Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of this horrendous terrorist attack. We are only a week on, and the soul searching will continue. I share these thoughts only to deepen a conversation, and perhaps help us to realise that some of us are more together than we might think.
Jacinda’s “This is not us” slogan has polarized my left wing bubble at least. Everyone agrees it is well intended, but my facebook feed has been smothered with friends voicing both support and criticism.
A number of people have criticised the slogan, including Maori leaders and many journalists. I think that whether the phrase rings true or not, depends on how we define two words. The “this” and the “us”. How we feel and think about “this is not us” perhaps reflects our thoughts, beliefs and agendas, more than than whether the statement itself is ‘true’ or ‘false’. I’m not sure it really can be true or false. Many people who have different interpretations of the statement, may actually agree on the same core truths. I’ve suggested two ways ‘this is not us’, and two ways ‘this is us’, which might take us a bit deeper into the issues that confront us as a people and a country in the wake of this tragedy.
This IS NOT us:
This: White supremacist Violence
Is not Us: Who we are as a country or a people
“These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand… You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you”
– Jacinda Ardern
This is perhaps the most straightforward interpretation, and a large part of what Jacinda meant. She condemns extremism and violence in the strongest possible way, and disconnects our current and future national identity from this terrible act. People across the generational spectrum need to hear that this kind of attack is abhorrent, and in no way part of what we want our identity to be as a people.
This: Extreme evil
Is not Us: The core of our humanity
“I don’t think I’m displaying leadership,” Ardern replied. “I just think I’m displaying humanity.”
Perhaps this isn’t a big part of what Jacinda meant, but I think it is a positive and helpful way to look at ourselves and humanity in the face of extreme evil. The idea that love, kindness and acceptance is at the core of what makes us human, not evil, hate and violence. I believe that humans are inherently good, made in the image of God, and when we do bad things it is a corruption of our core selves. We are often however often pulled away from this goodness. This is an everyday struggle, but let us become who we really are, and reject the evil that we have seen can corrupt and distort in unimaginable ways.
“Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror.”
– C.S. Lewis
This IS Us:
This: A place with racist systems and ongoing interpersonal racism.
Is Us: New Zealand Society
Although we may do better than many other countries, our systems remain racist. Maori over-representation in prison and their treatment in the justice system is just one example of this. On an interpersonal level, a prominent study showed that 1 in every 7 people who identified as Asian in 2012, experienced racism in the previous 12 months. That’s about 50,000 people experiencing racism over a 12 month period. That’s not OK. It pains me to admit that I’m still part of this. Although I’ve left behind my teenage years of cringe racist jokes, I still notice subtle racist tendancies in myself, and I’m still trying to drive them out completely.
It’s interesting that Taika Waiti, who described New Zealand as “racist as F#%@” has also expressed “this is not us”. He doesn’t seem to ascribe this meaning to the phrase.
This: A country built partly on White Supremacist violence
Is Us: Aotearoa (New Zealand)
“Our colonizers regarded our collectivism as beastly communism, our language as inferior, and our spiritual beliefs as heathen. All had to be destroyed and replaced…”
Ani Mikaere – The ongoing Colonisation of Tikanga Maori
We can’t deny our roots. New Zealand was partly built on white supremacist violence. We even have a European name! The colonial settlers oppressed Maori, and stole their land. During the New Zealand wars, thousands of Maori were killed to take over land that was rightfully theirs, and this is only one example of violence. Our history has taken positive turns through reinstating Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but the consequences linger, manifest in disconnection, disempowerment and inequality We need to continue to own this, and continue to rectify it.
There are endless ways to interpret “this is not us”. Ask yourself what you consider the statement to mean? What truths, realities and emotions does it evoke in you? I believe that many of us who have different interpretations of the statement, may agree with each other more than we realise. Let’s continue the discussion with sensitivity and grace, as we work through this tragedy together.