pretend that we're sitting in a room and the Blues are remarkably at a five-win streak.

"[My friends] wouldn't know they're saying this - this is the asymptomatic nature of this - they would say, 'if it wasn't for Beaudie Barrett and the white men running around, we would be losing'.

"That's asymptomatic in regard to them not understanding that... It might be that the brown boys actually can play rugby without needing a maestro called Beaudie Barrett."

Tamihere added his friends often change their behaviour around him to ensure they're speaking favourably about Māori issues.

"Here's my take on it. I have a lot of mates that are Pākehā, right. The issue is that around me they're pretty good, pretty cool. But I know for a fact, at times, when there's no Māori in the room that the conversation tips to a negative view of Māori-related matters."

He believes New Zealanders are able to have conversations about race and racism without "being brutal" and there'll be unrest "pretty soon" if more action isn't taken to narrow the gap between Pākehā and Māori.

"We have to stop two classes of citizens in the country - first class white, second class brown. Now that's a statistical fact, and I can give you legions of evidence as to why it is a true statement. We can't have a society based like that.

"We're lucky to be somewhat sanitised from that nonsense [of protests surrounding race overseas]. I think we're a bit more grown-up and I think we can have a fair conversation about race relations and racism in this country."

Tamihere said on Saturday the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted "major racism and inequity" in New Zealand and Māori wellbeing was being impacted.

"The evidence for this across the whole of Government is best identified by our unemployment status in our own country. We cannot tolerate a post-COVID environment that makes our whānau lives worse than they were pre-COVID."

The Māori Party predicts up to 35 percent of New Zealand's mana whenua will be unemployed due to the virus.