Community Scoop
Network

The Importance of Culture, Identity and Social Connectedness to Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing

tayo-agunlejikaTayo Agunlejika

Executive Director | Multicultural NZ

The Treaty of Waitangi, as a founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand, provides a framework to strive for racial equity, partnership, kindness and fairness. We have made major gains in getting along with each other compared to other OECD, Commonwealth and francophone countries. Notwithstanding, we still have a long way to go in achieving racial justice especially now that we are witnessing foreign cultures and foreign toxic race politics infiltrating our polity, institutions and community – our kiwi culture of respect, DIY and fairness.

Sadly, in recent years we have seen racial prejudice in varying degrees emerging through social media, mainstreamed via our language, our symbols, and our shared patterns of behaviour. Systemic discrimination is another important aspect of the problem. Hate speech is now much more prevalent – and hate speech is now construed as free speech! The question that keeps me awake in the night is how do we overcome racial prejudice and systemic discrimination? What legislation or policies can be developed to drive Diversity, Inclusion and Equality, especially with our young people in schools, in the playground, in sports and at work. It’s hard and very challenging to be told you’re inferior because of your culture or ethnicity.

These issues are real and unfortunately I have begun to prepare my children for the fact that they will surely be bullied because they look different (my son has already experienced it in his grade A soccer team and he struggled to understand why he is being picked on, why he is always sitting on the bench with less game time) and that they have to double their effort in whatever endeavour because their names sound and are spelt different – sad but real!

According to the ‘Education Matters to Me’ report published in 2018 by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the School Trustees Association,  Kiwi kids are experiencing racism from other students and teachers at school. The report found that many students feel they are ‘being treated unequally because of their culture’. I agree with the description of the findings as a “significant and disturbing insight”. Trust young people’s innocence, with no filter, and they will tell you as they see it: “Some teachers are racist. They tell you that you are not going to achieve… this makes me feel angry because it hurts… then we do stupid things and we get blamed,” a Pasifika-background student in an alternative education unit said.

Cultural identity is critical to the well-being and development of our children and young people. It’s hard and confusing enough growing up living in two worlds and not looking the same as the majority. As adults in a position of authority, we should always strive to be inclusive and encourage culturally appropriate policies or institutions. As a country, we do have the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (1990) that provides that people who belong to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities shall not be denied the right to enjoy their culture, practice their beliefs and use their language, as well as the Human Rights Act (1993). And we have international conventions – New Zealand is a signatory to several international treaties that protect people’s rights to participate in their culture and encourage respect for cultural diversity. These include ICERD (on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination), ICCPR (on civil and political rights), ICESCR (on economic, social and cultural rights). In 2007 New Zealand acceded to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention aimed at promoting the diversity of cultural expression.

So, are these primary legislative and policy drivers enough to foster harmonious race relations and to eliminate racism and systemic discrimination? I will argue not, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we should continue to build on them to improve race relations in our society. We should create an environment where the freedom for them to express their culture and identity is not threatened by an individual or institution. Because all children and young people should be able to participate in the culture and values important to them and their families and to feel secure in their identity and because we are witnessing “an increasing proportion of young New Zealand residents born overseas or to parents of different ethnicities” – (Indicators of Wellbeing in New Zealand 2008).

As we encourage and advocate for institutions to make the changes needed, such as a Treaty-based Multicultural policy, I strongly believe that educating and equipping our children and youth to positively express their cultural identity, and providing effective ways to overcome racial prejudices, are essential for their well-being and the country’s GDP in the long term.

Last Saturday 6 April, Multicultural NZ, in collaboration with the Race Unity Speech Awards and the Hutt Multicultural Council organized a hui with the aim of providing a space where young people can contribute to the discourse on race relations. We shared with the young people effective ways of overcoming racial prejudices – a place to STAND, a place to be HEARD, a place to SPEAK and a place to LISTEN…

 

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/