A migrant person of colour without a story to tell about some discrimination they have faced in this country would be rare. It happens in public places, in transit, at work and in practically every environment.
Having made the all-important decision to move to this country, often with their loved ones to make a new life here, most such migrants sweep away experiences that reek of discrimination under the carpet and learn to cope. Few can sweep away the deep sense of hurt though. It rankles and gnaws and chips away at self-worth one incident at a time.
Migrant groups are often unjustly accused of choosing to stay insular and not willing to engage in any meaningful way. Unjustly, because there are neither institutional platforms nor initiatives for such engagement, but of course, there’s plenty of lip service. After all, isn’t diversity of some 200 ethnicities such a cool thing to have?
In the absence of an environment conducive to meaningful inclusive engagement, migrants tend to flock together and congregate by religion, culture, their original nationality or ethnicity.
This flocking together added to differences in appearance, culture, speech and social behaviour create a greater sense of differentness in the ‘mainstream’, reinforcing the ‘us and them’ divide.
In fact, that sense of divide is so deep that following the tragic incident, many conscientious and outraged, right-thinking New Zealanders subconsciously referred to the ‘us’ and them divide even in their spontaneously scrawled messages like “This is their home. They are us,” [our emphasis].
It is this deep-seated ‘us and them’ that has become deeply embedded in western society, strengthening a perverse kind of nationalism based almost solely on appearance – mainly the colour of the skin, appearance and speech in direct interaction. Think of the number of times we’ve heard “go back to your country” stories from migrants.
It doesn’t take much to turn negative discrimination into hate. And social media is a willing handmaiden – a virulent force-multiplier.
It is now known that the attack was carefully planned and the day, time and places for perpetrating the brutal atrocities were selected for maximum damage and impact on one distinct group – the Muslim community, which appears to have been singled out because in the circumstances, they were the easiest targets.
Though in the Christchurch terrorist act it is the Muslim community that has borne the brunt of white supremacist ideology, it is not as though that Muslims are the sole targets. White supremacist literature always refers to migrants as a whole in terms like “invaders”, in which the Muslim community is a subset.
The term has come into greater parlance with the rise of far-right nationalism in the west over the past few years. President Donald Trump is reported to have used the term even as recently as after the Christchurch attack, for which he has been widely criticised.
When they refer to invaders, they refer to anyone and everyone that looks different, dresses differently, speaks differently, has different beliefs and has different societal and sartorial mores. And that is exactly the term that the Christchurch terrorist used to describe his target.
The grieving families of the departed and the injured need every kind of support from all New Zealanders, who have been extremely forthcoming in giving generously in the healing process.
And it is not just the Muslim community that needs to be vigilant against potential future attacks. In the twisted logic of perpetrators of this kind of mindless mass murder, everyone who doesn’t look like them is an invader.
So all Kiwis – whether migrant or not – must have one another’s backs.
Dev Nadkarni is the founding editor of The Indian Weekender.