i guess the place to start is that this a difficult thing for me to talk about. because i'm dependent on the person who will be race relations commissioner in so many ways. i need to depend on her being the voice standing up for people of colour. i need to count her being willing to step in and stand up and fight when i can't fight or when my voice isn't loud enough or strong enough to be heard.
because her voice is strong enough to cut through - it carries the full weight of her office and the institution that stands behinds her. it opens doors that aren't accessible to me, in that she is much more likely to be granted entrance into organisations or given interviews with people than i am. she has access to funding and support structures that i don't have access to, at least not in the same way. in fact, sometimes she gets to be a gatekeeper in regards to my ability to access that support.
if she fails to act or to speak, she won't suffer the consequences: i will, or some other marginalised person and/or community of colour will. if she fails to do her job properly, i will find it harder to fight the discrimination i face in my day to day life.
i've written plenty of times about the support either myself or my community have received support from the previous race relations commissioner. when the danish cartoons were published, he stepped in immediately to organise a meeting with leaders of various faith communities and the editor of the dom. that allowed a crucial piece of dialogue to happen and affected how the issue played out in the media over the coming days.
when greg o'connor, head of the police association, decided to go public with his criticism of a new police policy in relation to burqa-wearing drivers, the race relations commissioner organised a meeting between myself and mr o'oconnor. at this meeting, myself and a friend were able to explain to mr o'connor the impact of his words on the lives of women in our community, and it was an incredibly powerful meeting.
when i decided to take on an op-ed in the waikato times, he offered me not only his sound advice, but also the supporting cases and the institutional support i needed to achieve a successful outcome.
there are plenty of other examples i could give, but i think this is enough to give you an idea of just how important this role is to me personally, in my activism and advocacy, and in my ability to feel like i could possibly make a difference to the world i live in. and because i am dependent on the person in that role doing not just a good, but an excellent, job - well, that makes me afraid to criticise the new appointee. to criticise the appointment risks me getting offside with a person who i desperately and crucially need on my side.
so in a way, i'm silenced by my need, by the very marginalisation that the position is supposed to fight against. and yet i'm very afraid that a person who finds burqa's "disconcerting" is not going to be able to advocate effectively for burqa-wearing women when, for example, they are refused entry on public transport for no good reason. i'm afraid that someone who complains about discord on waitangi day and is so unaware of the experiences of people of colour on
and yes, it is great to have a woman in the role. but it would have been better to have a woman in the role who had had some experience of marginalisation based on race, nationality and colour. because experiences of marginalisation aren't transferrable. just because you know what it's like to be marginalised as a woman doesn't mean that you understand the issues or the experiences of people who suffer a difference form of marginalisation.
if that was the case, then there would be no tension between feminists and the trans* community. but we on this blog have first-hand experience of that tension, and i'll be the first to acknowledge that we didn't handle it particularly well. and there would be no tension between white feminists and women of colour. but there is a huge amount of such tension, and there have been screeds of words written about that by women of colour around the world and a whole thing called intersectionality.
so when judith collins makes the statement:
"Frankly she's the 10th person in the job, the first woman, and that speaks volumes about the way in which women, particularly ethnic women... have been kept out of the race relations debate."
it makes me pretty angry. because our new appointee is not an ethnic woman, so this appointment will not change the fact that ethnic women are being "left out of the race relations debate" - if in fact we are. for ms collins to say so means that she is ignoring the work and the words of wonderful ethnic women activists across the country, just to make a rather spurious point in support of her appointment.
i don't know how ms devoy will do in this role, and i don't want to undermine her from the start because, as i said, i desperately need her to do well. in her interview with radio nz this morning (morning report, 7:39am), she expressed a willingness to listen and learn, so i will hope for the best. what else is there to do?