The rot behind New Zealand’s cloak of decency

This is not New Zealand

I remember going back to Iran when I was younger and listening to my grandmother describe New Zealand to anyone who would listen. She had visited us in Christchurch and her eyes gleamed with hope when she spoke of it.

It’s just paradise. Heaven.

In the polluted concrete jungle of oppression and poverty that is big city Iran, the crisp waterfalls and snow-peaked mountains we had shown her sounded too good to be true.

The people are so friendly, the cities are so clean, the houses with their big backyards, the beaches all stretch for miles. Above all, it is safe.

But is there a rot that lies here beneath the cloak of decency that my grandmother fell for? Have you spoken to your migrant friends about their every day interactions before assuming that this isn’t a racist country?

I have dark olive skin and Middle Eastern features. I’m both proud of that and also carry the weight of that.

My parents moved to Christchurch in 1989, I was just about to turn 5. I’m a Kiwi and I’m proud of that too, there isn’t any other place that I want my kids to grow up in. But I’m also reminded constantly that I am different.

I’ve been spat at more than once and been told to “go back to India” countless times.

At primary school, I played mostly with the few other migrant kids because I wasn’t accepted by most.

I knew not to approach groups in the playground because they would start chanting, “the brown girl’s here,” and stop playing. As a kid, I was told my family was dirty and asked what colour my blood was. In high school, it was worse and it was constant.

Where do school children and teenagers pick up this rhetoric? Parents have a lot to answer for.

I saw skinheads proudly and staunchly pacing Christchurch streets many times, swastikas on show. It seemed worse after 9/11. I hid from them, rage bubbling inside me. We’ve all been hiding from them for too long.

I once had a group of them turn up to a party at our university flat in Riccarton and start a fire in a drum in our backyard.

They burnt my bike and a bunch of our stuff. They weren’t there to hate on me, they were just party crashing but one got close to me and screamed, “f… all the jews,” in my face.

I hid in my bedroom for the rest of the night.

Skinheads crashing parties in Christchurch was common, it was just part of the city’s landscape. My little sister, 7 years my junior, has said the same thing.

They’re still around causing havoc.

Who is responsible for reining these people in? How can we stop their hate? Continue reading

  • Shabnam Dastgheib (pictured) is an Iranian-New Zealander and proud Kiwi who emigrated to Christchurch with her mum and dad when she was five and lived there most of her life. She now lives in Auckland.

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