Stand Together, Every Day

It has been a difficult few days for all of us here in Christchurch. Shock. Horror. Sadness. Fear. Anger. We have been through so many emotions, it’s hard to know what we are feeling at any given moment.

But one emotion has come to the fore—love. 

Even before we understood the full scope of the horror unleashed in our midst, ordinary people were mobilising to help. Within hours, there were community Facebook groups organising walking buddies and rides for those who felt unsafe on the streets. Other pages were organising meals for the families of victims. Donations poured in on multiple Give-a-little pages (when I went to one of them to donate, less than 48 hours after the attack, the total was already well over $3 million). The NZ Red Cross quickly announced they had plenty of blood after being inundated with donors. People from all over the city left flowers at the police cordons outside the mosques.

Everywhere, people stood together in love.

It’s something Christchurch is good at. We’ve had a lot of practice coming together in the face of adversity in recent years.

It’s tempting to focus on this outpouring of support, to acknowledge the love, and reject the attacker as the enemy. It’s tempting to look at the last three days and pat ourselves on the back for how we’ve responded.

But no matter how good we are at standing together in adversity, the fact is, we’re not good at standing together in the normal times.

We still speak of the Muslim community as though it is separate from the rest of the community. And it is. We need to ask ourselves why. What unacknowledged biases keep us apart? What unacknowledged prejudice prevents us from reaching out to one another in friendship in the good times? Why do we use our differences as an excuse to stay separate, rather than as an encouragement to enrich our lives by learning from one another?

Facing these questions may be uncomfortable—the answers will reveal things we may not want to acknowledge about ourselves—but we must confront them. The man who attacked on Friday may not have been a New Zealander, but there is no question the same attitudes are present here. They are fed by our separateness, fed by our unwillingness to stand up against the little things—the racist comments, the perpetuated stereotypes, the marginalisation of those who may look different to ourselves. These little actions nurture hate. Only by vocally and visibly standing together in the good times can we prevent this from happening again.

Today, wherever you are in the world, step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to someone different from you—make a new acquaintance, a new friend. Shut down an off-colour joke. Push back against a racist comment. Show your love. 

Kia kaha katoa.

Stay strong. Stand together, every day.

Silent No More

I have been trying to stay quiet during this election season. The rancorous debate over which candidate was less evil didn’t need one more angry voice shouting. But I was reminded today by my fellow writers that we have a moral obligation to be the voice that describes a different world. A world that celebrates diversity. A world in which everyone is safe, and free, and has food, housing, and health care. A world in which racism and sexism are not tolerated. A world in which people care about one another—not just about those who look like themselves and who worship the same god, but about the sum total of humanity. A world in which people think and act for the good of the planet, not just for today, but for the future.

It is our obligation to imagine such a world.

It is our obligation to remind the world of our own sad history, and ring the alarm bells when we see Hitler rise again. It is our obligation to bare the subtle ugliness in today’s world for all to see, and to imagine how it could be different.

But it’s not just writers who have an obligation to speak up. It’s time for everyone who values diversity to stand and be counted.

That Trump rose to the presidency on a platform of hate is a damning indictment of American culture. A culture that stands silent as it watches injustice, prejudice, and hate play out in myriad subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We can no longer remain silent. It is time to point out the hate wherever it shows itself. It is time to stop accepting that ‘haters gonna hate’.

What does that mean, from a practical standpoint? It means being brave. It means withdrawing financial and other support for organisations that perpetuate racism and sexism. It means speaking up when a friend or co-worker says something dismissive about ‘others’. It means banishing your own hateful thoughts and actions (because we all have them). It means volunteering your time to help those in need. It means lobbying your legislators. It means getting involved in your own local politics.

It will take so many actions, little and big, subtle and overt, to change the culture of hate. None of us can do it alone. But I know we are not alone. From my vantage point here in New Zealand, I know that much of the world is with us. Let us do them together. Don’t wait for the new year to make your resolutions. Make them now. Stand firm. Speak out. Imagine a world of love, and make it so.