You’ll never know your strength until you’ve faced your struggles. No letters in the alphabet can even come close however to the struggles we as a country have faced over the past few weeks. Our Muslim community whose hearts are aching. And not only in Christchurch but across the nation. Because an attack on one is an attack on us all. That’s how we’re feeling right now.
After this terrible tragedy, let’s be honest for once white privilege is a part of us, a dark power in the underbelly.
And every now and then it flashes out in actions that are simply terrifying, like the shootings in Christchurch.
The warning signs for this atrocity were everywhere, if only we’d looked – or listened or took some responsibility.
Normalising hatred and casual racism contributed to that one person feeling like they were representing the thoughts of ordinary New Zealanders.
The fact that so many of the victims survived ISIS, long treks to safety, and subsistence living in refugee camps only to die at the hands of a terrorist here in Aotearoa should shame us all. Because hatred lives in New Zealand. And last month it walked around the streets of Christchurch with an automatic weapon.
It feels like we were all attacked that day. But it’s not true, only some of us were. Part of me feels like this too, that somehow the very fabric of who we are as a country was attacked. In the aftermath of this terrible event our natural instinct as onlookers make us feel like this, and at some higher symbolic level I believe this is true.
But this is not about symbols or metaphors or any of that. The some of us that were attacked on that fateful day have been the subject of these attacks for years.
The outpouring of grief and genuine support for these victims and their families and for the Muslim community as a whole is the only thing that helps many of us to feel anything other than horror. And our response in Aotearoa reflects truly the best of us, the beaming heart of who we should all aspire to be. We all grieve for these families, it’s like an ache inside of us compelling us to a sense of action and wanting to help, do anything.
It’s the harder work now that lies ahead of us. The bitter truths we must face now as a country if we are to make real all of the good sentiments of recent months. People are looking for quick answers and quick solutions – asking of the intelligence services about how we did not see this coming and what could have been done, that the Crusaders should change their name or that it never happens in New Zealand, but the answers are within ourselves.
The uncomfortable truth here is that many communities have long had to endure the hateful and hurtful barbs of racism and discrimination in New Zealand. Places of worship have been targets for years and individual stories about personal experiences of racism and hatred makes the heartache of this moment in our history that much harder to bear. And you would get similar stories from many groups and people who make up our diverse nation.
There has been a constant hum of ‘casual racism’ in play in New Zealand for a long time. We all hear it. It’s the stuff we overhear at the supermarket, at work, with our friends, and at family gatherings. We read it too. A lot of it. Online, in newspaper opinion pieces, we hear it on the radio, and see it on television as well. This stuff has crept out of the shadows into public discourse.
And it emboldens hatred. It is the fertile ground in which the bigger evils grow, and it makes the people who are its targets feel unsafe, and afraid.
So if we really mean the things we have all been saying, that they are us, that we are them, that your sons and daughters are my sons and daughters, that you are my brother and my sister, that your family is my family, then we must ALL start to live the truth of those sentiments.
And that means if we’re in a situation where we see someone being subjected to the ‘everyday’ racist stuff we’ve almost become accustomed to (“go back to your own country”, ‘bloody muslims”, “bloody asians”, “bloody maoris”, “bloody faggots”, “bloody ragheads” etc etc etc) then we have to step in, and actually stand beside people. Not in spirit, but in reality. We have to say no, all the time, every time. We have to act the truth of the words.
The bystander effect is very normal, and very human. We stand back because everyone else stands back. If no one else is stepping in, then we don’t step in. But that is not enough anymore. We cannot do that anymore. If your children really are my children, then I cannot stand quietly by feeling uncomfortable and not sure if it is my place to say something when your children are insulted or made to feel afraid.
Think about diversity in your workplace, home or school and make sure that you stand up for what is good. That diversity needs to be ingrained into our thinking as a society. Learn, reflect, raise your children to embrace this diversity because they aren’t born to hate. Make sure they are aware of their privilege, and teach them to always be accepting and understanding of everyone they meet. Teach them that the world is beautiful because it’s colourful.
When people ask what can we do today, the answer is the same as it was yesterday, last year and the year before that: we must never, ever let hatred and racism go unchallenged when we see it in our communities. Give nothing to racism. Challenge hate. That’s us.