Friday 15th March 2019: a day that will be carved into my heart and mind forever.
A day split into two halves as extreme contrasts dominated the news cycles:
- hope and terror
- love and hate
- life and death
A day of opposites.
The morning seemed like a beacon of hope and positive action for a better future as in a huge surge of energy and enthusiasm, 1.5million young people worldwide gathered to march and protest and petition their governments to take significant action on climate change.
The afternoon became a sinkhole of numb shock giving way to sadness, anger, and fear as the news broke of the white supremacist terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch. Early reports were saying more than 40 people at prayer had been shot dead and schools, hospitals etc were in lockdown all across the city as police searched for the perpetrator.
Relief for those who survived was countered by deepening grief as the fatality count rose. 40, 41, 49, 50. 50 more people injured. These numbers as a percentage of our population in New Zealand equate to the number of people killed by 9/11 twin towers attacks.
Respect at the skill of the police operation in apprehending the terrorist was countered by the incompetence (at best) of a surveillance community that has paid no attention to white supremacist groups in New Zealand.
And even while many/most New Zealanders expressed grief, empathy, love, and support for the Muslim community, others were busy sharing their hateful glee.
Moments of immense bravery, like Naeem Rashid, who rushed at the terrorist in an attempt to disarm him, Abdul Aziz, who threw a portable credit card machine at the terrorist, the two police officers who hauled the terrorist from his car despite the risk of bombs, and moments of craven denial and cover-up of anti-immigrant or racist sentiment from many media personalities.
Positive moments of inclusion and connection as They Are Us , a recognition of something shared, is spoken over and over. Negative moments of denial and pretence, dressed up as empathy, when this is not us or this is not who we are is spoken over and over – as if racism has not been alive and flourishing in New Zealand since the first white colonists set foot here. And racism underpins white supremacism.
All this is not us really says is that the person saying it has not thought about or is oblivious to the rampant racism embedded in New Zealand’s past and present. That they do not know, or do not care, that white supremacist groups are active in New Zealand, that anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-‘other’ is exactly what many of ‘us’ in New Zealand are.
It’s not me. It’s not most of my friends, nor many other people. But it is New Zealand, collectively, and it is many New Zealanders individually. Racism, the belief that white is best, is so embedded that many people don’t even recognise that objections to making learning Maori, an official language of New Zealand alongside English and NZ sign language, mandatory learning in schools is racist.
It’s politicians, spouting fear mongering and downright lies about immigrants, and about the UN Migrant compact. It’s the National party, removing their petition against the UN Migrant compact from their website on the evening of the terrorist attack, then lying about it saying it had been removed weeks ago.
It is people like Todd Scott, of NBR retweeting racist comments. It is Bob Jones with his ‘gratitude day’ column in the NBR that he alleges is satire – but satire that punches downwards and builds on racist tropes of Maori-should-be-grateful-to-white-people, looks and smells a lot like racism to me.
It is Mike Hosking, Duncan Garner et al with their privileged media platform spewing out constant anti-immigrant sentiment. It is a photo of a winking Mike Hosking holding up a t-shirt printed with the symbol of a hand gesture appropriated by white supremacists. Allegedly, he and his team “weren’t aware that this hand gesture could hold alternative meanings at the time of using it.” But when an experienced journalist/media presenter is ignorant of a trend that is well-known in a public context, that looks and smells a lot like covering-up racism to me.
It is the intelligence services putting all their focus on Muslim communities, animal rights activists, and (illegally) earthquake victims, while paying no attention whatsoever to white supremacist groups. They have no data, for the last ten years, despite anyone with a twitter account knowing damn well white supremacy is a growing issue.
It is the police force not recording data on hate crimes and ignoring repeated calls to do so.
It is Christchurch’s professional rugby team who think it is just fine to call themselves the Crusaders, despite repeated calls from people to change their name. It is the same rugby team, in response to increased calls for a name change since Friday’s terrorist attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch, who claim the said name is “a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community”, and “our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit.” It’s a funny kind of peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit that sends men wielding swords and dressed up in the costumes of the knights of the Crusades against Muslims, galloping around the rugby pitch on horses before the match begins. Their response looks and smells a lot like bullshit to me.
It is an Auckland school banning its students from wearing the hijab.
It is a young woman in Auckland, the day after the terrorism attack in Christchurch, being assaulted by someone trying to tear her hijab of her head.
It is when I, wearing an infinity scarf wrapped round my head and face to prevent the cold wind triggering a trigeminal neuralgia attack, am yelled at by an old man in the supermarket carpark, “You’re not one of those bloody muzzies are you? They taking our own now?”
It’s the vicious, public outcry, including accusations of ‘traitor’ from Duncan Garner, when Taika Waititi when he says New Zealand is “racist as fuck.”
It’s white men delivering boxes of pigs heads to the doors of a mosque asking for donations to a Fiji disaster relief fund.
It’s white people objecting to place names in Maori because they can’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce them.
It’s swastikas painted on walls alongside public streets, and the building owners not bothering to remove them, despite complaints.
It’s a Christchurch insulation company with white supremacist/Nazi symbols as their company logo and embedded in their company description, all emblazoned on the side of their vans.
It’s the comments threads on Stuff articles. It’s the racial abuse aimed at some of our MPs on Twitter threads.
It’s a long, long list. These are just a tiny sample of the many examples, the first ones that came to mind.
So to say ‘this is not who we are’ seems to me just a way of sweeping uncomfortable truths under the carpet. Racism festers beneath the carpet, it weaves its patterns on top of the carpet, it waves a bloody big flag across the sky. Too many people pretend it doesn’t matter, or it’s just a joke, or it’s not happening at all.
But it matters, it happens, and it’s no joke. Ever.
Racism leads to many New Zealanders being undervalued, discriminated against, and living their life in fear when they should be safe. Racism lets white supremacy attitudes flourish unchecked. It helps create a climate in which a white supremacist terrorist massacres 50 people and injures 50 more, and there are people in online enclaves cheering him, and wanting to buy him a beer.
Saying this is not us might make you feel better, but it’s just not true.
We have to do better.
How Can We Do Better?
Don’t laugh at racist ‘jokes’ just to be polite
Don’t ignore racist comments
If someone says something racist
Criticise the comment, not the person
Avoid calling them racist, it makes them defensive
Instead, tell them you disagree with what they said, and explain why
If person starts an argument
Pause and take a breath to stay calm
Ask them an open question
Why do you think that?
Why do you say that?
Why do you think that is funny?
Explain Your Feelings
Knowing how you feel about what they said can help them understand better:
It makes me uncomfortable to hear you say things like that. What did you mean by it?
That comment/joke offended me. Why did you say it?
I always thought you were a tolerant, fair-minded person. Why did you say that?
If the person starts getting dismissive or cross, it may be best to finish the conversation.
They may reflect on it later – don’t expect instant understanding.
Find someone you know you can talk with about it if you need to debrief
Helping Others Being Targetted by Racists
Go and stand/sit with the victim
Let them know you don’t agree with the perpetrator, so they don’t feel so alone
If it is safe, take video or photo evidence on your phone
Swap contact details with the victim in case they decide to make a complaint and need the evidence
On Social Media
Use the steps above
Report posts and comments
We can stand against racism. Will you join me?
At 1.32p.m on Friday, 22nd March, there will be a 2 minute silence in Hagley Park, Christchurch, to commemorate the victims.