My Op Ed on NZ race relations, from Dominion Post, 13 May 2011.

On the bright side, Kyle Chapman denies being a racist. The message has gotten through -- even to a white supremacist -- that racism is a bad look. In years past, he wouldn’t have bothered denying racism. Why would he? Other races spoiling this neat and tidy landscape: that’s his core value. And he’s hardly the only one. In years past, before racism went out of fashion, racism was a handy shortcut -- an easy way to know, at a glance, who to dislike. Much like “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”, racism gave you a useful rule of thumb. Something like: “slanty eyes, surrounded by flies.” Racism was common sense. Indeed, racism was probably a badge of glamour, a sign of worldliness, a hint that one had travelled. On Close Up, interviewed by Mark Sainsbury, Kyle Chapman spoke the code of the closeted racist. “Immigration is out of control.” “We’re New Zealand nationalists.” He was looking to “recruit like-minded people.” His objection wasn’t to Chineseness -- (speak the code!) -- but Communism, which was destroying his freedom of speech. It didn’t occur to him that the Chinese who flee China maybe aren’t the biggest fans of Communism themselves. But that might have required thought. I doubt Kyle Chapman and his 42 Facebook friends are ever going to come to one of my shows. I have a certain audience: liberal people for whom thinking is an enjoyable pastime, not the devil’s pitchfork, stinging the brain. So why even address his opinions? I doubt I can talk someone into liking country music if it’s not their cup of tea. And I am really, really, really not Kyle Chapman’s cup of oolong. How do I, whose parents and siblings were born in China, whose dad can surgically extract a fish bone with chopsticks, a person who loves yum cha, whose first language was Cantonese -- how do I influence a person who simply can’t stand the sight of me, or my kin (or even Bruce Lee) because our faces pollute his pastoral wonderland? To try change his mind is an exercise in futility. (Kyle, look it up.) You can’t logic someone out of something they didn’t logic into. But to me, the extremists are not the problem. More disturbing than Kyle Chapman and this flaming, street-marching Hero Parade racism, is the racism we don’t notice. The racism of absence. Without wishing to sound all X-Files, look where we’re not. In Middle Earth, where trees can walk and talk, anyone who isn’t white is an Orc. The so-called races -- elves, hobbits, Rohan, dwarves -- they’re not different races. They’re different heights. Of white people. In Shortland Street, set in the New Zealand healthcare system, not one single doctor is Chinese or subcontinental. No Asian doctor, no Indian doctor. Not one. From memory, the last Chinese character was a drug dealer. (And I don’t mean pharmacist.) Sometimes, I watch Robbie Magasiva and pretend his character is secretly Chinese. (Much the way in the TV series Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine was played by that Chinese actor David Carradine.) Should a soap reflect reality? Should Shortland Street resemble Queen St? Or should we accept that Shortland Street is actually science fiction, set in a parallel universe, where all Asian doctors have been wiped out, probably by a killer virus called Chapman’s Cure? How do you fight an absence? Remember Obama’s election campaign? I was in the UK, and in liberal comedy circles, you could sense a nation looking down its nose at these bigoted Americans. How could a black president be such a difficult concept? But the hypocrisy was glaring: how white is British politics? Compared to the faces on the streets of London, the British power structure ranges from, hmmm, cream to ivory. A black prime minister for Britain? Good grief, they’re not ready for a black Doctor Who. That would make their heads pop. Even though Doctor Who travels through time, reincarnates, lives in a Tardis and battles Daleks, the notion that Doctor Who could be anything but white is, well, outlandish. (Quite frankly, with a name like Doctor Who, he really should be Chinese. Casting directors: let’s take a meeting. Doctor Hu?) The absence of Asians in media meant my first Asian role model was Mr Spock. Spock, the Vulcan, was good with computers, inscrutable, and capable of great feats of martial arts. His eyes were arched, his pallor yellow, his haircut a bowl, probably recently emptied of rice. The absence of Asians in media says this: we know you’re there, but we tune you out. As Paul Henry would say, you don’t look like a New Zealander. Ask yourself: Why is it OK for Chinese to own dairies, but not dairy farms?

***** Raybon’s show Awesome $ecrets of Winning Thru £aziness is part of the NZ International Comedy Festival in Wellington from May 17-21. Book at Ticketek.