It's not how the world sees us now that's important, it is how we see ourselves as New Zealanders that matters.

What can we learn from the Christchurch tragedy?

There will be much to reflect on. I think we should take the opportunity to pause. To hold a mirror up in front of our society. To take a long hard look at what we see staring back at us.

You'll have seen the signs held up at the vigils around the country asserting "they are us" "we are all one people" "we are brothers and sisters".


And it's natural at this time that we desperately want to believe this is true. We want the watching world to continue to see New Zealand as a caring, inclusive society. A country that embraces cultural diversity.

We know we are not terrorists or white supremacists. We are better than that. But I believe there is a harmful destructive attitude towards people from other cultures, who are different from us, simmering away in our background.

We're good at pretending, have been at it for so long, we have almost come to believe "we are all one people". We should be. It's not as if people from different countries and cultures haven't been steadily arriving over the past 200 years to make New Zealand their home.

Our country has always been open and welcoming. But not all newcomers are treated equally. Especially those who look different from us, speak languages we don't know and have customs and cultural practices we are not familiar with.

They want to continue to practise these in their new homes, places of worship and sometimes in their workplaces.

We don't get it and sadly we make it obvious. We don't like what we don't know and don't understand.

And we're not prepared to even make an effort to try to understand. It's assimilation that we want to see and as quickly as possible. We don't want to be made to feel uncomfortable when we don't understand.

Why don't immigrants, refugees, in particular, shed their cultural norms to please us? The receiving communities.


But why should they?

When you leave home you don't close the door on your background and culture. It's often what you cling to most. Should you just bury who you are? What's so wrong with wanting to keep cultural practices alive? They give comfort and strength when confronted with the challenges of learning to live in a new country. We shouldn't get offended when people are reluctant to join in, preferring to seek out and keep company with those they are comfortable and familiar with. Keeping themselves to themselves. For many, this will be for personal safety reasons.

It's hard at this time for New Zealanders to hold that mirror up. We probably won't even do it. And maybe it's too early. But I believe we should think about it. We can learn something about ourselves and be courageous enough to make a commitment to want to change.

Anything to do with white supremacy is abhorrent. But so is racism, prejudice, bigotry and intolerance in any form. Is New Zealand as Taika Waititi put it "as racist as f---k"?

We get enraged at the senseless killing of 50 Muslims and the injuring of another 50 at prayer in their mosque. But why don't we get angry at the racism other New Zealanders experience daily? We are selective.

Ask Asian students, Indian taxi drivers, Filipino caregivers and young Muslim girls wearing their familiar headscarves, the khimar. Ask your Maori and Pasifika friends what they encounter? My Pasifika friend in Auckland describes her father's daily experience as "relentless racism".

I believe the majority of New Zealanders do care about the people we share our beautiful country with.

But we need to improve our race relations attitude. We have nothing to fear
and everything to gain by embracing diversity.

Throwing the mirror away in disgust means we'll stay ignorant. Remaining in denial.

Acknowledge we have a problem and are prepared to put the required effort in means one day we can say we are "better than that" and truly mean it.

The love and outpouring of support for the Muslim community in Christchurch and in other parts of New Zealand show we do have something strong to build on.

It's there already. The "Kiwi Way" can be demonstrated every day not just in response to a terrorist attack. Kia Kaha New Zealand.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness