Someone confused multivitamins and multiculturalism, and unfortunately for us, it was Susan Devoy.
Full disclosure: I used to work at the Human Rights Commission, although not for the office of the Race Relations Commissioner. I also consider the former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres a friend. (However, shitloads of other people do too. He’s super friendly.)
Poor Susan Devoy. Once an ex-sports star merely reduced to hocking multivites; now a national joke upon her appointment as New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner despite her admitted ignorance of the state of New Zealand race relations.
Because no-one cares about squash, I can’t even come up with a sport metaphor to describe the epic degree of this failure. And I’m pretty late to commenting on this, because I’m tired and on the other side of the world. But I made a pun! Worth sharing.
A more intelligent comment by a friend on Facebook sums it up far better: “There is not even a pretense of giving a damn. In fact it’s the opposite – it is an aggressive statement that there is one way now and if you don’t like it, don’t expect any respect, understanding or compromise.” (Thanks Claire Foster – and not even an ethnic minority!)
Radio Live also captured it pretty well with their title for her floundering interview the other day: “Is the new Race Relations Commissioner out of her depth?”
The quotes in this latest story are possibly even more depressing: The mental image of Devoy hurriedly cramming like a first year politics student who’d spent all semester in the pub begs the question: why didn’t they just appoint a first year politics student who’d spent all semester in the pub?
Also, she’s not quite sure what ethnicity she is. I guess she’ll be on the road to self-discovery then… like a first year politics student.
To be blunt, her appointment is a slap in the face to every ethnic minority in the country who has ever experienced racism.
However, it’s also rather unfortunate for Susan Devoy. Because technically, she has a job to do and won’t be able to do it.
One of the more important parts of the job of Race Relations Commissioner is this thing called informal mediation. It’s not as easy as writing columns in provincial newspapers saying we should all forget the past and get along, but is the task of working directly with people who can’t stand each other so that communities can, in practical terms, get along.
Justice Minister Judith Collins has defended the Devoy appointment in terms that appear to admit Devoy cannot credibly bring people together, saying “The role is commissioner not conciliator.” You get that? She’s gonna *commission* us some race relations.
Yes, there are Human Rights Commission mediators for complaints that are within the remit of the Human Rights Act, and the Commissioner isn’t one of those mediators. But in certain special cases, if the national boss of Race Relations can’t show leadership and bring people to the table, who will?
I recall Joris de Bres handling some very hairy informal mediations. Getting the Roskill Tongan and Somali communities to make peace after that whole ‘death by machete’ thing. Bringing Muslim community representatives to hash things out with the editor of the Dominion Post after that paper’s publication of the ‘Mohammed cartoons’. Paul Holmes (PBUH) speaking out loud on any given day.
Aggrieved communities could trust that de Bres was someone who knew their issues inside out, would provide a space for them to get their point across, and wasn’t going to insult or patronise them. He could bring them to the table to sit down with assholes.
By contrast, Devoy is starting out with a massive credibility deficit. It might take some effort to get aggrieved communities to even sit down at a table with her. Not to say she’s an asshole – her Aussie-lovin’ Waitangi Day and burka comments probably only merit a 3 on the Michael Laws ass-scale. But her appointment alone may make her the first Race Relations Commissioner to actually make race relations worse – and all before she even starts the job.