In the last few months, one word has been on my mind. Diversity.
I am a white woman in her mid twenties. I went to predominantly white schools, especially my secondary school. I attended universities, I am involved in community groups, Christian worship groups, and I work part-time in a workplace that is entirely white. I’ve realised over the last few months that right now, there is far less diversity in my relationships than there has ever been before.
This has been weighing on me, and over the past year I have attempted to give voice to those who are different to me at work. I sought out guests and interviewees who lead different lives, who challenge the status quo. I marked significant weeks and days like NAIDOC Week, Reconciliation Week, Harmony Day, World Refugee Day, by inviting guests who may not otherwise have the platform to speak their stories on my show. I share events on Facebook, register my interest to go to social, religious, and community events that focus on bringing together those who are different for dialogue, relationship, solidarity, and compassion. For various reasons (read: excuses) I would fail to actually get out to them. Until last Sunday, but more about that to come. I would write essays and read books about the spiritual and social obligations to welcome the stranger, to embrace the differences integral to our shared humanity, to call out injustice and foster compassion and empathy for those caught in systems of abuse and suffering, about the shallowness of a life secluded from the richness that embracing and being embraced by the stranger brings. I am an academic; I research, think, and write well. I am also a contemplater and a carer; I connect with people well, I empathise well, and I carry compassion well. So why is my life missing the diversity of relationships that is so important for a flourishing humanity?
I’m not looking for a group of token diverse friends to fill the spaces between the whiteness of my life. To even suggest that I need more diverse company twists a knife in the skeptic portion of my soul and I picture the false diversity showcased by companies who employee one non-white person and plaster their face on all their advertising. See, most of my friendships have happened by accident, by fortune of a right place, right time mechanism of fate. I made most of my friends at university in my first week, courtesy of a single introduction, a single thing in common. I’ve never had to seek friendships. I guess that is the beauty of university; being in classes that I chose, it was easy to find things in common with classmates. Indeed most of the friendships I made at university were non-white friends, but we were connected by the common thread of a second (or third) language, a love for biochemisty, a basic need to study in a group, or a bus route home. Now my day-to-day life is far less likely to push me into the shared hobby zone of a diverse group of people, and it has been easy to let that justify why I find myself surrounded by so many copies of myself.
It has been on my mind, this dualistic mindset for a number of months now, but I feel that I can no longer ignore it. Why? Because recently the internal monologue of how important understanding other is has now developed into a dialogue with the world. Why? Because of the hate and violence unleashed upon the world through Christchurch last week.
50 innocent people were brutally murdered in their place of worship in the worst mass killing of New Zealand’s history since the wars of the 1800s. These 50 people were worshiping in their sanctuary, not unlike the Jewish people murdered in their temple in Pittsburgh in 2018, or the African-American Christians murdered in their church in Charlestown in 2015. Those lives brutally and horrifically cut short in Christchurch happened to be worshiping in a mosque, because they were Muslim. Some of these people had fled war zones as refugees, had been born in New Zealand, were raising families, active members of the wider Christchurch community, and all of them had made New Zealand their home. The white terrorist responsible was not even from New Zealand.
The outpouring of love, solidarity and grief from New Zealand, and countries like New Zealand like Australia has been enough to mostly overshadow the harmful responses to this tragedy of the soul. This outpouring has involved prominent commentators having their say, politicians opening their hearts, and ordinary people showing extraordinary love and support. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t just express interest about going along to a social event to bring people together. I, along with my husband, was so shaken and upset by the events that we went along to our local mosque’s vigil for solidarity and support. Together with over a thousand other locals, we heard speeches from politicians, Muslim leaders, and community members. We prayed alongside Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, and those with no religious affiliation. We clapped and cheered at statements of bravery, declarations of love, rejection of hate and condemnation of violence.
During those few hours, and in the days afterward, I was constantly reminded of the thought that had been buzzing around in my head for months. My life has lost its diversity. Lack of diversity in a life can lead to hate for the different, fear for the unknown, and ultimately, actions of violence and hatred. This country, with its mainstream media and its addiction to consumption of social media fueled by international terrorist agendas, is an ideal breeding ground for white supremacy and terrorism. As one of the speakers of Sunday quoted “We fear because we do not know, and we do not know because we fear!” Please understand, I do not fear my Muslim neighbours. I may not know many of them personally, but I do NOT fear them. I do not fear the Qu’ran that resides on my bookshelf, I do not fear the widely misunderstood word ‘Sharia’, despite morning television’s valiant attempts over the course of most of my living memory to induce this fear. I do not fear the woman who wears a burqa or a hijab, or the man who will roll out a prayer mat in the carpark so as not to miss the prayer time.
But I also don’t know a whole lot about them. I am educated, I know that the widespread lies about this religion are lies, misunderstandings that are perpetuated in a sea of ignorance and fear. These lies and misunderstandings, they hurt people. Not in the ‘sticks and stones’ kind of way, but in the ‘power of hate speech to empower a man to murder 50 worshipers kind of way’. Me sitting here being sad and feeling powerless empathy towards a community who endure this on a daily basis is not enough to join the good fight of peace and healing.
I don’t tend to post things on Facebook about my views on refugee policy, religion, or politics. I do not feel strong enough to engage in the heartless, ill-informed, and derogatory debate that so often comes immediately after posting. So in the absence of online ‘social’ support, what is left for me? How about actual, real-life connection and companionship? Shocking I know.
Where do I go from here that will be sincere? Where do I turn to in order to submit myself to the ongoing call of a flourishing life of diversity without being ‘token’? I need to branch out, as we’ve seen above, my current circles are unavoidably and easily not diverse. This will take effort, like making friends has never done so before. But I truly believe it will be worth the effort. For me, for my community, and for the little one currently growing inside of me.
 At this stage in the vigil, I was very hot and having prelabour contractions, so I neither caught the speaker’s identity nor the origin of the quote, but the sentiment remains!