My brushes with racism in New Zealand.
This afternoon, I observed two minutes of silence with around 100 people at work and the rest of New Zealand.
I sobbed uncontrollably.
Tears streamed down my face as I thought of Haji-Daoud Nabi, the 71 year-old man that greeted his killer with “hello, brother”. I imagined the goals and dreams Ansi Alibava would’ve had - the bright, 25 year-old Master’s student that shared an office with a friend of mine. I had the image of the big, brown eyes of Mucad Ibrahim, the innocent 3-year old boy imprinted in my mind. I also pictured the other 47 victims that were gunned down while they were praying, their heads lowered just like mine as I mourned with the nation.
Looking back on my life in New Zealand so far, it has been sporadically peppered with racism.
I don’t have the most compelling, empowering words like Martin Luther King, the musical genius of Mos Def and Common and their ability to write songs like “Mr N***a” and “A Song for Assata”, nor the wit and articulation of Dave Chappelle to wrap the subject of racism in the funniest, most thought-provoking jokes.
However, I still live today to tell my story.
Heartbreakingly, the victims of the racist terrorist attack in Christchurch don’t.
The hashtag #ThisIsNotUs can be found in every nook and cranny of my social media feeds since the horrendous act of racism that took 50 innocent lives in Christchurch last Friday.
I understand the ‘unity’ narrative is imperative for New Zealand in the wake of this atrocity. I applaud our PM Jacinda Ardern for her empathy and resilience as she represents who we are as a nation while the whole world is watching.
But this IS some of us.
In light of this tragedy, I decided to do something I’ve dreaded for the longest time - I’m sharing my brushes with racism with you.
I made a small donation to the Givealittle Victim Support page but I feel that there’s a greater responsibility from all of us. By sharing my story, my truth, I hope it plays a part in helping New Zealand take off its rose-tinted glasses.
So we can stare racism in the face.
And unite to make #ThisIsNotUs a reality.
Here’s my migrant story.
Chapter one: “ASIANS GET OUT!”
My first year in high school marked my first brush with racism in New Zealand.
When the British handed Hong Kong back to China after 156 years of colonialism, my parents, like most people, were worried about the political stability and what a communist Chinese government would bring to Hong Kong’s future.
They quit their jobs, sold our family home and uprooted everything we had in search of a better governing system, a better education and a better future for my sister and I.
The transition from Hong Kong to New Zealand was tough.
My accent was different. I had no friends. I felt like I’ve lost a bit of who I am and I had to build a new identity from scratch.
I dreaded going to school. I didn’t want to wander around on my own at lunch time like a lost kayak at sea, when everyone else found their shore.
One day, I went to the letterbox to get the mail. There was nothing else but a note. I’ll never forget what it looked like.
It was the most ordinary, white sheet of paper. On it printed these words in caps.
“ASIANS GET OUT.”
Nothing else. Just as black and white and as clear as it can be - “Asians get out.”
I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying for hours and hours with the note in my hands, not knowing why someone would hate me and my family when we haven’t done anything to them.
It made us feel unsafe and very, very helpless.
We found out later that all the Asian households in my neighbourhood received the same message.
Because the note was dropped in such an anonymous, cowardly manner, I never got the chance to defend myself and my family, to fight back or make peace with the situation. So, I carried the resentment and hurt for a long, long time.
And that was how we were welcome to New Zealand.
Chapter two: “This is my country. Speak English.”
My first part-time job marked my second brush with racism.
I worked for a beautiful Indian family at their lotto shop in Mt Roskill as a checkout operator.
High school turned out ok because I did what Asians do best - I studied. The subject was ‘how to be Kiwi’.
I put in some solid effort to learn the Kiwi accent. I played every single ‘Kiwi’ sport under the sun. During the process of turning myself from ‘them’ to ‘us’, I had the chance make friends with people that looked nothing like me.
‘Asians get out’ became a distant memory.
Until the day when I was put on the same shift as Katherine.
Katherine was a part-time worker at the lotto shop. An optimistic, kind, middle-aged mother, who was also from Hong Kong. We always had the greatest yarns because she reminded me of my aunties, whom I missed dearly.
I remember asking where I should put the stationery behind the counter in our mother tongue, Cantonese.
A white, middle-aged woman came up to us and demanded, “This is my country. Speak English!”
I was gobsmacked. We were just minding our own business, having the shortest, most mundane conversation quietly about where the stationery should go. The last thing I expected, was for someone to tell me that I can’t speak in my mother tongue.
Katherine, my hero to this day, replied calmly and eloquently in her thick Cantonese accent, “If you were worried about us talking about you behind your back, rest assured - we weren’t talking about you. We were talking about the where to put the stationery behind the counter. We were quietly having a private conversation in our mother tongue and it has NOTHING to do with you. Thank you for letting us know that New Zealand is your country but this is our country too.”
That woman was taken aback and embarrassingly walked out of the shop.
Chapter three: “GOOK!”
My third brush with racism happened on the most ordinary day, which is exactly why the shame and anger haven’t faded but details became so hazy.
All I remember was that, it happened on a day when me and a girlfriend of mine were walking on the sidewalk after spending a whole day at the mall like most teenagers did at the time.
A white car hooned past us with the windows wound down, out came a loud “GOOK!” on top of random stranger’s voice.
I vividly remember the outburst of laughter fading into the night as the car drove off in a split second.
Chapter four: “Go home, chinks.”
My fourth brush with racism unfolded outside a club.
Like every uni student in their early 20s, I found myself outside an Auckland nightclub on a Saturday night. Just like everyone else who didn’t have the kind of money to pay for VIP access to jump the queue, my friends and I waited patiently to be let in.
One thing I forgot to mention is that, our group was made up of mostly Asians.
A group of drunken white guys walked past and started yelling, “Fuck you Asians. Go home, chinks.”
With a bit of alcohol in my system, I lost my shit.
“Well, come back and say it to my face you piece of shit!” was what I hurled back at them as I walked towards them.
Like David vs a bunch of Goliaths, I stared defiantly at a group of guys that were towering over my 5’3” frame as my friends tried to hold me back.
The shock on their faces was satisfying. They did not expect a petite Asian girl to say anything back.
“Crazy bitch…” was the best thing they could come up with as they walked off.
Chapter five: “Where are you REALLY from?”
My fifth brush with racism in New Zealand happened in the most Kiwi way - at a pub during a Warriors playoff game. I was standing at the bar area with a couple of girlfriends when a guy came towards us.
The first thing he said to us was all too familiar.
“Where are you girls from?” said the guy, visibly intoxicated with his red face and his drunken breath.
I thought, “Ok here we go…”
My friend is 3rd generation Kiwi Chinese so clearly, she’s from nowhere but here. Uninterestedly, she replied, “Auckland.”
Her one word answer in attempt to shut down the conversation failed.
“No. I mean, where are you REALLY from?”
“New Zealand.” She replied coldly.
“Are you Chinese? Japanese? Or Korean?”
“Do you like sushi? I heard you guys like sushi.”
I wasn’t sure if he was trying to chat us up by ‘relating’ to us, but his increasingly condescending questions had me infuriated.
I jumped in and said, “No thanks, you racist piece of shit!”
The smarmy smirk on his face quickly transformed into something that resembled a shocked meerkat.
“Woah, woah, woah… C’mon I’m no racist! Why are you being so serious?”
Of course it was me that was ‘overreacting’.
I proudly walked off with my friend as he continued to yell across a crowded room of Warriors supporters. I felt like a seasoned boxer once again fighting my arch enemy, racism. His meaningless explanation of ‘why he isn’t racist’ was my ring walk song.
These five memorable racist incidents are what stuck out from the countless patronising greetings of ‘ni hao’ and ‘konnichiwa’, the bad driver jokes that slipped out, the age-old comment of “oh you speak really good English for an Asian” and “you’re not like one of them, if you know what I mean”.
No I don’t.
I am one of ‘them’.
As I keep living my life in New Zealand, the people I love and respect both professionally and personally, have a different skin colour, a different accent, a different belief system to mine.
I was convinced #IAmThem and #TheyAreUs.
As the rise of Islamophobia replaced Yellow Peril, our Muslim brothers and sisters became the new focus of white supremacists’ hate.
The racist hate crime that cost 50 innocent lives was a wake-up call to our society, and to me.
Sorry I got complacent.
Sorry I lost my vigilance.
Sorry I forgot what it was like, until now.
No one should be called names walking down the street.
No one should feel scared wearing their hijab.
No one should get turned down for a job because of their last name.
No one should be asked ‘where are you REALLY from?’
To racism, thank you for teaching me the words I’ve got for you today.
”Go back to the puny, pathetic, bigoted minds where you came from.”
”You don’t belong here in New Zealand.”
To the family members of the victims, I can’t fathom the pain you’re feeling and no words can express how sorry I am for your loss. But I vow to be vigilant against racism, to call out injustice, to stand with you.
To all of us as Kiwis, I encourage you to speak up if you witness discrimination.
To all of my fellow #PoC, I encourage you to start telling people the brushes of racism you face so we stop brushing it under the carpet.
Let’s use our voices to remind each other.
Let’s hold our society to a higher standard than ‘Christchurch should never happen again’.
Don’t knuckle under, ever.
With love and respect,
Vikki | Fashion, Fun & Fail 😂
🌞 Advertising Creative 🌝 Aspiring #YouTuber📍 Auckland NZ 💌 firstname.lastname@example.org