The other globalisation which will make us over

We are used to globalisation now. We surrender assets to foreigners. China makes more and more “New Zealand” goods. We bought our houses on Japanese housewives’ money. We get music off the internet. On balance we are richer for it.

There is another globalisation: of people — fleeing poverty and catastrophe, hunting riches. Are we, will we be, the richer for that?

Some 12 per cent of the United States’ population was born outside its borders and 15 per cent will be by 2025 and 19 per cent by 2050, a Pew Research Centre study reckons. Politicians are floundering.

Some 200 million people — roughly 3 per cent of the world’s total — are estimated to live outside the country they were born in. That number is rising.

Our society of 4.3 million imports 80,000 people a year and exports 70,000, give or take 10,000 on each side of the equation in any one year. That large churn is changing us.

The annual race relations report issued today will remind us how far we have come from the “Britain of the south” in which a born-here New Zealander over 40 grew up.

That society, the society of 1968, was comfortably homogeneous.

There were Maori, and they had moved into the towns, but almost everyone who was not Maori thought Maori had adopted modern — meaning white western — lifestyles and mores.

There were Pacific islanders, cutting scrub and working in factories. But they were few and would surely also adjust in time. Asians were very few.

Now those who identify as Maori are one in seven, as Asian one in 11 and as Pacific one in 15. Those proportions are far above the 1968 figures and they are growing.

The race relations report underlines this change in our “ethnic” makeup by citing the census, school and birth figures which put Maori at 15 per cent of the general population but 22 per cent of school children and 29 per cent of live births. Pacific peoples were 7 per cent, 9 per cent and 15 per cent. Asians were 9 per cent (triple the 1991 figure), 8 per cent and 11 per cent.

The higher numbers for babies and children suggest we are becoming more racially “diverse”, to use the jargon. We are also more diverse in religion and custom (or culture), which often go with ancestry.

Don’t assume ethnic identification always defines boundaries. Migrants’ children can migrate from the minority to the majority. One in nine of us call ourselves “ethnic” “New Zealanders”. And we are mixing, so the raw self-identification numbers overstate diversity.

If you tell census takers you have two “ethnicities” both are recorded. The resultant total in the 2006 census is 110 per cent of the actual population. The births total is 125 per cent. The school total, calculated differently, is 100 per cent.

These super-100 per cent figures tell us, the race relations report will say, that 10 per cent of us have more than one ethnic ancestry but 25 per cent of babies do. We are mixing up, especially those of us who are brown.

Nevertheless, we are in fact more “diverse”. And that makes “race relations” important. If we divide on “race” — and religion and custom — we will not prosper. When “others” were small minorities they had to fit in. When “others” are numerous they can separate out.

In his report today Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres includes a “draft statement on race relations” which he has been testing in a variety of forums. A finished version will be issued later this year.

De Bres expects it will be rewritten from time to time, changing as we change.

We have changed, from our fancied “best race relations in the world” in 1968 via recognition of a need for de Bres’s office to biculturalism in 1998, with multiculturalism in the wings as globalising Asian and other “ethnics” arrived in growing numbers. We will change.

The race relations report will quote opinion poll figures recording “race relations” as the top “issue” from 2002 to 2004. By 2006 it was sixth. Last year it had not just dropped off the list of 10 “issues” but topped the list of issues we are most optimistic about.

If the poll figures truly represent public attitudes, they chart an astonishing turnaround. But work is still to be done.

The flipside of diversity is commonality. De Bres’s draft statement does talk of “common ground” on race relations but much of the focus is on minority rights vis-�-vis the majority. It talks of inclusiveness but states that Maori are the people of the land.

Of course, minorities have rights in a society such as ours. Those rights are human rights, common to all. They need underpinning — de Bres is right on that — but they are not special or separate.

They amount to the right to belong. We all have individual and group interests and distinct ancestry and heritage. But to belong, there must be true common ground, agreed core customs and mores, a majority. And we must all be people of this land.

Making such common ground in a world of footloose peoples might develop into our most important globalisation challenge.