BLM in Aotearoa: An EDA Perspective

Feature image by Zoe Madden-Smith for Re: News

In late June, tens of thousands of people gathered across Auckland, Wellington and other cities in Aotearoa New Zealand. In each crowd, the same slogans could be seen on hundreds of handmade signs: “Racism is the pandemic”, “No justice, no peace”, and the simple “Black lives matter”.

The story is well-known by now. Protests swept across the United States after the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Events were organised here in support and solidarity, and the Arms Down NZ movement to block armed police in Aotearoa gained much momentum.


BLM protests in Auckland central. Source: Zoe Madden-Smith, Re:News

The movement might feel lightyears away for some here, but if the throngs of people on Queen St and Lambton Quay show us anything, it’s that the ideas resonate just as deeply here. It was a timely spark to light fires under conversations that were already happening — Ihumātao, police reform, the issues coming up in our election.

Another reason that the movement might feel far away is the difference in how racism exists here in Aotearoa New Zealand, for the most part. The day-to-day assumptions, put-downs, and insults faced by Tangata Whenua and black or indigenous people of colour (BIPOC) and underrepresented groups here are known as microaggressions. Dr Satra Browne has experienced living in both the United States and New Zealand, and spoke to Newsroom last month about how “[microaggressions] are well proven to exact a significant psychological toll on recipients, but more importantly they create the base that systemic racism and, worse yet, hate crimes and genocide are built upon.”

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At this point one might ask: “What does any of this have to do with a web development school?” In short, the ripple effects simply don’t stop at the level of the individual. Dev Academy straddles the worlds of education and tech, each with their own issues when it comes to racism.

The UNICEF Innocenti Report 2018 rated New Zealand 33rd out of 38 OECD countries when it came to the gap between the top 10% and bottom 10% of students. Māori students  were 10-20 percentage points behind on key indicators like how long they stayed in school, or NCEA achievement. Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft acknowledges that this is due to “modern systemic bias, and unconscious individual bias…a potent cocktail for ongoing disadvantage for Māori.” 


Source: @ngati_frybread

In June, after teachers at Marist College in Auckland were accused of tearing down Black Lives Matter posters, @ngati_frybread (a Māori Instagram meme account) put out a call for stories about racism in schools. They received thousands of submissions detailing the very real discrimination experienced by BIPOC students in our education system. 

Two years on, we find ourselves asking the same questions of when this story will change.

Kaiarāhi Māori Dougal Stott (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahungunu, and Ngāti Tūwharetoa) talks about changes in this area: “In the fastest growing industry in New Zealand, Māori are here, we belong, and we are the future… the days of “I’ve never been good at maths” or “My teacher said I should be a labourer” are over, my friend.”

Dougal is looking forward to speaking at Ko Māui Hangarau, an event that ‘aims to awaken, inspire and ignite our rangatahi (16 – 24 years), and will help connect them with the innovation ingrained in their DNA.’

“Like anything, it’s a lot easier to dream and envisage yourself working in an industry such as technology if you have a role model,” Dougal says, “someone to look at, someone to learn from, someone to aspire to be. Rangatira who have been there and done that, that have fallen over and got back up, that come from the same background as me — rangatira that look like me. This is what Māori students want, this is what Māori students need.”

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Let’s talk about another well-known story. The tech industry and tech giants worldwide have consistently – and publicly – failed when it comes to building inclusive workplaces where women, BIPOC, LGBTQI and other underrepresented groups can thrive. The majority of people working in and leading tech companies are still white men. This 2019 study of the major tech companies speaks for itself:


Source: Tech Crunch, 2019

Our graduates to date include 40% women and gender minorities, and we have surpassed population parity for students from a Pasifika and Māori background (7% and 17% respectively). How much of this translates to representation in the industry?

Numbers aside, the narrative in the industry has certainly improved. Talk has turned from diversity quotas and vanity metrics, to what it means to be included and truly belong. Dougal Stott talks about this work at Dev Academy, saying “part of my contribution is educating the team and students on Tikanga and Te Reo and its relevance to today’s tech environment. When we grow confidence and knowledge in this area, we grow the industry as a whole, and add to the diversity in design and innovation.”

At Enspiral Dev Academy, we spend a lot of time teaching and learning — with students of course, but also from each other. We talk about our values: whanaungatanga, aroha ki te tangata, manaakitanga, and kaitiakitanga. Our students start off Bootcamp by grounding their learning in IKE (Integrity, Kindness and Effort).

Our mission revolves around bringing diversity into the tech sector, empowering regions with tech skills, and a more sustainable economy. We talk about the progress we want to see in the world at Dev Academy; we are also talking about the role of technology and education in driving that change — for women, Māori and Pasifika, BIPOC, our LGBTQI community.

As Dr. Satra Browne says, “What is becoming clear is that people here, in Aotearoa New Zealand, are protesting not just in solidarity, but also to express their own pain and suffering.” Black Lives Matter, and all other fights against inequality, are tied to so many moving parts: policy, community mobilisation, cultural change. We know that education is power! And as we move forward with a view to transform the world through education, we do so especially for those in our society who feel the least entitled to access it.