Teen study finds discrimination is widespread

17:00, Sep 20 2013
Tawa College students
HAPPY TOGETHER: These Tawa College students say stereotypes exist, but ethnicity isn't really talked about at school. From left, Monica Caballes, 14, Jenna Gotlieb, 14, Mika Apineru, 13, and Nevada Ross, 13

Pride and privilege mingle with guilt for Pakeha teens in a study that shines a light on ethnic attitudes.

Researchers have found teens felt hemmed in by stereotypes, disliked assumptions made about their race and wished adults would stop being so close-minded.

Pakeha teens can feel embarrassed about past treatment of Maori, but wish they could like hip-hop without seeming try-hard.

Meanwhile, Maori and Samoan students felt more happy about and connected to their culture, while Pakeha and Chinese teens - while proud to be New Zealanders - did not think their culture was as special.

Teenagers have spoken out about how they feel about their ethnicity, in a new study published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology - with results that are both startling and insightful.

The study highlighted the importance of parents speaking to kids about their racial identity, and teachers confronting the topic, researcher Dr Melinda Webber said.


"We need to talk to kids about what ethnicity is, what racism is, how they are going to encounter it in their lives and buffer it. These kids are discriminated against every day."

The Auckland University study involved 695 year 9 teenagers from five multi-ethnic Auckland schools. The schools had decile rankings ranging from 3 to 9.

Students were asked to anonymously describe what they liked or disliked about being Maori, Pakeha, Chinese or Samoan.

Pakeha teens felt proud to be Kiwi, and acknowledged the privileges of being part of the dominant culture: "I get treated better by the authorities", and "not being considered different ... blending in", two people wrote.

But they disliked the stereotype of their group as "racist" and felt bad about the "terrible things" their ancestors had done to Maori.

Other negative aspects included being perceived as weak, and that Pakeha "can't be very gangster", and if they do like hip-hop they get called "wiggers - white n".

Maori teens were proud of their indigenous culture, language and kapa haka, showing a sense of pride. "It's just cool being a Maori."

But their culture also made them a target for racism, and they thought it was unfair they were "mocked" and thought of as lazy, stupid and getting preferential treatment.

Dr Webber said all groups reported experiencing, engaging in, or witnessing racism. While Pakeha in multicultural schools experienced racism, this stopped at the school gates.

For other young teens, it continued outside - and it was the discrimination by adults that hurt the most, she said.

One Maori respondent had said: "When we go to the shops after school, I'm the only one who gets asked to leave my bags at the door".

"As the adults, we are the ones who do the most damage to our kids," Dr Webber said.

The study also bucked overseas trends. International research has shown dominant cultures feel positive about their identity, which linked to how well they did at school. But here, it was the opposite.

The Pakeha and Asian teens didn't feel as connected but achieved higher, while Maori and Pasifika felt better about their culture but performed worse.


When Monica Caballes got into one of the top classes at Tawa College, no-one was surprised.

"They were like 'Oh yeah, of course you are, you're Asian'," Monica, 14, said yesterday, rolling her eyes.

Her classmate Nevada Ross, 13, starts to laugh.

"Yeah it's the opposite for me," he says.

"People are like 'I'm surprised you're in that class - isn't that where all the smart kids are?' "

Monica is of Filipino descent; Nevada is Maori. They say stereotypes about Asians being clever and Maori slacking off definitely exist.

Their friends Jenna Gotlieb, 14, NZ European, and Mika Apineru, 13, Tokelauan, agree there are pros and cons to every ethnicity.

But they don't really think about their racial identity, and have never spoken about it in classes at school.

"I don't have a culture," Jenna said.

"I mean, I'm just a New Zealander."

She guessed it was good being part of the majority but couldn't really think of any other positives, so Monica helped.

"It's so much easier for them to fit in, just socially it's easier," she said.

"The thing is no matter how much your friends are cool with it or whatever, you're always going to know there's something different."

Some students at school did stick to friends who were only their ethnicity, but mostly everyone was cool, Nevada said.

'There's always going to be that group of kids who look down on another culture."



Pros: Part of majority group, feel normal and blend in, not stereotyped and targeted for racism, like being a New Zealander.

Cons: Unfair reputation of being racist, teased for being white, guilty about past, frustration with being boring.


Pros: Feel proud about being tangata whenua, have own language, oral traditions and kapa haka.

Cons: Mocked and negatively stereotyped, people think you are dumb and will drop out of school, media shows Maori as violent or criminal.


Pros: Culture is celebrated at events like Pasifika festival, there is a strong emphasis on family and values, have own language.

Cons: Expectations to act like "gangsters," or be dumb and "fresh off the boat." Strict culture and always have to hang out with family.


Pros: Have very different culture, delicious food, a rich heritage, and focus on education and achievement.

Cons: Stereotyped as "brainy" and one-dimensional, being "dissed" about driving and eating cats and dogs. Strict parents.

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