I’ve never been officially in the “out group” before.
Maybe it’s being a classic middle-class white male or something, but I’ve never truly had empathy for anyone who is clearly identified as being a “minority” or as being outside of the most prevalent local clique. I’ve tried to be understanding and kind, but it’s akin to trying to know what it’s like to be a different species – you just can’t know it if you haven’t been one.
Even when I’ve travelled abroad, which I’ve often done, I’ve nearly always been welcomed as a traveller in other countries, due in no small part to being a New Zealander – we’re generally viewed positively around the world as travellers who are respectful and easygoing.
While I’ve tried my best to be inclusive and to never bully the out-group members that I’ve come into contact with – as demonstrated by the multicultural and ethnically diverse BROJO community that I helped create – I’ve always been an “insider” welcoming them in. It’s always felt like a privileged position, so much so that I’ve never really noticed it, like how as a white person I simply never worry about receiving racism.
But now, I get it. For the first time in my life, I’m in the out group.
And for the first time, I understand how awful it is to be there, especially when members of the “in group” are blatant in their rejection of your attempt to join.
My wife and I flew back from New Zealand to our second home in Czech when the COVID pandemic first began, because our birth plan was to have our daughter in Czech for numerous financial and medical reasons. We didn’t have much time to think it through so we basically panicked and took the last available flight back. It never occurred to me that New Zealand would ever deny me entry back in, given that I’m a passport-carrying citizen and have the legal right to enter at any time.
Once our daughter Chloe settled and grew up a bit, we started talking about her meeting the New Zealand side of the family who were all very keen to spend time with her in that crucial first year where so many never-to-be-repeated first time developments occur. It was about then that New Zealand closed its borders, even to citizens (which Chloe automatically is).
Technically, I’m pretty sure this is illegal. While there is provision in the NZ Bill of Rights Act to close the borders in extreme situations, to protect those currently residing in NZ, this only makes sense if the borders are completely closed to everyone. Allowing people to trickle in via lottery through to MiQ, or giving special privileges to politicians, celebrities and sports stars, completely undermines the argument for protecting NZ from COVID. If you’re not keeping everyone out, then you must let all citizens in, legally speaking (hence why there’s a class-action suit being processed against the government as we speak, due to be first heard at the end of January 2022).
But the government breaking the law to win votes from scared NZders – or whatever their plan is – is not what’s made me feel like I’m in the out group: it’s the support they have for doing this from my fellow kiwis.
Any time I make the grievous error of reading the comments’ section of any MiQ/border related news articles or posts, I’m met with a wall of apathy, vitriol and outright hatred towards the new group that I’ve apparently joined: the “travellers”.
There are hundreds or even thousands of NZders who actually rejoice in me being separated from my family, and don’t even have sympathy for the other truly tragic cases, like those who have become homeless in foreign countries due to their visas expiring and now have to seek refugee status, or people who have been separated from their infant children more than 6 months, or older people losing their pensions that they worked their whole lives for.
From nicknames like “plague rats” through to accusations that we’re just obnoxiously demanding to come back to NZ just to party in the summer, it seems widely assumed by the more vocal in-group members that we citizens who were unlucky enough to be outside the gates at the wrong time are some sort of evil threat to the purity of NZ; as if we just can’t wait to bring a new COVID variant back to NZ and spread it around before fleeing back to our “real” homes overseas.
It doesn’t matter if we’re overseas temporarily caring for a dying relative, or closing an important business deal, or – god forbid – travelling to another country to enjoy some of the world that exists beyond NZ’s borders, no reason to be away is good enough. (The fact that COVID is actually being spread mostly by those who have been in NZ this whole time is glossed over.)
I know, from evidence thankfully provided to me by friends and family, that not every NZder feels this way. Some people are aware of our suffering and sympathise. Some people understand that anxiously competing against other NZders to get back in is a no-win situation, because if you even get a spot – which is next to impossible given the long odds and ruthlessly strict flight conditions – you get “survivor’s guilt” for depriving some other NZder of their place back home with their family. Some people have endured 8 rounds of MiQ lottery without success!
But despite the love from some of my fellow NZders, I’m left with a sense of grief. We were once the country who pitched in for a war that we weren’t even a part of simply because it was the right thing to do. After a lifetime of cheering on the All Blacks I’d always vaguely assumed that other NZders had my back, like I always had theirs. I’ve helped out fellow travellers numerous times from a sense of patriotic brotherhood, and I’d always thought the feeling was mutual.
It’s been incredibly hard for me to comprehend the truth: it was all too easy to turn the country against me.
It didn’t take much for this government to divide the country, pitting the vaccinated against the hesitant, infected district against clean district, North island against South island, and “at home” against “overseas”. As much as I’d love to blame Jacinda for her hate-mongering, the simple truth is she barely needed a light to spark this fire. People were already fully primed to hate me just for temporarily being in a different country.
I can’t figure out if NZ has always been like this and I’ve simply been naive to the true nature of our culture, or if this is a recent development possibly caused by the pandemic fear. I might never know, but I suspect the former. The quickness with which my fellow countrymen turned their back on me suggests that there was little resistance for the government to overcome. All they had to say is “hashtag team of 5 million” and conveniently not include the nearly 800,000 extra kiwis not currently at home. NZders currently at home did the calculation and quickly realised who’d been left out of the count. Someone to hate came gift-wrapped.
I had one of those half-awake dreams when I was drifting off the other night. I was back in NZ, walking through a New World supermarket, when suddenly I felt afraid that people around me would somehow know that I had just come from “overseas”. They would turn on me and attack me viciously. I awoke from this strange illusion wondering what it meant, and it took me a while to realise that whenever I was in NZ I’d always considered the stranger next to me to be an ally, but now that belief (delusion?) has been taken away from me. Now every stranger is a potential threat.
I wonder if I’d be the same if I was one of the in-group members right now. Would I be calling on the government to keep my fellow kiwis away? Would I believe the ludicrous claims about how NZ could be free from COVID indefinitely if we just compartmentalised away from the rest of the world? Would I allow the darkness and hate to consume me too? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I’ll never know for sure.
New Zealand will never be the same place for me again.
It’s like the time in high school where a guy secretly told me that all my friends had been making fun of me behind my back when I was away one lunch time. It’s like being suddenly dumped by a girlfriend that you thought was the one. It’s like losing your innocence and seeing the cold harsh world for what it truly is.
I’ll never again think of NZ as a team of 5 million who have my back and I have theirs. Instead, I see it as a dog-eat-dog society where you’ll be dismissed at the first sign that you might be a slight inconvenience to the majority’s comfortable way of life.
I know: many NZders aren’t hating me and my new group, but the trouble is I’ll never know for sure who is who. I’ll never again feel certain whether I’m standing next to an ally or an enemy. People are so easily turned that even friends and family could be the next to give me the cold shoulder.
This experience has left me with the permanent sense of doubt that any scam-victim feels afterward. I also feel a great compassion for those of you who have always been in an out-group: I now have some understanding of what it feels like to be unable to trust that you’re safe and that you belong.
I’ll endeavour not to let this sour me. I won’t stop being hospitable and loving towards other travellers, and everyone else too for that matter. I’ll still return to NZ eventually to spend time with my close inner circle of friends and family. I’ll still support the All Blacks. As Marcus Aurelius says, “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
But I won’t be keeping my business based in NZ anymore – I’ll give my tax money to Czech instead: they seem more interested in me being here. And I’ll be voting for Act in the next election – they’re the only party who seems to care about the wellbeing of my new group, even if it is just a play for votes. And I’ll probably be a bit wary in large groups now, like I would walking through the hood in LA or the jungle in Thailand. I won’t be putting a huge effort into meeting new people in NZ – better to find good connections overseas I reckon.
And to those of you who haven’t allowed yourself to be manipulated into hate: I salute you. If only you could speak up loud enough to drown out the others!
Well said, Don.
Cheers mate, I was inspired by the group
Thank you. Great article.
Currently Canada do something similar so I can’t see my family. The Canadian border restrictions pretend to be all about science but they don’t trust the “science of testing” only those who chose to get the injection for vaccination. This policy allows sick infectious vaccinated people to enter without hindrence but also excludes healthy organic ones holding valid negative tests. This makes no sense.
Yeah I’ve noticed in NZ that they’ve introduced “vaccine certificates” that allow the vaccinated to do pretty much anything they like but don’t test them for covid, while negative tested but unvaxxed people must be restricted. Makes no sense scientifically
man that is such a brillant letter, all out of me and so similar (I am a german)normaly living in NZ. Made the “mistake”visiting old mum and now i am stuck. keep up yuor good thinking. regards gerhard
Sad to see that it’s now a “mistake” to visit a family member overseas!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dan. I completely understand how you feel, because I feel the same. I don’t think I will ever feel quote the same about the country I used love. Take care and enjoy life in the Czech Republik.
Mate, I grew up in Christchurch and lived there for many years. As a community it has a unique ability to make 99% of its members “others”, everyone is divided into categories with the hyper insecure scrambling to live in the right suburbs, send their kids to the right schools, and if you’re targeting being one of “us” even the make, model and colour of your SUV are important.
The veneer of civility is so thin it’s transparent and growing up that made it easier to see it for what it is. The standards required are set so high that nobody can meet them baring those who are this months darlings which requires everyone to try that much harder and having to inwardly deal with the failure of never making it for more than the briefest of moments.
Moving to Auckland I found a community that is so much more diverse by comparison that it simply cannot organise itself in a way that everyone is supposed to want the same goals.
The current lockdown has been fascinating to observe. It appears to me that people have become more distilled versions of who they really are. The anxious people who fear not being in control are hyped up to the max. Their fears are expressed openly everywhere as they feel that the environment not only allows it but needs their input, their constant outward expression of their fears and their fear turned into anger and hatred of those who they cannot control.
But the good people, the decent people, the considerate and the thinkers have been evaluating. Sitting back, observing and they now are coming out and as a unified group and are pushing back. First it was in private messenger groups on line where questions were being asked about is this right? Then the quiet civil disobedience started, despite Jacinda’s instructions people did start to talk to their neighbors, we did start to invite our friends over. We watched our neighbors do it and we smiled at them, and when they smiled back we knew that we are all in this together.
And then the walkers out on the streets began to stop glaring at anyone not wearing a mask, and groups started catching up at parks and beaches. Conversations with strangers outside coffee shops start up spontaneously, probably more than before, and everyone is concerned about how this protracted lockdown is affecting people, affecting peoples businesses, their lives, their families.
But you can’t see this from over there. The only thing that you are able to see is highly regulated media and government policies that divide and discriminate and attempt to turn us against each other. And you’re still seeing the outspoken fearful people, and maybe social media algorithms are ensuring that you’re getting plenty of it, but from my personal perspective I’m seeing a stronger and more united community that feels betrayed by its government and is determined to get a more normal life back, free of excessive fear mongering and bureaucratic control.
You can only sell a doomsday model of tens of thousands of people dying for so long. You can only break so many promises, you can only treat people like sheep up to a point. To me it seems that there are many attempts by our government to create divisions in our society where two sides blame each other and I believe you may be experiencing that.
But I don’t believe that you are an “other’, I’d say you’re very much one of us but through distance and state introduced discrimination you’re not able to connect with us to feel it. So hang in there mate, a better day is coming but it’s not going to be given to us, we need to make it happen.
I hope you’re right mate. I’d love to discover this is more about media selectiveness than actual representation of the NZ public
Hi. I enjoyed reading your blog you posted on Facebook. I am a NZer currently stuck in Thailand. I have been trying to get back home for many months, largely for family reasons. Like you, my views on NZ have been shattered and I think differently about NZ now. Thank you for writing about how many of us are feeling
Thanks Karen, I know many of us feel the same, if nothing else it’s good to know we’re not suffering alone
Please accept my request to join the company
Done, thanks for joining 🙂
Yes, this is exactly how I feel as well. You mused in your blog ‘I wonder if I’d be the same if I was one of the in-group members right now’. Well, likely not. I was in NZ in March 2020 and by the middle of the year I was drawing attention to the plight of NZers overseas on social media I was greeted with a ‘wall of silence’. I went back overseas in September 2020 and came back in November. This was largely because I was watching the Govt like a hawk and did not trust them. So when MIQ came up, I booked a couple of minutes after the platform launched. Have been in NZ ever since. The wall of silence has continued for the last year every time I bring up an uncomfortable truth. If you are prepared to point out the plight of others and critique Ardern? You are still ‘out group’.
Yeah I think the out-group has many facets, and being anti-Jacinda or even just skeptical of the govt is now one of those
I left NZ 20 years ago and always felt like it was home but I now don’t feel a connection with NZ at all. There are people I’m connected to there still. Both ‘sides;’ of politics have been so unprincipled but people to continue to support them. I will never vote for either of them again. What really gave me hope in humanity was being part of the 100,000+ (despite what the media says) march in Sydney – that had a real sense of comradery.
I have experienced being an outsider in NZ many times in my life for a variety of reasons including being part of a generation of women who broke the ground for the women coming after us, marrying somebody from a different ethnicity and raising children who, with their father, have been exposed to racism – having mixed race kid’s doesn’t endear you to the mean girl mummies either. Even so, this latest experience has been confronting and made me really question what it means to be a New Zealander.
Great article Dan,
You’ve neatly summarised the discomfort I’m feeling with the current social landscape.
We are being endlessly divided, and the anger is an offshoot of peoples insecurity and fear of the unknown. There are plenty of us in the middle watching the antivax, open the border crowd, and on the other hand the supervaxxers who would happily vaccinate by force and keep the country locked down… Unfortunately moderate voices seem to be shouted down by the rabid on both sides.
There is a scarcity of sensible and civil discussion, and the growing divides leave a sour taste. Excluding people for their place of residence or medical choices is a slippery slope to start down, and is part of a pattern of autocratic behaviour from this government.
All the best in Czech, hopefully we’ll catch up sometime!
THanks mate, I’ll be in touch once they finally let us in