Know Your Place by Golriz Ghahraman starts with a powerful imagining of who Ghahraman could have been today if her parents had not fled Iran with her age 9, to seek refuge here in NZ. The memoir moves through Ghahraman’s childhood in Iran and here in NZ, her work as a defense attorney, going on to work for the UN, completing her Masters in Law at Oxford, and today, a member of the Green Party after becoming New Zealand’s fist refugee MP.
Ghahraman helps us to understand why her family left Iran, debunking a lot of western stereotypes of Iranian culture and opens up about what it was like for her and her family to reinvent themselves here in NZ as refugees.
What drew me to this book was not political, but instead I was looking for stories discussing race here in NZ. What I gained was a much broader insight into the life of minorities in Aotearoa through a focus on identity, race, war, religion, oppression, feminism, politics, domestic abuse, and mental health. I found this was not a book to be read quickly to ensure you absorb all of its points.
At the forefront of this book is Ghahraman’s work in human rights, uncovering issues within our own political system. Especially why diversity is important in parliament and the danger religion can play in informing our law. I really enjoyed the discussion around identity politics and why it is relevant, “It turns out that only the perspectives of the less-advantaged identity carriers are dismissed as ‘identity politics’. Talking from the perspective of privileged status quo identities is just ‘politics’.”
The book finishes with the Christchurch mosque attacks, raising the nationwide relief that was taken in discovering that the shooter was in fact Australian. The ‘New Zealand is not racist’ sentiment took hold quickly. A mind set that was used to erase the daily experiences of racism felt by those affected only to bring comfort to the ‘kiwi’ identity.
Wherever you align yourself politically, one thing that I hope everyone can take from the book is “Human rights are universal.” And while the spotlight continues to shine on race please share any books you’ve found educational or relatable from NZ.