Duncan Garner's column feeds fears immigrants will never feel welcome
OPINION: Like I'm sure many people did, I read Duncan Garner's column on Saturday regarding Kmart, immigration and the future of New Zealand and went "wait, what?"
There's been a huge backlash and outrage about the column. So much so that it has forced Garner to take a break from Twitter with a statement on his Facebook page saying goodbye to his "haters".
Here's the thing, I reckon people have a pretty good reason to be upset with Mr Garner and his column. These people aren't just "haters", I believe they have good reason to call him out on it.
See, I lined up at K Mart for ages recently too. But I came away from it with a wildly different opinion to old mate Duncan. It happened a couple of months or so ago. It was Saturday afternoon and I was at St Lukes K Mart buying a bunch of kitchen utensils. The line was super long and went all the way around the store. I hopped in the queue and started the long march to the self-checkouts with everyone else.
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Behind me, the whole time I was lining up, I listened to an elderly couple from Scotland have the most lovely conversation with two sisters from Iran. They exchanged stories about moving to New Zealand, where they lived in Auckland and how they frequented this particular K Mart. At one point I remember the Scottish gentleman saying something that could almost have been offensive, but the sisters just laughed it off because he apologised and clearly didn't mean anything by it. They could tell he had a good heart. The language barrier made things difficult at times, but the two groups found a way to have a somewhat engaging conversation.
I remember lining up there and thinking "s..., it's cool that conversations like this can take place here. That people from different parts of the world can come to this one s....y K Mart in New Zealand and have this lovely conversation. We're pretty lucky to have this." It was dope to see two groups of people from different backgrounds find a common ground rather than judging one another or making it "us" vs "them".
I left that K Mart laughing at all the super awkward chat that I just eavesdropped on. Damn, it was awkward, but it didn't matter because it was filled with good spirit.
As a contributing immigrant who grew up in New Zealand, I'm familiar with the fear of feeling like everyone is looking at you like you don't belong here. Feeling like you're being judged because you look different to others. Like you're an inconvenience. A burden.
Garner's column confirms those fears. It confirms that no matter how many times I watch the Richie McCaw movie or how many pavlovas I eat, I'll always look different and will always be singled out. I'll always be seen as a burden on others' lives. Just another person coming to their country and making them wait another five minutes to buy their undies.
I'm all for finding more efficient ways to handle immigration, but that column was very problematic and hurtful to a lot of New Zealanders who migrated here and are now contributing members of the population.
If Duncan Garner is so confused as to why people are upset with him – it's because it's not really that chill to be referred to as someone who is contributing to your "nightmarish glimpse" into the future if we "stuff it up".
Now some of you are probably sitting there going "nice story, snowflake, but you've completely missed the point of Duncan's column". Well, actually I haven't.
In fact, I think Garner actually makes some great points in it about the government needing to plan better and be more pro-active when it comes to infrastructure. Of course we need to have the country prepared for the amount people that live here. The problematic part was the xenophobic crust that he wrapped the point in. Garner claims that the column was to set off a discussion about a population growth. Yet he only mentions ethnicities that adhere to what his idea of an immigrant looks like: "Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Syrians", all groups of people who he mentions.
What about the people from the UK? The States? Australia? Or other countries with white passing people? Do white immigrants not exist in Duncan Garner's reality? I've been to K Mart before and I can guarantee you, white immigrants love a bargain too. Just ask that old Scottish couple. They got a great deal on some pans that day.
Plus, population growth isn't limited to immigration. If he truly wants to discuss population size, where are his opinions around birth rates in New Zealand and the current population living here? What about climate change and the effects on it? Why are brown immigrants solely to blame for his "nightmarish" future? Is it because he is freaking out and is now all of a sudden realising what it feels like to feel like a minority?
This is the reason why that column is divisive and upsetting.
It makes it about "us" vs "them". It perpetuates this staunch nationalist idea that brown people are coming to take your stuff and that you better make sure they don't. It's fear-mongering.
Now don't get me wrong, I love New Zealand and I'm super grateful to live here, but I'm sorry, being born in New Zealand doesn't make you any better or more deserving of having a happy life. The population is growing and yes the government needs to handle it better, but we have to stop looking at immigrants as just stats on a piece of paper but as people who just want to have a happy, comfortable life, like me and you.
Look, I get it, the offence may not have been intentional. To his credit, Garner did specify at the start of the article that he wasn't anti-foreigner (which by the way is the equivalent of starting your sentence with "I don't mean to sound racist but..."). But when he was confronted by people who were upset by his column for valid reasons, he simply doubled down and started calling people "haters", "lame" and "snowflakes" - all terms coined by people trying to silence others with genuine reasons who are calling for change, and not great signs that you are listening to the people you are trying to have a discussion with.
I say this to you Duncan, on behalf of all immigrants, we're all so sorry you had to wait a little longer to buy your underwear that day. I'm sure it was really tough having to wait an extra ten minutes to make your purchase. And I'll totally give it to you; it takes balls to share your opinion online. But it takes even more balls to uproot your whole family's life and move somewhere else. Especially if that place won't ever accept you.
*James Roque is a comedian and writer. He is a regular in NZ comedy scene and is featured on The Jono and Ben Show.
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