Image: A large crowd gathers at the Basin Reserve in Wellington for a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch shooting.
We are not the Us we imagined we were.
I was asked to write a piece regarding the atrocities on Friday, yet I found myself looking at a blank page for ages. As a writer, I shouldn’t be short of words but that’s how I feel today. Drained of words.
First, I want to send all my love to my Muslim sisters and brothers. As an agnostic, I cannot pretend to speak on your behalf or even comprehend what you are going through. I particularly want to send my deepest condolences to a good friend who lost a family friend on Friday. To her, her family and the family and friends of all of those who perished, I wish you strength and love through this unimaginable time.
I wonder what I can say when given such a platform? I guess I can only reflect on my own feelings and thoughts on Friday’s act of terrorism. Because for me, the personal is always political.
Growing up in New Zealand for me has always been political. Right from the beginning as a six year old I was highly aware of the labels that were either forced on me or that I took on unconsciously. I was an immigrant, a woman, a woman of colour and a person from the Middle East – the “axis of evil” (Bush original); a “shit hole country” (Trump original); and moving to NZ was a “paradise compared to where [I’ve] come from” (Winston Peters original). There was never a time where race and ‘being different’ were not a part of my life.
Anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-PoC sentiments have been around for years and for me, the attack on the Muslim community by a white supremacist is also an attack on all vulnerable communities who have constantly been Othered, marginalised and blamed for everything – from housing to jobs, to extended Kmart lines by those who fear those who do not look like them.
Sometimes the harm is not intentional but misguided. Such is the case with the ongoing mentions of “This is not Us” and the counter “But this IS us!”. That statement cannot be true when the dichotomy of ‘us and them’ still persists. Even a mere two days after the horrible events on Friday, two women wearing hijabs were accosted on a train platform in Auckland. In the UK there were a spike of attacks by assaulters referencing the Christchurch shooting. Fucking swatstikas are being visibly displayed.
I have consistently written about my own experiences of hate that I have had through my years living in New Zealand. In the days since Friday, I have now read multiple instances of hatred that my other immigrant friends have suffered over the years, from racist comments to assaults and even death threats.
“Take [your] PC bullshit to the Taliban and see what they'll do about it."
“There should be a nuclear bomb dropped on all of you trash”
“Don’t bring your Sharia law to peaceful New Zealand!”
“As a recent arrival, perhaps you should use your ears rather than your mouth for a bit” (The ‘you’ is an MP who has been in NZ for 28 years).
I have lived in other major cities around the world, but sadly it is here in Auckland where I continually encounter racism. Sometimes it’s direct: “Go back home to your country” (I’m already there). Sometimes it’s ‘casual’: “Can you stop joking about white people?” (never), “Have your parents lined you up with an arranged marriage?” (I wish). What happened on Friday for me became the catastrophe that all of these micro-aggressions and racism created. This is what could happen if this type of hateful and misguided rhetoric remains unchecked.
This is us because this is humanity. We are consistently afraid of who we do not know and we turn a blind eye to things that do not affect us personally. And yet, since Friday, I have also seen some good. The discussions and debates that were needed badly are now at the forefront. People are mobilising and becoming allies. Just last night a good friend told me how she is set on calling out racism when she sees it and she started by telling off her own mum.
We need to all call it out, call it in and protest it. Speak up when you see it on the street, in the media or even in your own home. Allow those who were not given the chance before to speak up. Reject the endless hate that continually infiltrates our online forums and comments sections (or get rid of them for good). Sign the petitions, vote, and support those who are already fighting it.
We need to do this if we are ever to become the ‘us’ we imagined we always were.Support Villainesse