Words matter. When I flew from New Orleans to San Diego many years ago, the man in the seat next to me asked if this was my first time in "N'orlins". "Yes" I said. "It was and I loved it." He smiled. "I hope you had fun up Bourbon Street!" then he lent over and spoke almost conspiratorially. "But I hope you didn't go too far up Bourbon Street, because that's the fag end of town."

I was uncomfortable but I said nothing. I just buried my nose in my book. I should have said something. Because words matter.

I used to do stand up comedy. I used to make jokes that would poke fun at marginalised groups because they were easy targets. I shouldn't have. Because words hurt.

The scene outside the mosque on Vermont Road in Ponsonby tonight. Photo / Chris Loufte
The scene outside the mosque on Vermont Road in Ponsonby tonight. Photo / Chris Loufte

When politicians stoke fear of "them" or "others" coming to New Zealand, or blow racist dog whistles when they claim we're giving up "our sovereignty" when we sign up to international migration compacts, we should call them out. Because words cause fear.

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When politicians say there's a housing crisis in Auckland and the evidence is that people with "Chinese sounding names" have bought so many houses, we should call them out. Because words stoke bigotry.

When political parties make entire ethnic groups the target of their election campaigns and make jokes like "two wongs don't make a white", we should call them out. Because words embolden racism.

Words matter because when we isolate groups of people who don't make up the majority of those we see, we turn them into "others". And when we turn them into others we dehumanise them and make it easier to commit harm against them.

When those marginalised people speak out and say that they experience racism, bigotry, and homophobia on a near-daily basis we should hear them. We should listen. Because words are sometimes all they have.

When our children and teenagers march in the street demanding that our politicians do something about climate change because our planet is dying, we should listen to what they have to say, because good words matter too.

A Government Minister was attacked walking to work. The assailant is alleged to have shouted about the UN. It is likely he based his beliefs off fear. Fear because of words he's heard. Words that come from people with platforms.

Locals continue to leave messages and flowers for the victims outside the Botanic Gardens. Photo / Getty Images
Locals continue to leave messages and flowers for the victims outside the Botanic Gardens. Photo / Getty Images

A mosque, a place of worship and peace, was attacked and an unfathomable, senseless loss of life occurred. The person did it using hate and extreme rhetoric he picked up from all around the world.

When the President of the United States uses his position to spread hate, to make threats from his supporters, to deny that white supremacy is a rising problem when so many angry white men are committing acts of violence we need to act. Because words lead to horrible actions.

People with platforms have used them to spread racist, divisive and fear-mongering words and they need to stop. Columnists. Radio hosts. TV hosts. Politicians. Stop.

Mourners placing flowers on the intersection of Deans Ave and Riccarton Road near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mourners placing flowers on the intersection of Deans Ave and Riccarton Road near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Those calling for free speech absolutism need to acknowledge that words have consequences. And when those consequences are violence and murder we need to accept that words matter and words can cause horrible outcomes.

When we say "this isn't New Zealand", we need to take a look in the mirror and ask "is this New Zealand?" because if we don't, we're not really doing any kind of self examination. Please don't let us put our heads in the sand believing we live in some bigotry and violence free utopia.

As the father of a daughter, the husband of a wife, the child of two parents, as a goddamn human being regardless of who I'm related to, I'm responsible for this too. I do not want to live in a world of hateful words and hateful actions. I will speak out.

We need to take responsibility for calling out violent and discriminatory language. Our leaders can not use words that separates the "us" from the "them". There is no "them". There is us. There is people.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

- David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green Parties and interned for Bill English while studying