Steve Davis reflects on how Pākehā can join together as allies for responding against prejudice and racism in New Zealand.

Often from a Western, ‘white lens’ approach you can hear people say racism doesn’t exist today, but I strongly disagree with that perspective.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I’ve witnessed prejudice and racism all my life. I’ve seen this in both Western and Asian countries.

Racism can no longer be denied or ignored. In New Zealand, the Humans Rights Commission has launched a campaign to respond to reports of racist taunts towards the Asian community during the COVID-19 pandemic.And the murder of George Floyd caused a world-wide backlash against racism, with many Western countries’ streets filled with protests.

Carmen Parahi, in a recent article on Stuff, commented, “The global #BlackLivesMatter campaign, the terrorist attack in Ōtautahi Christchurch, overwhelming evidence of systemic racism in the health and justice systems has put everyone on notice, racism can no longer be tolerated.”1

“Nā te kaupapa o #BlackLivesMatter i te ao, nā te whakatoke a te kaiwhakatuatea i Ōtautahi, nā te inati o ngā taunakitanga mō te kaikiri ā-whakahaere i ngā pūnaha o te hauora me te ture kua whakatūpatohia te katoa, ā, kua kore te kaikiritanga e tukuna kia rere tonu.”

Pākehā need to be involved

So what preliminary perspectives can I share as an immigrant Pākehā male to assist our own understanding? How does the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement connect with us here in Aotearoa New Zealand? And what resources can help us gain a greater understanding serving as Pākehā allies in the bicultural journey?

I’ve appreciated Michelle Obama’s recent comment that it’s up to all of us, not just people of colour, to deal with racism.3

There seems to be a convergence of saying all races need to be involved. Observing media coverage both here and in the USA, it seems one distinctive common denominator on these protests is the greater involvement of white people in the protests.

For once the high-profile Anglo athletes in the USA are also making statements (e.g. the ESPN coverage on people like Tom Brady). So protesting is not just a black thing, but encompasses a wider part of the community, especially woke white people.

Looking at the media coverage of our own protests here in New Zealand, I’ve noticed the same dynamic. Add to this the recent coverage of Generation Z as being mobilised and uncompromising in their protests against racism, climate change and housing (plus seeing them interconnected holistically), younger generations are actively calling and being involved in change—a calling for Pākehā allies in this movement!

Listening, not overwhelming, other voices

In the past eight years, I’ve had the privilege of working hard with others amongst the wider Baptist family to increase acceptance and belonging for, and to enable contributions from, our 70+ EMR churches (ethnic/migrant/refugee—noting that Pākehā is an ethnic group as well!). I’ve learned so much in relating to many of the migrant groups and cultures now living here.

But racial reconciliation is a new space for me, with a different mindset and vocabulary, so I’ve been reading a lot and reflecting on this topic. I have constant conversations with David Moko, kaihautū of Manatū Iriiri Māori, about cultures, race and racism. I’m definitely not an expert in this space, but see myself as a humble learner. I need to really listen to other voices who have experienced racism in everyday life.

But now I find myself asking myself questions which many have been asking all along. How can Pākehā people in New Zealand become more racially aware and mobilised, and not have this as simply a Black/ Māori/migrant movement?

In the USA, the Sunday morning service is the most racially segregated hour of the week. The apathy, silence and denial of racism by the white evangelical churches is well documented. How are we different here? How can Pākehā evangelical churches actually move from apathy to being engaged and involved?

Doing the hard mahi

People of colour are often exhausted with being the ones primarily asked to be someone’s learning source. So Pākehā have to be responsible for our own learning and reflection.

Having said that, having others who are on the journey and processing what is being shared can be really helpful for life change—becoming a bridge person/champion for change and advocacy.

Here are some initial readings to start with:

Having hard conversations

Much of the power of racism is invisible—attitudes and values that one may have acquired in their childhood. These often are unconscious until expressed in an encounter with a person different from yourself.

Becoming self-aware of one’s deep ‘stuff’ that can sometimes be expressed in ugly ways is painful. I did this many times living in Chinese culture, which exposed many of my unwholesome Western attitudes! However, it is a critical and personal part of the journey of reconciliation.

Standing in solidarity—but not our story

Freeman Apou, in an article published on Stuff in July 2020, said the following.7 “The Black Lives Matter campaign has been one of the most effective movements to bring race relations to the forefront of discussions; because race is important; because black/brown and other coloured lives and experiences do matter.”7

BLM touches and identifies with the pains of racism in many countries. It has also stirred many hearts here in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, it is not our story. We do share the consequences of colonialism, but we do not have a 400-year history of slavery. My Māori friends have asked their kaumātua for their opinions, and this has been their answer as well.

Reflections and resources from the USA can help in building understanding and awareness of prejudice and racial issues. However, we have our own bicultural journeys and pathways to pursue in the engagement towards racial reconciliation, based upon Te Tiriti Waitangi.

I suggest here is our starting point—not starting to interpret racism through an Afro-American lenses from the USA. I recommend reading “Reducing racism against Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand”.8

Movements in New Zealand

  • Connecting with faith and interfaith communities. This is a government initiative to network agencies and a wide diversity of religious faith communities with the government, with the objective of growing a socially inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand to counter racism, discrimination and religious intolerance.
  • Superdiversity Institute. During our recent lockdown I participated in a massive Zoom meeting entitled #BehindtheMask, with over 300 people registering. The Superdiversity Institute issued a press release about the issues discussed.9 You may also have seen Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon’s opinion piece in the NZ Herald about COVID-19 being no excuse for racism. 10 We, along with the Human Rights Commission, will create a Superdiversity framework of issues COVID-19 raises for the country’s economic, social, environmental and community wellbeing to share with government, business, schools and the community.
  • Note that the wider society is seeing racial reconciliation as a social priority, and we believe that churches gathered around the Lordship of Christ are best prepared for this reconciliation!

The challenges ahead

I recently came across a quote from Sonya Renee Taylor that I’ve adopted in my multicultural ministry space for this season of navigating COVID-19: “We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all humanity and creation.” A time of perhaps deconstruction and reconstruction, as indigenous peoples reclaim their proper space and voice in our Western countries?

Here are some ideas and reflective questions I ponder about and ask myself. Maybe you might like to consider them too?

  • “Be the change you want to see” – build one’s own cultural awareness, and identify one’s own blind spots when it comes to prejudice and racism. Building an anti-racist posture IS discipleship!
  • Am I aware of the bicultural journey, and the principles and benefits of the Te Tiriti O Waitangi for both Pākehā and Māori? Are you aware what we and other Baptist churches have committed ourselves to? Please read the 2018 Baptist Affirmation Statement to the bicultural journey, as a follow on to the Hui visit to Parihaka in 2017.
  • Daily work on justice—an exercise on “What can I do for justice today? When am I working in my ‘white privilege’ mode to gain my own advantage in a given situation? How do I alter that behaviour for a more righteous and fair outcome?”
  • Am I in culturally diverse relationships, knowing and respecting cultures and world views other than my own? As a parent, are my kids seeing us as a family in culturally diverse relationships, and seeing that as normative and inspiring?
  • Who am I voting into political and other spheres of leadership? What are their values and attitudes towards cultural diversity and racism?
  • When do I call out racist behaviours in ways that encourage learning and change? What movements can I be a part of to advocate for societal change?
  • In the spheres of where I have influence, in what ways does the Lord direct me “to be the change that I want to see”? How can I be a change agent for the faith community that I’m a part of?
  • As a pastor, do I read books from authors outside my own cultural identity?
  • As a faith community, in what ways are we moving as a community towards anti-racist values, attitudes and behaviours?

A final prayer

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.”11

Thanks for reading this, and may we all work together to bring that greater dimension of inclusion, belonging, and mutual contributing to one another’s lives!

Contributor: Steve Davis

Steve is the national team leader for Baptist Multicultural Inclusion Ministries. He and his wife Lyn have spent 39 years in ministry in three continents, and have been doing cross‑cultural ministry for the last 26 years. Their last two church plants in the past decade, Macau and Auckland, have also been intentionally culturally diverse.


  1. “Elevating the mana of Aotearoa – Pou Tiaki will help boost Māori voices,” Carmen Parahi: Stuff,–pou-tiaki-will-help-boost-maori-voices.
  2. “Human Rights Commission launches new campaign after Asian discrimination reports during Covid-19 pandemic,” Irra Lee: 1News,
  3. “Michelle Obama: It’s up to everyone to root out racism,” Leah Asmelash: CNN,
  4. “The Undergirding Factor is POWER: Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism,” Caleb Rosado: EdChange,
  5. “Racial Reconciliation May Not Be What You Think It Is,” Rich Villodas: Missio Alliance,
  6. “12 Books to Help Christians Develop an Anti-Racism Perspective,” Faithfully Magazine,
  7. “’Doing well for a Māori’: My experience of racism in New Zealand,” Freeman Apou: Stuff,
  8. Sylvia Pack, Keith Tuffin, Antonia Lyons, “Reducing racism against Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand,” New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 45 No. 3 (2016): 30-40.
  9. “Be Kind to Everyone Because Behind the Mask – We Are All the Same,” Superdiversity Institute,
  10. “Meng Foon: Covid 19 coronavirus fear no excuse for racism,” Meng Foon: NZ Herald,
  11. “Daily Prayer for April 3, 2015,” Daily Prayer: Forward Movement,