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Think before you type

It took my husband and me over a year to purchase our first home in Auckland. In that time we went to hundreds of open homes, put in offers that were rejected on about a dozen houses, and bid at and lost three auctions—in two of those we were out-bid only by the winner. We revised first our “would-be-nice” list of what we wanted in a home and then our “have-to-haves” in order to fit our desired price range with the market as it was. I know intimately the frustrations of the Auckland house market, and I read each successive property article with successive interest and depression.

Housing markets (like just about any market) are highly complex things, and I doubt very much that there are any simple answers or any one single solution to the difficulties that plague prospective first-time home buyers especially in Auckland. It’s good that so many people are examining and the market and offering up proposals for how it might run better. This is a debate and discussion worth having.

What it’s not good to see is one particularly ugly strain running through some commentary on the housing market in Auckland: an either latent or overt anti-Asian sentiment.

As I’ve been reading these comments, I’ve been reminded of the Vincent Chen case – a brutal murder in the US from 1982. Chen, a Chinese-American man, was beaten to death with a baseball bat just outside Detroit by two auto-workers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. The American auto industry, which at that time was centred in Detroit, had been experiencing a lot of cut-backs and job losses due to increasing competition from the Japanese auto industry. Witnesses of the murder reported that as Ebens and Nitz exchanged words with Chen, hunted him down, and then beat him, they mistook him for Japanese and repeatedly accused him and “his kind” of destroying their industry and putting themselves and their friends out of work.

As far as I can tell, frustrations at Asian buyers in the Auckland housing market have thus far primarily manifested itself in observations in articles in the news and comments on articles and blog posts—remarks made online, impersonal and often merely reflexive—though it also lies latent in some proposals to tame the market put out by some political parties.

While I understand where the frustrations come from—believe me, I’ve been there—turning that frustration against an entire continent’s-worth of people does no one any favours, and it could even do some people some real harm. Allowing ourselves to listen to and to believe that any totality of people is responsible for our present ills can warp our minds against our fellow men and women. What may begin as seemingly innocuous chatter on a website, can build up to a cultural mentality that may one day be unleashed in violent ways. By complaining that Asian people are buying up too many houses and driving up prices, we are distancing ourselves from the humanity and diversity of Asian individuals and communities. And just as in Detroit over thirty years ago, once we do that, uglier things may ensue. 

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