Have you ever heard something that is so shocking that you gasp out loud? When a friend tells you something and your heart sinks as you know, deep down, what's coming next?
This happened to me recently.
I suppose I'd be described as a white, middle-class, English woman. My friend would be described as a brown, middle-class Maori man. We live in the same city. I believe that we're friends. I have enormous respect and love for him and his extended family. They are exceptional in so many ways and I value their friendship.
I don't want to go into too many details for fear of invading this family's privacy, but I feel the story he told me recently just has to be told.
It's one of those stories when the vast majority of us (I sincerely hope) would say something like, 'surely not!' or 'in this day and age?' or 'you've got to be joking!'.
His family is very involved in one of the major sports in New Zealand. All the women, his wife, daughter and granddaughter, are very, very good at it. They're about to travel to the South Island to compete in a national competition.
He had secured an Airbnb in Invercargill and had paid a deposit. The owner of the Airbnb made contact with him after the deposit was paid and after she became aware of where the family lives and the fact that they are Maori. She said that the price would be higher and that the booking details had not been updated. As an alternative, she said, they could pay $70 per room, she would stay in the house, and, if they wanted, she could provide breakfast ...
The tenor of the conversation was clear. They would not be welcome.
Are we naive? Do we believe that this is a rare occurrence? Is it possible that this sort of blatant racism is alive and well in parts of New Zealand? In all of New Zealand? Perish the thought!
I was glad that he told me this when we were speaking on the telephone. Had we been together, he would probably have seen me shed a tear. This made me seriously ashamed. Has his family encountered this outrageous bigotry before, I asked? Is it expected? The answer was yes to both?
It's your thoughts that count. His did. He immediately cancelled the booking and has booked elsewhere. I suggested that he write a very damning report on that person's Airbnb feedback form. The owner should expect nothing less.
Note: When I wrote this email in early March, the atrocities in Christchurch hadn't occurred. My question has been answered. At least one person has demonstrated such blatant racism that she has shocked me to the core. I can only hope that there is a tiny minority of people, living in New Zealand, who have any sympathy for the views, actions and thoughts that this woman has displayed ...