What's it like Being Black in New Zealand?
Interviewer: Pat Sevikul
Graphic Designer: Nasya Nethania
My name is Leandra. I lived in Zimbabwe until I was 6 years old when my family moved to New Zealand. I was first based in Christchurch but then moved around the South and North islands, so I lived in multiple places around the country and have lived both by the countryside and have experienced the city life as well. As of now, I live in Wellington. So now that you know a little bit about me, this is where my story begins...
What was it like growing up?
Living in New Zealand, I had quite a different experience growing up black than to what people might expect. For me, people actually admired and were interested by my different skin tone and hair. I remember all my friends continually marvelling over my hair and wanting a skin tone like mine.
My first bullying experiences were when people called me names like poo and dirt continuously. But then of course as time went by and people got older it began to change a bit. I would start to get oblivious questions like “wait so is your blood red” and “does your hair even grow”. This wasn’t too bad but when I hit high school things got even worse. People still admired and looked up to me for being black, but then they would also start taking advantage of it, taking my blackness as a joke. I was sort of a laughing stock because of the fact that I was black and people would make really sly but quite racist jokes. People also began to stereotype me more and more as time went by and racist slurs such as the N word became normalised in high school. It seemed anyone in New Zealand had the right to use the word as a joke, and against other people. I’ve never had this word used against me or in a belittling manner but the fact that the n-word is still being used is wrong on so many levels.
For some context, there isn’t a large black standing in the country. There are groups of Africans here and most of those families tend to live in extremely populated and lower income suburbs.
What does the BLM movement mean to you?
This movement means so much to me and my family. As black people ourselves, the reality of how badly African Americans were being treated in America (and all over the world in fact) was so real and so relevant for us, way before the BLM movement even started.
Racism in New Zealand is there but not as extreme as what the African American community are facing everyday. Because of this I am so very thankful that the black community is finally getting the attention they need and deserve. I also feel this era of Black Lives Matter will be much different than past ones; we now have the media and internet on our side, we can spread our messages quickly, efficiently and on a mass scale. Although, after the death of George Floyd things did not change massively for me and for other people in my close African community. Racism towards African Americans was addressed in my school yet it wasn’t a huge topic and in general (for me) school just continued as usual. I feel that this, in many ways, shows how this country can be ignorant and passive when it comes to educating young children about racism and its effervescent presence in society. From my personal experiences, I feel like New Zealand could still work on raising awareness and spreading information to show that as a country, we are above the racist system normalised in societies. Even if the African community is not treated with extreme racism in this country, My lack of severely racist experiences could differ from another African living mere miles from me. I feel like New Zealand is doing better than many countries when it comes to treatment towards the African community. Most importantly we are not bystanders in matters of racist situations happening around the world. I especially felt this way when I heard and saw about the BLM protests occurring throughout the country after George Floyd’s death. Even though I never got the chance to participate in any of the protests I could see the passion of young New Zealanders through mere videos and I could tell they were really trying to make a change.
What do you hope to see in the future?
I hope other young black people and girls don’t have to go through what I went through. Sure being so obviously different in a crowd helped me grow and become confident in myself, yet I also had a lot of years where I just wished I was everyone else and not the way I was. I guess that’s all come down to the fact that society never taught me to love myself. So, I hope future black children will be able to grow up being proud of who they are. I also hope this movement acts as a huge eye opener to the world and people can begin to actually notice and try to rid racism in their societies.
What can we, as non-black people do to help?
As non black people, it would really help to just educate yourself. I know it seems over said and everyone is aware of it, but once you actually put in the effort and heart to learn why the black community is so aggregated, you may begin to see things better from our perspective. I also think non black people can help by just being aware and open minded about how they act towards us. People can also use this BLM movement to appreciate how beautiful and stunning all our melanated people are. It’s about time people realize that.