Is New Zealand sleepwalking towards Jim Crow?



The “enlightened” colonies advocated assimilation. From 1840 to 1960 assimilation was de facto and de jure government policy. 1961 changed that. Well, kind of. Walter Nash received a recommendation that the government shift from assimilation to integration. Changes in family law legislation, Maori education and Maori governance followed. Urbanisation was encouraged.

History is cruel. Integration – and the urbanisation it encouraged – was more successful in weakening Maori culture than the rougher and tougher assimilation could have ever hoped to be. Maori became a visible part of New Zealand society and the roots of the Maori renaissance took hold, but the opportunity cost was severe: the break from traditional support bases and active suppression of Maori culture meant that Maori led the scrum on most negative measures.

Yet integration had its positive qualities; Maori and Pakeha shared neighbourhoods, workplaces*, schools** and town centres. But is that sharing at risk? White flight is leaving neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and town centres one colour – brown.

Class is a proxy for race. Low income areas are becoming almost exclusively brown, higher income areas are becoming almost exclusively white. Remuera West is 88% white (Pakeha and other Europeans) and 4% brown (Maori and Pasifika). Neighbouring Mangere and Otahuhu are 77% brown and 20% white. Ministry of Education figures revealed that 60,000 Pakeha children attended low decile schools in 2000. In 2010 that number had halved coupled with a corresponding increase of Pakeha children at high decile schools. Social mobility? Hardly, real wage growth over that period was minimal. Patrick Walsh, president of the Secondary Principals Association, blamed white flight. The racial and class stigma of low decile schools is driving Pakeha out.

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Why does it matter? It matters because brown areas are more likely to suffer under resourced schools without a “middle class advantage“, have poorer public transport, less public places and dilapidated town centres. Class is a proxy for race and the poorer and browner the less services.

De facto separation is maintained through government and private actions. Selling state homes in gentrified areas and clustering new state housing in traditional areas keeps brown with brown. Refusing to rent homes to non-Pakeha helps maintain ethnic purity in gentrified and traditionally white areas. In a mixed flatting group it’s not uncommon for the brown person to sub off during flat viewings. Social norms help reinforce separation.

New Zealand is better than this. Separation is not the cost of harmony, it’s the antithesis of harmony. Separation becomes self-perpetuating. The poor and brown have less access to job networks, education, transport and they fall further and further behind. Eliminating separation is also, in part, an interest in self-interest. After all, “economic segregation [read racial segregation] spreads crime like a virus”. We’re an enlightened society, let’s start talking about separation.


Post script: the introduction isn’t meant to be a historical canon. It’s the simplified version. History was much uglier in its detail. for further reading see “Integrating the nation: Gendering Maori urbanisation and integration” by Megan Woods.

*It’s argued that one of the rationales of integration was to integrate Maori into the labour market. At the time the New Zealand economy was shifting from its (almost) sole reliance on agriculture to more labour intensive industries, for example the Tasman and Kinleith Mills.

**The Hunn Report claimed that schools were “the nursery of integration”.

***The renting problem is also historical.


  1. It would be nice to see some good Models of Maori community life and Marae held up as well.

    It might be the little things that save this country.

  2. Thanks Morgan, One note of history – Unions were sceptical of Maori in the early years – and vice versa – both thought the other forced down wages. Ahh divide and rule, such a long history in New Zealand.

  3. Worth checking out is the bookThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander which points out that more black men are in prison in the United States than during slavery and how the “War on Drugs” and “Three Strikes” laws are putting them there. Pretty much what is developing here right now. If you want the short version, there’s an excellent interview with Alexander at

  4. This grievance undertone – shackled to tribalism, is a major obstacle to Maori integration on all fronts.
    As a Maori woman I look to our self-appointed Iwi Leaders to broaden our opportunities in the business world using the allocation of Treaty Claim monies. But it would seem their interests lie in participation by the few, for the profit of the few.
    Whanau opportunity on a broad scale can only come about, in the main, through transformational upheaval of the current leadership structures and business models. But it woul

    In my opinion, that is….

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