Tusiata Avia writes and performs hate-fuelled material such as 'poetry' stating that she and "a car full of brown girls" are going to drive around looking for "white men" or any of the descendants or incarnations of Captain Cook and 'f... them up' with a pig hunting knife.
Meng Foon's belated response to numerous complaints about this poem stands in contrast with his strong, fast public responses to even the most innocuous things that might offend non-white people.
His response dated 10 March was as follows.
Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission has received multiple complaints about Tusiata Avia’s poem published on Stuff on 19 February.
I personally have also been approached on the matter. I acknowledge the poem contains strong and confronting language, and that this has caused offence to some people who may consider it to be racist.
I personally do not agree with the tone of the piece, the words used and the imagery it evokes.
The Commission has been asked for our view on whether the poem amounts to hate speech or breaches the Human Rights Act (the HR Act). Many of the complaints and queries consider that Ms Avia’s poem amounts to inciting racial disharmony, under section 61 of the HR Act.
The courts have ruled that the threshold to meet that section is very high. This means that to be unlawful, the speech must be likely to excite hostility or feelings of contempt against a group. The courts have also emphasised the importance of protecting freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights Act.
Freedom of speech legislation means that while some language may be awful, hurtful or even offensive, it may still be lawful.
To be clear, I do not play a role in dealing with complaints of this sort and the Commission does not have powers to issue a ruling if a law has been breached. Our role is to provide dispute resolution services. We do not have powers to make findings and impose penalties. In this matter we decided our dispute resolution services were not suitable.
However, if people still wish to progress a complaint of race discrimination or inciting racial disharmony, they are entitled to take the matter to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. It must be noted the Commission also does not have powers to shut down any performance or take any kind of censorship action.
Such concerns can be forwarded to Te Mana Whakaatu – Classification Office, which considers complaints about films, videos and literature but not live shows. The NZ Media Council, which resolves complaints over online media content, can also be approached on such matters.
As Commissioner, I will continue to advocate for vulnerable communities and promote positive race relations, hold people to account, and help inform and educate New Zealanders around human rights.
I will be reaching out to Creative NZ, the Classifications Office and Stuff Media, among other parties, to discuss this matter further.
I empathise with those who have felt offended and are hurt by this work, and I feel for those who have been, and continually are, impacted by the trauma of colonisation.
I will always encourage people to use language and words in a manner which enhances harmonious relations in Aotearoa.
"...caused offence to some people who might consider it racist..."?
“…those who have felt offended and are hurt by this work…”?
Actually, it likely causes FEAR among sensible white people who know that our nation's violent gangs and criminals are overwhelmingly non-white and that Ms Avia's rhetoric is encouraging them to feel justified in harming and killing people with white skin. The 'poem' doesn't just incite racial disharmony that Mr Foon suggests some people might ‘still’ want to complain about, it incites racial violence. It's against the law to threaten or to incite violence but that's exactly what Ms Avia is doing.
Mr Foon's wording shows that he doesn't consider the piece racist. Well Mr Foon, just change the words to reverse the race and gender referred to and I'll bet you would have condemned that as racist and sexist quick smart.
Mr Foon’s contempt for “those who have felt offended and are hurt by this work” is highlighted in his expression of empathy, in the same sentence, for those impacted by colonization. He implies that horrific racist violence can be understood as justified to some extent.
Demeaning a cultural icon is no better when it's a white race's icon than when it's a non-white race's icon. And vile diatribe intended to shock, offend and frighten does not art make.
A.E. Thompson is a working, tax-paying New Zealander who speaks up about threats to our hard-fought rights, liberties, egalitarian values, rational thinking and fair treatment by the state.