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What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when you treat another person unfairly based on something about them that's different to you or your group, or at least something you believe to be different. It can happen both in people's public and private lives.

Acts of discrimination often have negative impacts, making the person affected feel unsafe and unable to express themselves, as well as damaging their mental health. A common example of discrimination is racism, which is when a person or group of people believe that their race is better than another. Racism often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on the colour of their skin or ethnicity.

While discrimination is unfortunately experienced by people every day, it isn’t the case every time you treat someone differently. There are times when you need to take account of someone’s culture or set of beliefs, such as a specific Māori practice, that require you to be considerate and mindful of their custom.

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How can people be discriminated against?

Now we’ve quickly looked at what discrimination actually is, let’s move on to some of the things people can be discriminated against for. As well as your race, other examples include your:

  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Gender identity
  • Sexuality
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Employment status

Living in a society like Aotearoa New Zealand you will probably come across people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s important you think about what these differences mean, and make sure you aren’t treating someone in a certain way just because they are different to you.

Colonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand

In modern Aotearoa New Zealand, racial discrimination, or racism, is grounded in our history of colonisation. When settlers arrived from Europe, many thought that they were better than the Māori already living here, and used this to justify some pretty awful things. Some of these ideas still affect Aotearoa New Zealand today.

For a visual look at how the colonisation of Aotearoa New Zealand has had an effect on racial discrimination in particular, click on the TKI link below and download the text to the Te Tiriti o Waitangi comic.

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How can we address discrimination?

The first step in addressing discrimination is to recognise the seriousness of the problem. The reality is that although Aotearoa New Zealand sees itself as fair and tolerant, discrimination still affects workplaces, education, people’s attitudes, law and other parts of our daily life.

Having empathy, being able to understand what another person is experiencing, is an important part of challenging this. If we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes and start to understand things as they do, it will help them feel respected and valued in society.

There are also some laws in place to try and protect people from discrimination. One of them, the Human Rights Act 1993, protects people from being discriminated against in their public life.

Under the Act, it is illegal for discrimination to affect your:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Access to public services
  • Access to housing
  • Partnerships

Confronting discrimination is something we should all be doing, and shouldn’t just be left to the person or group suffering. However, if you feel like you are being discriminated against then there are options available to you to complain.

For an overview of what those options are, check out this New Zealand Government link:

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Key websites

  • Community Law: The Community Law website is the official home of the Community Law Centres across Aotearoa New Zealand, which aim to provide free legal help to people throughout the country.
  • Human Rights Commission: The Human Rights Commission works to help protect the rights of all types of people in Aotearoa New Zealand. They look at rights both in work and in your everyday life.
  • YouthLaw Aotearoa: YouthLaw Aotearoa is a community law centre which provides free legal help to children and young people under 25. Their website contains useful information in relation to your rights.
  • E-Tangata: Committed to building a greater Māori and Pasifika presence in our media, E-Tangata is a great website to check out to get to the heart of what it means to be Māori or Pasifika in Aotearoa New Zealand, and often publishes pieces about racism, discrimination, colonisation and identity.