It is two days after the Christchurch shootings and I still feel sick to the stomach when I think about the heinous racist attacks. The shockwaves that has gone through our tiny country has shaken us all to the core.
In this sad time, I am proud of us as a nation – how we came together, united in grief, and how we are rallying around our Muslim friends and assuring them that this is their place, that we mourn with them and that we respect them.
Most people would agree that racism and bigotry should be challenged. Some New Zealanders would say that racism doesn’t exist in our peaceful country. Unfortunately, we do see it featuring in our media and on social platforms often. Read some of the comments under a media story on Facebook and you will see what I mean. The comment section is littered with intolerant opinions, race-based judgements and attacks on members from different ethnicities. By allowing these comments to go unchallenged, we do send the message that it is ok. Obviously we cannot challenge all 5000 comments following a ‘Stuff’ news article on Facebook, but at the most basic level, we can all do our bit in our whanau, wherever we work or play and in our social circles.
As a starting point, we should call out inappropriate comments, jokes or banter. I myself have been guilty of staying quiet, thinking that I don’t want to cause an upset or make anyone uncomfortable. That is not good enough. I will be speaking up. We all should.
In my opinion, understanding a culture different from yours – maybe learning some of its customs and language as well as making new friends – is the key to learning how to understand and respect people from different religions, skin colours or sexual orientations than yourself. I have been part of our GDC waiata group for the past 6 years and learning the beautiful songs and lyrics awakened the need in me to understand the meaning of the words we were singing. I embarked on a one-year tikanga Maori and (very) basic te reo journey and loved every moment of it. So much of what were unclear to me before, now made sense. I can’t wait to travel further on my te reo journey.
When my boy, Alex, was at Montessori years ago, his best mate was a Muslim boy, Khalid. I became friends with Khalid’s mom, Aliyah, and she taught me so much about her culture – a culture, language and religion I knew nothing about. A new world opened up to me as she was showing me what was important to her and why it was important to her and family.
Both these experiences enriched my life overall.
In Gisborne, we have The Tairawhiti Multicultural Council who organise several events during the year where you can learn more about a culture different from yours. Every year we celebrate important days that are significant in different cultures, like Diwali or the Chinese New Year. We are organising a remembrance vigil this Thursday, the 21st of March at 7:30pm at Marina Park. It is a small token of respect recognising the 50 people who passed away as well as sending our aroha to the Muslim community - not only in Christchurch, but also throughout all of New Zealand. Let’s stand strong and respect and support diversity in our beautiful country.
Kia kaha Christchurch.