Monday, January 16, 2012

Looking for the brown underclass

Every Child Counts has released a report, He Ara Hou, which looks at the health, education and other disparities between Maori and Pasifika children. The numbers are shocking, and there is no doubt New Zealand needs to take a long hard look at how it supports Maori and Pasifika children as compared to, say, middle-class baby boomers receiving significant tax breaks on investment housing.
While we think it is good that ECC has published the report, which largely fingers poverty as the key issue for the less than acceptable outcomes for so many Maori and Pasifika children, we were somewhat startled by the claim that "New Zealand is developing a brown social underclass". More - much more - on this to follow, but our curiosity having been tweaked, we went to one of our favourite haunts, downtown Otahuhu, in search of the brown underclass. What might be the distinguishing features of such a group? How might they reveal themselves to the world?
We chose Otahuhu for two reasons. The first is that Otahuhu is Very Excited about the Rugby World Cup. So there's lots of people on the street entertaining, and being entertained. The other is that Otahuhu is a decile one neighbourhood. At the last census only about 30% of the population was European, the average income was well below the national median, only about 30% of households had internet access, and there are high rates of benefit receipt. A perfect place to look for the brown underclass. So what did we find?
The main street of Otahuhu, jammed with cars festooned with the flags of various rugby-playing nations, but mostly Tonga. Try to imagine all of these cars honking at each other to get an idea of the noise.


Here's a purposeful young man carrying a large Samoan flag.


"Brown" can be difficult. It can range from tangata whenua with olive skin with green eyes to the very dark skins of North African immigrants. Some of that variation can be seen in this small group of young people enjoying the entertainment.

And here's the entertainment. Photo taken from behind to protect the identity of these shy young women. Were any of these people part of or representative of the brown underclass? We have no idea. The only obvious marker was the hoodie, and these are ubiquitous. Even white people wear them. Our mission was a failure.