Say no to racism and discrimination in all its forms

By Lesley Murrihy | Posted: Wednesday March 20, 2019

Nigel Latta wrote that the harder work is ahead of us as we challenge hatred in all its forms whenever we encounter it. Here is his opinion piece.

We were not all attacked… only some of us were.

It feels like we were, and many have said it, but this simply isn’t true. Part of me feels like this too, that somehow the very fabric of who we are as a country was attacked last Friday afternoon. In the aftermath of this terrible event it really does feel like we were all attacked, and at some higher symbolic level I believe this is true.

But this is not about symbols or metaphors or any of that. It is about people who were injured, and people who were killed. And at that dreadfully real level, we were not all attacked. This was an attack against the Muslim community. If I had been standing outside those Mosques the person who did this would not have shot me. He would have walked past me. He had not come for me.

All of us were not attacked, only some of us were. And they have been the subject of attacks for years.

The outpouring of grief and genuine aroha for the victims and their families, and for the Muslim community as a whole is the only thing which helps many of us to feel anything other than horror. Our response as a country is truly the very best of us, it is the shining heart of who we aspire to be. We all grieve for these families. It is like an ache inside that, like all grief, compels us to a sense of action, a sense of wanting to do something… anything… to try and help those who were actually attacked.

It is truly heartwarming to see the thousands of flowers left at Mosques around the country, and all the people at vigils from grandmothers to gang members offering support and reassurance to Muslim families that this truly is their place. As Ruby Jones’ achingly simple and profoundly sad drawing says: “This is your home, and you should have been safe here.” That one sentence encapsulates everything that ever could be said about what has happened.

But the harder work lies ahead of us. There are bitter truths we must face as a country if we are to make real all the good sentiments of recent days. The questions people are asking of the intelligence services, about how did we not see this coming, and what we could and should have done earlier, are questions we also need to ask of ourselves.

You see the really uncomfortable truths here, are that the Muslim community, and many other communities as well, have long had to endure the hateful and hurtful barbs of racism and discrimination in New Zealand. Last year a Mosque in Hamilton was the target of an arson attack. That was an act of terror, but it was nothing new. Mosques have been the targets of vandalism and hatred in this country for years. And when you hear the stories from people in the Muslim community about their personal experiences of racism and hatred, it makes the heartache of this moment in our history that much harder to bear.

And you would get similar stories from the Chinese community, or the Indian community, or Pacific Island peoples, or Maori, or the many different peoples who make up our diverse nation.

In Auckland over this very weekend two young Muslim women were accosted and terrorised at a suburban Auckland train station by a man who physically intimidated them and told them to “go back to your own country”. There was only one other person there at the time, a young girl who was scared and upset by this event as well. Now, if some grownups had been there then I am absolutely certain someone would have stepped in to help those two young Muslim women. But if it was a week ago? Would I be so confident? No, sadly, I would not.

There has been a constant hum of ‘casual racism’ in play in New Zealand for a long time. We all hear it. And we might pull it up some of the time, but a lot of the time we don’t. It’s the stuff we overhear on the bus, at the supermarket, at work, with our friends, and at family gatherings. You know what I mean. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, we all hear it. We read it too. A lot of it. Online, in newspaper opinion pieces, we hear it on the radio, and on 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 on the bus or at the supermarket and we see someone being subjected to the ‘everyday’ racist stuff we’ve almost become accustomed to (“go back to your own country”)..., ‘why don’t you people look where you’re going” 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 because If I say that your family is my family, then I have to live those words even when it is uncomfortable and awkward and makes me afraid as well.

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.

They are our children, our sisters, our brothers. It is our place to speak up. It is your duty. It is mine.

This is the harder work we now must set ourselves to do.