Claire J. Harris

After New Zealand, what do you do when everything seems terrible?

New Zealand was supposed to be different. It was a place one could escape to when the ugliness of elsewhere overcame me. But, sadly, no-one where is different.

 

 

Over the weekend, it was my birthday, and my friend called to wish me happiness. Instead, I cried on the phone for an hour about all the things I was sad about. The day after the horrific massacre in Christchurch, I just couldn’t muster any capacity for joy. How do we go about our daily lives when the world seems so relentlessly awful? And if I feel this tired—being Australian, white, straight and able-bodied—I can’t even begin to imagine how others feel.

On Friday, while the terrorist attack was unfolding, I was enjoying a lunchtime wine in an outdoor café in the Melbourne sunshine. It seems profoundly wrong that life just carries on—that it doesn’t freeze every time something horrendous happens. But if it did, we would never be able to keep going at all. Every day terrible things are happening all over the world and the planet is edging closer to climate catastrophe. New Zealand made news, while killings in Nigeria and Syria and Mexico and so many other places rarely do.

But New Zealand was supposed to be different. My parents are from New Zealand, my extended family lives in Christchurch. Although I’ve never claimed my right to a New Zealand passport, I have felt increasingly comforted by the fact that I could. That when it all goes to shit, New Zealand would be there waiting for me. And now I know there is no safe place.

I am a white Australian but my partner is not. Through his experiences, I’m starting to realise the depths of bigotry and racism in Australia—but only a fraction because I’m privileged not to be directly impacted. When we talked about his citizenship, we discussed the possibility of New Zealand. We decided against it at the time, but we knew it was there. We’ve talked about moving to Europe, but the reality is that things will be no better—and probably worse.

My decision not to have children has little to do with my feelings about kids and a lot to do with my despair about the planet. Yesterday, I turned 35 which is generally considered the age at which these sorts of decisions must be made. In my twenties, I thought I would definitely have a family. But now, there’s not just climate change to consider—I simply can not see a way out of the level of hatred we’ve created.

She thought Melbourne was supposed to be different. So did I when I decided to move here. And I thought New Zealand was supposed to be different. It turns out, nowhere is different.

As a global society, we are fuelled by collective and individual outrage, our feeling of being wronged is stronger than any other. The Internet feeds this frenzy for outrage: as far as I can tell, Twitter is just full of people hurling insults and abuse at each other. If I can’t navigate this world myself without feeling overwhelmed, how could I possibly teach a child to find their way in the world that is going to be even darker, more fractured and more vicious? Especially if that child was not protected as I am by the colour of my skin?

I don’t understand how everyone around me isn’t feeling all of these things on a daily basis. I’m sure many of us are. And I envy those who can put it out of their mind while they drink wine in the sunshine—because it is consuming and it is exhausting. Well-meaning (white) people tell me to stop watching the news, to switch off social media. But just because I have the privilege to look the other way, exercising that power would be a betrayal to those who don’t. Nothing will ever change if we who have the option to turn our backs decide that it is just too hard to deal with. I know I will never be shot dead in a mosque.

As I was coming home from my birthday celebrations, I got on a Melbourne tram with my partner. Two young white men were getting off. As they walked down the aisle, one shouted out, “Let’s go yell at some black people because they’re black.” It was designed to intimidate the many people of colour seated silently on that tram, to remind them that we can say these things out loud and so we will.

When I told a friend in Perth about this, she said that she thought Melbourne was supposed to be different. So did I when I decided to move here. And I thought New Zealand was supposed to be different. It turns out, nowhere is different.

 

Claire J. Harris

Claire Harris is a writer in exile who has spent the last decade travelling and working around the world. This is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds and usually involves scraping by on a diet of muesli and cheap wine. Occasionally together. You can find her at www.clairejharris.com

Related posts

Top