We Know Not What We Do

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Keniel Yao, Yale Pauli Murray ’19. Keniel is majoring in Statistics and Data Science.

On March 15, 2019, fifty New Zealanders lost their lives in a repugnant and calculated act of terrorism.

Our nation rightly reels and grieves over the loss and its implications. The country has banded together in support: vigils, hakas, fundraisers, and continued conversation reflect love in a kaleidoscope of ways. As a Kiwi living in the United States, I am so proud of the way we have united against divisive terror. Our actions show we can grow in love rather than fear in an increasingly antagonistic world.

I also affirm the diversity of narratives shared on social media. As more immigrants and tangata whenua share their experiences with racism in New Zealand, our dialogue has sensitively evolved from #theyareus to #thisisntus to #thisisus. I hope, as we slowly turn from mourning to movement, that this event will serve as a watershed in race relations in Aotearoa.

For this to occur, however, one more turn must occur. I write this to share my deepest struggle over the past 10 days. The reality is: #thisisme.

Firstly, a disclaimer. We love to place ourselves in the spotlight. However, this story isn’t about me. The Muslim community in New Zealand and similarly marginalized and threatened populations deserve our solidarity and support. I write to provoke further reflection and to validate similar sentiments so that we can serve these communities with greater humility and self-awareness. Mourning and busy generosity often distracts us from recognizing our complicity. Realizing that #thisisme may be the most important work any of us have to offer.

I immigrated with my family from Hong Kong to New Zealand when I was 3. I was fortunate to endure a childhood without much material cares, in a relatively affluent suburb of Auckland. I received a first-rate education in a public school, have been surrounded with outstanding Kiwi role models, and am currently completing my undergraduate degree at an Ivy League university. Through my ethnicity, I have witnessed and experienced overt racism in New Zealand (Vikkipedia describes her experiences well here). Equally importantly, my ethnic community has also inculcated racist stereotypes that continue to affect the way I view others, and which I must check at every turn. Identifying as a person of colour neither erases complicity nor guarantees solidarity.

More critically, I write as a follower of Jesus Christ. The moral education I receive from the church today must be accompanied by culpability for the past moral failures of the church and their enduring implications. Islam and Judaism share so much in canon and doctrine with Christianity and yet a maligned Christianity continues to exacerbate, incite or condone Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. I acknowledge and ask for forgiveness over the ways Christianity has historically and systematically fostered an aversion to those we perceive as different.

Personally, I have too often failed to engage in dialogue. In spaces where I am of the majority, I have failed to advocate for your presence, to listen to your voice and concerns, to ensure your right to worship in safety. I have been content with generalizations rather than intent to see you, the individual, in all your uniqueness and common humanity. Whilst I did not shoot, I did not ensure that you would be safe in my home, our home.

I mourn for your loss. I mourn with you and your community. And I mourn that I too have permitted and contributed to your fear and suffering. I stand with you and will continue to stand with you. This will not be me again.

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