TODAY |

Taika Waititi challenges teachers to 'unteach racism' in effort to address prejudice

Channelling his own childhood experiences, acclaimed filmmaker Taika Waititi is calling on teachers to help stomp out racial prejudice in schools. 

He’s partnered up with the New Zealand Teaching Council’s latest campaign, hoping to "unteach racism" and the stereotypes inflicted on children from a young age. 

In the video, the Oscar award-winning director shares the story of his eight-year-old self having to be taught “harsh lessons” about discrimination. 

Young Taika Waititi was accused of sniffing glue, stealing lunches and told his darker complexion was because he didn’t bathe enough. 

He says teachers questioned his ability to thrive in English-heavy subjects and his aspirations to work in the entertainment industry. 

“I know your English teacher said he wasn’t expecting much of your English because you’re not English but I like your stories,” he shared. 

“You’ve been made to believe that you’re not trustworthy, you’re trouble, that you won’t add up to much but you’ll prove them wrong.” 

Waititi goes on to pay homage to two teachers he says help dispel the cultural stereotypes and racial bias that society had imposed on him. 

“They made sure I learned all of that so I wasn’t left to believe all of that crazy stuff that society teaches kids about race.”

He’s hoping to inspire teachers to lead the charge in combating racism by encouraging children of ethnic minorities to not let bias hold them back from reaching their full potential. 

“As teachers, you’ve got the real-life ability to make a difference for kids in the face of racism … you have the power to unteach racism. Will you?

There are so many things their benevolent and successful selves would love to go back and unteach them but you’re the ones who can do it in real-time.” 

It’s not the first anti-racism campaign that Waititi has campaigned for, after working alongside the Human Rights Commission’s "Give Nothing to Racism" project.

By encouraging teachers to take up the goal of un-teaching discrimination, the Teaching Council has launched a series of tools to aid teachers around the country. 

Council CEO Lesley Hoskin says the campaign aims to help teachers identify and confront racial bias. 

“It might feel scary or uncomfortable at times but it’s incredibly important teachers have the support to learn about this difficult subject,” she says. 

“Many teachers are already doing so much to celebrate diversity and ensure children and young people feel they belong and are valued; crucial factors for success.”

Through the unteach racism website and app, educators are provided with a range of resources to help them further their understanding of the impact of racial bias.