Hostility to immigrants in NZ

has written an awful account of hostility and abuse experienced as a child of immigrants to New Zealand.

The Spinoff: ‘I fear for the future of my family’: A mother of mixed-raced children on why she’s worried about raising them in New Zealand

What is it like to raise your children in a country where people are openly hostile to you because of your race? Natasha Johnson looks back on her own childhood experiences of racism and speaks directly to people of colour living in Aotearoa.

I’m sure this will be uncomfortable reading for some, but Natasha’s words will likely resonate with many, many people. And there’s the issue. We need to look at racism in New Zealand with eyes wide open. Not just for us now, but for our children. What kind of New Zealand will they grow up in? – Emily Writes, Spinoff Parents editor.

This is shameful for a country that at times makes claims to be a tolerant society built on immigration.

Natasha happens to have come from India, but similar insidious attacks happen to immigrants from a wide range of countries, including Pacific Islands, African countries and European countries.

I would love to say we arrived in New Zealand and felt at home after a period of adjustment and settling in. I would love to say we were welcomed into a community with open arms. I would love to say that although there was an initial culture shock, my family and I were soon to be part of an amazing country where we found a great many new opportunities that perhaps we would not have had back home. I truly would love to say that the first 10 years here were awesome – peppered with few struggles, but overall amazing, I really would.

Sadly, I cannot say those things.

I have never really told the unvarnished truth about this, as when I begin to tell my story I am usually met with comments suggesting I need a thicker skin. Or I’m told this hell I went through made me stronger. Most of all, I’m told people were just joking, that they didn’t really mean it.

To this day, almost every day, I still hear all the time: That’s not racist. It’s just a joke. You gotta get a sense of humour.

So I did. I got me that sense of humour. And that sense of humour got me through my 20s.

Natasha gives examples of racism particular to her Indian ethnicity but it isn’t confined to ethnicity. I know someone from a country in Europe who was often needled and harassed due to where they came from, even though they had lived in New Zealand for thirty years.

I had to laugh, because if I didn’t start laughing, at least on the outside, I would be crying.

I just had to show that I was thick skinned and able to laugh at these situations. What was the point of trying to educate people and tell them how it made me feel if they couldn’t see for themselves that it was indeed offensive, hurtful and ignorant?

What does it take for those who attack immigrants to realise how offensive, hurtful or ignorant what they say can be?

We were called names and made fun of for being us.

I don’t mean the odd instance of name calling here and there. I mean:


Every single day I encountered racist “jokes”, remarks, questions and comments. At primary school, at high school and at university.

That’s disgraceful from people who may have immigrated themselves or at least will almost certainly have recent immigrant family history.

I have now been here for 22 years. It has taken nearly all that time to finally, somewhat, almost, maybe feel like this is home.

I married the most wonderful white man and his white family could not be further from what I had been exposed to. They are unique and I always tell them that. I was never ever scared of being myself around them – and that was huge. They accepted me and my family as if they saw no difference between us. But even more importantly, any difference they did see, they loved unconditionally.

But to have children with this wonderful man means another journey that I have to take, a journey of having mixed race children.

I fear for them.

I fear for our future as a family.

That’s very sad. Racism and immigrant bashing is particularly damaging and unfair for children.

What might my children go through, being mixed race in this country?

Can you imagine what that’s like? To have gone through what I still go through and then imagine my children experiencing the same thing?

My husband and I hope that they never have to deal with the hurt and pain of racism, but if they ever do so I hope I can guide them through it.

I hope I can be seen as an example of someone who has triumphed over racism.

I hope they will see me as a light that will guide them through the turmoil of living in a racist country.

And to you, if you’re reading, if you have dealt with anything like this while living here in New Zealand, know that you are not alone.

You don’t need a thicker skin.

You don’t need to laugh racism away.

It has taken me 22 years, but New Zealand almost feels like home. We still need to make it a home for all of the children who were once like me.

Whether our personal immigrant history goes back a few years or a few generations, I hope fellow Kiwi can become much better than we have been.

Everyone who has made New Zealand a home deserves to be treated with respect and decency, no matter what their country of birth, their ethnic background, their colour or race or religion may be.

We should reflect on what Natasha has written, and strive to be better to each other as individuals, and better as a country.