Meng Foon wants Kiwis to become 'anti-racists'

By Bronson Perich

The latest campaign from the Human Rights Commission tries to help people understand the effect of racism on its victims.

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon is hoping Kiwis will see that racism is everywhere and they will join the fight to destroy racism.

"Be an anti-racist," Meng Foon says.

"Every time you hear people say inappropriate things say, 'Hey, you need to stop that. That's actually harmful towards people'."

Learning te reo at a fruit shop

Foon grew up in Tairāwhiti. His family, from southern China, ran a fruit and vegetable shop that would later become his first reo classroom.

"At least 60 percent of our customers were Māori from the surrounding farms," Foon says.

"From the East Coast, from shearing gangs and they used to speak Māori to us."

As his customers furthered nurtured him in te reo, he became a fluent speaker. 

Learning te reo helped Foon improve his understanding of Māori people, tikanga and kawa. Foon has used this understanding in his roles first as Gisborne mayor and now race relations commissioner.

Foon says racism, especially structural racism, has been in Aotearoa for a long time but he isn't letting up on the fight.