Although I have not lived in Aotearoa for over 30 years, I still count myself as in part a New Zealander. The white supremacist murder of 50 Muslims has shocked people who live there and abroad. The country never imagined such things could happen because, like many Western nations, it overtly prides itself on its appreciation of all cultures. New Zealanders look to our broad middle class, Maoris in prominent positions in society, being the first country in the world for women to vote in 1893, having the first transgender member of parliament in the world, and so on.
We are fortunate to have Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, who has led a reasonable and sympathetic response to the violent outrage. She has worked immediately with the people affected. The parliament recently opened with a reading from the Quran about loss and faith, and she has already moved forward legislation to curtail automatic weapons. Nevertheless, like other countries, xenophobia — the hatred and fear of others who are different — is never very far from the top. Her deputy prime minister is an islamophobic moron who has openly stirred up fear and suspicion about Muslims in New Zealand.
The U.S. has also frequently expressed its openness to the “tired,” “poor,” “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse” of people from other places. I am fortunate to be an immigrant. The most recent change here is that now xenophobia rules from the top with a harmful shame for a president who has stirred up fears and candidly promotes violence against others. Wickeder are Republican politicians who condone his words, worst of all, with silence.
Aotearoa mourns, but it is also making positive changes. The event reaffirms that we must all step up here in the U.S., to bring about political and social change in positive directions. We should not lose sight of where the real injustices are in this country and work to correct them. We can start right here on campus, in our local area or work for equality on a national stage. Americans, like New Zealanders, can pride themselves for some things, but it is only thanks to those who actively work to make enlightened change and to change those who do not, that we can hold our heads up at all.
Matthew Boyd Goldie