Jack Yan
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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006.



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26.02.2011

Giving our young people a fair go

Earlier this month, I gave a workshop talk to the Leadership and Development Conference for the New Zealand Chinese Association in Auckland.
   I’ve just uploaded the speech notes, and as I did so, I wanted to append a few more thoughts.
   The topic was identity—not just branding, but personal identity.
   My self-critique ex post facto was that I spent insufficient time discussing my mayoral campaign, which, I am told, was the one area the audience wanted to hear more of. In the hour’s space, I spent more of it on the theories behind personal branding.
   It’s not hard to see why the young Chinese New Zealanders who attended this conference wanted to hear more about politics. First up, the title of the conference was a big clue. If you weren’t interested in leadership, you wouldn’t be there.
   Secondly, they’ll have grown up in a far more equal and fair society than I did. Which means they have more opportunities to seek the jobs they want. They won’t be limited by societal expectations and the false stereotypes will be waning.
   While there have been mayors of Chinese ethnicity in New Zealand for the last 40 years, it has only been in recent times that men like Meng Foon and Peter Chin have surfaced and brought a modern face to these positions.
   With the departure of Pansy Wong from Parliament, ‘Asians’ are underrepresented more than ever.
   God knows how many times I have heard the BS line of ‘But Chinese people aren’t interested in politics.’
   Funny, considering China has had politicians for most of the last five millennia and I come from a long line of them.
   And that’s the experience I should have shared more of with the Auckland audience. If we’re to be better represented, then we should be giving young people the courage to do what they want to do.
   If they’re interested in politics, then by all means, they should seize the day, and who gives a damn what their ethnicity is?
   The good news is that I didn’t experience much racism on the campaign trail. Our media were above board on this front, which shows some level of maturity has come into New Zealand society. Bias came in due to politicking in at least one case, but, generally, the fourth estate did well.
   I noticed a couple of instances where my lack of council experience became a talking-point. This is despite three of the last five mayors lacking council experience.
   Considering the structure of Wellington City Council needs fresh eyes to examine it, not being part of the furniture and having a healthy scepticism toward Humphrey Applebys might be a good thing.
   But they were valid concerns for some people, though to be dismissed by a few members of our media because of it means that fresh ideas won’t surface in our society, at least not till the idealism has gone out of them through groupthink and establishmentarianism.
   What would have been worth discussing with the audience was the idea that there will always be forces that try to include and exclude. I’m not pointing fingers because we all do it. The whole debating season I had with my five opponents was about oneupmanship.
   However, it would have been a great exercise to have looked at how they could overcome exclusion in their careers. And without changing their names.
   It would have tied neatly back into my criticism of the Uncle Tom behaviour.
   I apologize for furthering another stereotype: I realize Tom was a far more noble character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin than what people would believe today. I use the term only as a shortcut.
   The behaviour, I am sorry to say, has existed among our own race, too.
   I feel it’s still a concern when I see certain people who buy in to comfortable stereotypes, and use them to shoot down someone. Worse still, when they use them to shoot down someone of their own colour.
   It serves neither the majority nor the minority.
   And given that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders gave me a fair go, you’d hope that we’d have seen an end to the Uncle Tom mentality.
   That would have been a great debate.
   Fortunately, there were equally members of the Kiwi Chinese community who were extremely encouraging toward my candidacy, because they had grown up with racism not unlike my own experience. They tried to redress the balance wherever possible, and I was extremely grateful for that.
   So many used their contacts to make life easier for my campaign—and it was through those and many other efforts that we punched well above our weight. Netting a third of the numbers of the victor on a tenth of the money is no mean feat.
   The good still outweighs the bad when it comes to race, and it can only get better for our young people. If all Kiwis get to do the things they are most passionate about, without prejudices about what they “should” be doing, they will ultimately benefit New Zealand.

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Filed under: branding, culture, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 10.34

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