980 Views: Reflecting on the Susan Devoy Poem

Last week I wrote a poem about Susan Devoy’s appointment as Race Relations Commissioner in New Zealand here.

My blog reflects my queer Pacific migrant experience, and is a mix of social justice issues alongside book reviews and everyday life. It generates around 50 views a post. It’s a shared conversation between small activist communities, so I can live with that.

Not so with the Susan Devoy poem. Over the last few days it has had 980 views. And yep, in the blogosphere that’s not a lot…but for a poem from a relatively obscure Pacific migrant writer about racism in New Zealand? A POEM. Yeah, there’s something going on with that. The more statistically-inclined amongst you might be interested to know that I had shared it with friends on Facebook, and eight of my friends shared it on. Someone with maths-smarts can explain to me how that gets to 980 views.

I’ve been reflecting on how my poem came to represent a tiny cultural zeitgeist, where  several hundred people felt moved by an expression of anger about racism in Aotearoa  – enough to share it on. Which made me think it resonated with how people are actually feeling about Susan Devoy’s appointment. It rang true.

The people that contacted me about the poem were  – probably left-leaning, sure – but pretty diverse in terms of cultural background. And some Pakeha thanked me too. It can be hard to not feel defensive when racism is brought up, so their willingness to show appreciation moved me.

What really humbled me this week, was that Marama Davidson was inspired to send out a call for more poems about it in a  “Race Relations Commissioner (dis)appointment” poetry competition. She has created a Tumbler page called Susan Stand Down. She has over 30 poems. You can send your poem to susanstanddown@gmail.com

Someone asked me on Facebook what the point of voicing concern about Susan Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner is.  For me, even if the only outcome of these poems is that Maori and migrant communities know that there are alternative voices, that is enough. What it represents is a growing counter public of people who don’t accept the everyday racism that is so commonplace in New Zealand.

And before anyone even goes there, don’t even try the “you-should-be-supporting-a-woman” line with me. Susan Devoy as Race Relations Commissioner will make the lives of Maori women and migrant women harder. That’s because the role of the Race Relations Commissioner in Aotearoa involves needing to champion race relations work.


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