Being part of the problem, but not seeing it

There’s no big secret that I changed high schools, from one where the experience was less than stellar to Scots College, where I felt like I fitted perfectly.

During my second mayoral campaign, an old boy of the first place, Rongotai College, wrote to me via my feedback form sitting on his high horse, wondering why I didn’t mention the place—and implying I was a snob not to. He didn’t leave an accurate return address. Draw what conclusions you wish from that.

As I noted in my reply, and on this blog, and in so many bios, I did mention Rongotai, and it was on every single flyer, not to mention my website and a lot of other places. Even though I didn’t enjoy my years there, I had made a few friends—all the Samoan lads, Andy Bridge, and Brent Wong among them—and I wanted votes from old boys there, too!

But who really was the privileged one here? Me for heading off to a private school on a half-scholarship that I worked for, or my classmate who, being white, had the privilege of witnessing regular racist attacks and not doing a damned thing about them? To become an adult in the 2010s and not realizing that by being silent he was part of the problem?

A decade ago I thought he had a chip on his shoulder about the schools we finished at, but after spending some time earlier this year with a dear friend visiting from London who, like me, went from St Mark’s to Rongotai, I had to draw a different conclusion.

I was far from alone. Another good friend and colleague is a proud, out gay man who is also an old boy of Rongotai College. When I asked if he ever heard from the place, he said he received emails from the old boys’ association and they get immediately deleted. Like me he has Asian ancestry. I know first-hand about racist attacks but I don’t know what a homophobic one would be like, though I heard enough homophobic slurs there used for anyone who was arty or intelligent (and God help you if you were Asian). It’s not my place to pry but I can imagine what it would be like to be closeted there, and bearing the brunt of two forms of attack. No wonder he deletes the emails. It was a place where you had to live confined in a box, with success similarly defined in a conformist nature—and leaving the place I felt like myself again, believing in all possibilities and achieving them.

In fact, while writing this post, I recall my London-based friend also received a comment from the form writer, said to him in person, in 1991—after a friend of ours, from the same class at Rongotai, took his own life. I don’t recall what he said to my friend but it was utterly insensitive and it enraged him.

So you know what? The guy is a jerk. A racist jerk who didn’t grasp the concept of suicide. Who didn’t give a damn how the rest of us felt.

I didn’t connect the two incidents two decades apart till today.

Rather than maintain a respectful memory of this guy and his skills at a particular sport, I’m going to revise my impressions of him, in the once-per-decade moments when he crosses my thoughts. I hope time has given him more perspective and wisdom.

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