Friday May 19, 2006
The Race Relations Commissioner is calling on student magazines to be more responsible following protests against the lampooning of Chairman Mao in a publication.
Angry Chinese students protested at Massey University on Wednesday after Mao was featured on the cover of the student newspaper Chaff.
Commissioner Joris De Bres said although the use of Mao's image was clearly an attempt at humour, the context had to be considered.
"In a context where there is discrimination against a lot of Asian people in New Zealand, you have to be careful you don't unwittingly or deliberately feed that."
He said newspaper editors should bear that in mind.
Chinese students have likened the cover to the anti-Muslim cartoons which caused world controversy in February.
Chairman Mao founded the People's Republic of China and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the country. He is still considered by many to be a great spiritual leader and cultural symbol.
Anti-Chinese sentiment has also been expressed in Victoria University's latest student magazine, Salient. Among a table of The Top Five Things to Be Wary Of, Chinese were rated at No 5.
Dogs also featured in the same line-up. It is not known if the dogs featured above or below Chinese.
Chaff editor Matt Russell said Chinese students should be made aware that a good sense of humour is part of Kiwi culture.
Mr De Bres said the problem is when that sense of humour crosses the line - "when stereotypes that manifestly by anecdote, research or observation, experience higher levels of discrimination than others.
"The fact is that at the moment in terms of surveys we've done, Asian people are among those who face the most discrimination in New Zealand," he said.
"Now is not the best time to be exercising your sense of humour."
Mr De Bres said there was no greater case of a stereotype being wrong than with the suggestion that Asian students are bad drivers.
"If you go to the police or Road Safety New Zealand you'll find the stereotypes about Asian drivers do not stack up."