Michelle Boag says racism debate's been 'instructive'

JASON DORDAY/Stuff.co.nz

We asked shoppers at the Mad Butcher's Manukau store what they thought about the argument between Sir Peter Leitch and Lara Bridger.

Sir Peter Leitch's spokeswoman Michelle Boag became part of the story when she tried to defend the Mad Butcher's "white man's island" comments.

Now she said she realised she had engaged in casual racism herself.

While speaking to media, Boag said the woman who accused Leitch of racism, Lara Bridger, was "barely coffee coloured".

Peter Leitch's publicist Michelle Boag has learned from the debate over casual racism, which she managed to embroil ...
FAIRFAX NZ

Peter Leitch's publicist Michelle Boag has learned from the debate over casual racism, which she managed to embroil herself in.

The prominent Auckland public relations specialist and former president of the National Party told Maori TV that Leitch had not racially profiled Bridger.

READ MORE:
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Maori woman 'barely coffee-coloured', says Sir Peter Leitch's spokeswoman
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However, she later said her remarks had been misconstrued.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says Sir Peter Leitch may not have intended his comments to Lara Bridger to ...
SHANE WENZLICK/PHOTOTEK

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says Sir Peter Leitch may not have intended his comments to Lara Bridger to be racist, but they became another example of casual racism in New Zealand.

"[Maori TV] took my response out of context," she said.

"They did not report that I made that comment purely in response to her saying, 'he made a beeline for me because I was black'.

"I said 'that's a ridiculous comment, she's barely coffee-coloured'."

New Zealand Race Relations commissioner Susan Devoy refused to be interviewed over the phone but released a written ...
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand Race Relations commissioner Susan Devoy refused to be interviewed over the phone but released a written statement to media explaining the ins and outs of casual racism.

When asked by NZME whether she planned to apologise to Bridger she said: "[Lara Bridger's] a very attractive colour - and I aspire to a tan like that every year".

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Boag said she would not have made said it as an "official comment".

On Thursday, Boag said she never intended to cause offence but now understood her comments were an example of casual racism.

"I made a flippant comment," she said.

Boag said before the saga she didn't know what "casual racism" was.

In the fallout over the Leitch saga, Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy explained that casual racism often occurred when a person made a comment they didn't intend to be racist or offensive but was.

Initially, Devoy said Leitch was the "least racist person" she knew. She later condemned his comments as "casual racism".

"The thing about so-called casual racism is that it doesn't feel very casual if it happens to you or your family as Lara [Bridger] has shown us," she said.

Devoy also criticised Boag's comments, saying they were "out of line".

"This is quite an ignorant thing to say, someone's skin colour has nothing to do with anyone else except that person. Your colour doesn't define your ethnicity or your culture."

Boag said the situation, and Devoy's comments, had been "instructive".

"Previously it never would have occurred to me that this was a racist comment.

"There's no way I'm racist."

Boag said she "looked after" a Samoan family and there was no way they'd call her racist.

After having the "benefit" of reading Devoy's comments about casual racism, she'd come to understand that even if you did not intend to offend anyone or be racist, casual racism could occur when someone else regarded the remarks as racist.

When asked whether Leitch had taken the same learnings from the debate, Boag responded "I don't think you're going to change Sir Peter's personality".

Boag is also sticking by her plan of learning Te Reo in 2017.

When asked what risk she planned to take in 2017 as part of a Sunday Star Times new year article, Boag said, "Given more time, and the resources that it would require, I would like to learn Te Reo, but don't hold me to it, because I thought that last year too".

Boag said thos resolution was still on the agenda and she had been looking up the options.

"It's just a question of time," she said.

 - Stuff

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