Howard Morrison Jr's racial and homophobic row

By Aroha Awarau , Wepiha Te Kanawa
  • Auckland

He's known for his smooth talking and big voice. But Howard Morrison Junior struck the wrong chord yesterday when his jokes targeting the Indian and gay communities at the Tāmaki Herenga Waka festival caused outrage.

President of the NZ Indian Central Association Bhikhu Bhana says Morrison's joke that reinforced the stereotype that Indians owned corner dairies, was not very funny.

"Certainly an offence to all the Indian community," he says. "Sort of a resentment and a bit of hurt towards it, in the early years when Indians settled here, they may have had dairies and that's fine, but things have moved on."

Earlier in his performance,  which was attended by about 300 people at the Auckland's viaduct, Morrison also targeted the LGBT community  He jokingly said that one of the male singers was dating "a woman, that's a man" and he made fun of a fellow singer's sexuality.

Toni Dubar of Rainbow Youth, says young people, especially Maori, struggle with acceptance.

"With our young people especially,  when they are looking for role models, and they are not getting it high up in their iwi like Maori public figures, it can really crush what they imagine for their futures," she says. 

Morrison was surprised about the reaction to his jokes. He told Māori Television he's been saying the same jokes for more than 15 years and apologised for any offence taken.

"The Indian joke was targeted towards my ancestral connection because we do have Indian connections in my whakapapa. So more or less telling a joke at my own expense, not anyone else."

In regards to the gay jibes, Morrison says that he was joking around with a fellow singer who is open about his sexuality.

"If you can't say it in public where can you say it," he says. 

Organisers of the Tāmaki Herenga Waka Festival Charmaine Ngarimu of ATEED and Hau Rawiri of the mana whenua steering group say they do not condone the comments made by Morrison.  They have offered to meet with the NZ Indian Central Association and Rainbow Youth. 

"We are disappointed by the offensive nature of some of the remarks made by this performer.  The mana of everyone who attends and takes part in the festival is important to us," the organisers say.