Are Cantabs a pack of bigots?

IDEOLOGIES COLLIDE: Members attending the White Pride day come up against those from the Anti-Racist Action in Cathedral Square and then Victoria Square.
IDEOLOGIES COLLIDE: Members attending the White Pride day come up against those from the Anti-Racist Action in Cathedral Square and then Victoria Square.

An ugly offhand remark has prompted another round of Cantabrian soul-searching. Are we racist?

On Sunday night, Fijian-born Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo was with team-mates in a Christchurch bar when a punter had the nerve to call him an "unfit chubby n-----", according to Nadolo's Twitter account.

It sounded familiar. Former Blues player Ben Atiga said that he had experienced similar racism in Christchurch. But like lurid murders, is this the kind of thing people expect of us? Do incidents like this get extra attention simply because it is Christchurch?

Nemani Nadalo
Nemani Nadalo

On Tuesday the Press went in search of public opinion.

Colin Jamieson of Cass Bay was on the corner of London and Oxford streets in Lyttelton.

"Christchurch is a racist city? It's an English settlement and has inherited English culture but I've not seen any evidence of it personally. I think it's often created for us from the outside."

Take the stereotypical racist skinheads in Gaylene Preston's Hope and Wire series. Jamieson saw that as an example of an outsider lacking sensitivity when telling a Christchurch story.

It was too early for a beer, but the Irish Pub in Lyttelton promised to be good for an opinion. "It can be racist, but not as much as Auckland," said bar manager Lesley Pearce.

Two women were sitting outside a bakery on Ferry Rd, Woolston. Neither wanted their name in the paper. One was Pakeha and the other "Maori and European".

Is Christchurch racist? Definitely.

The Maori woman had not experienced racism personally but had seen it happen. And she thought it had got worse. Why?

"Life's just got worse. It's harder than it was in the 1970s and 80s."

A little further along Ferry Rd, an unnamed Pakeha woman argued that "it's pretty redneck". She asked, "Doesn't Christchurch have the most intravenous drug users and the most skinheads?"

Whether that is myth or fact, the persistence of it says much about local attitudes.

We started talking about whether all Pakeha are at least slightly racist, even if they are unaware of it. We all carry stereotypes around with us.

"I'd rather have Asians next door than Pacific Islanders," she said. "Asians are more likely to be employed and to tidy their sections."

Eastgate Shopping Centre was the most ethnically diverse location on this short Christchurch tour. It is also "the official mall of the Crusaders", although few seemed to know that.

Mitchell was Pakeha, in his 20s and had just came back from Australia. Racism was worse there with all that talk about "Abos".

A Samoan woman shopping with her adult daughter had lived in Christchurch for 30 years.

"I hope it isn't [racist]," she said. "I haven't come across it."

She had not seen any personally? She blinked. "We try not to take notice of it."

An Englishman named Alan Clease sat in a parked car with a small dog on his lap. He had been in Christchurch since 1987.

"I've never noticed it," he said. "From what we hear on the news, Christchurch is less racist than the UK."

Go west. Merivale Mall was the least diverse spot on this tour and it offered the two rudest brush-offs. Again, stereotypes became reality.

Carl Seaward was friendly, but he actually lived in Hornby. Did he think Christchurch is racist?

"Personally not. A select few, perhaps, but in general, no."

Seaward was more interested in talking about his "winter wonderland" on Shands Rd. It is a fundraiser for his wife's full time care and opens in late November: "Bring the kids, they'll love it!"

Courier Dan Brown had read the Nadolo story in the Press. He was well-briefed.

"I have a few friends who are internationals living here," he said. "They find we are open to different races, colours or cultures. It only takes one F-word to ruin it."

His friends are "Black American, Afro-English and Brazilian" and "two of them have finely-tuned noses for people that have that viewpoint".

On the quiet University of Canterbury campus, philosophy student David Yates gave the subject a lot of thought.

"A good question," he said. "I think it is. It's a universal thing. Australia, particularly, is racist.

"I don't think we're as bad as Auckland. They're struggling with the concept [of multi-culturalism]."

How about the stereotypes? Take the cliched skinheads. He also thought of Hope and Wire.

"I was really surprised by that. Skinheads are annoying, stupid and a problem but not a threat to our way of life. I thought it was a bit cheap."

He suspected that a local writer or director would have focused on the economic and political issues that came out of the earthquakes, not easy racist images.

"What's racist?" asked mature law and commerce student Earl Robinson. "I think we're proud of our history. If you went to Dunedin, you'd have a certain psyche. Here it's very English.

"Any environment where you have a certain norm, people become used to that norm and are suspicious of something they don't consider to be normal."

Putting aside the offensive N-word, he had another question about that Nemani Nadolo quote.

"Why would you call him unfit?"

The Press