If you have the privilege of a free voice...use it.
Freedom of speech occupied much attention in New Zealand over the last couple of months. The public furore centred on the rights and wrongs of denying space for right-wing (racist, sexist, fascist) commentators to speak in this country. This was complimented by a side dish of outrage for our homegrown variety of anti-Māori speakers also being denied space to spread their views (...and then subsequent martyring of said anti-Māori speakers).
On one side you had the 'ideologically harmed' arguing for the right to speak at all costs - even, as many of them said, they didn't agree with the views of those they were defending. On the other side you had the survivors of racism, sexism and fascism or the 'harmed' reminding those that spoke for freedom of speech that words can be harmful - and that there is no space for hate speech in an inclusive nation. So how committed are we really to this notion of peace and inclusion? What's the line between constructive expression and hate speech? These are works in progress...and actually not the basis of this particular blog today.
What I want to talk about is the value of voice. While the debate over freedom of speech rages on, I can't help but ask for those of us who have the freedom to speak - are we using it? And are we using it well?
We know the harm and damage that can be caused by words, which tells me that words also have the ability to heal and unite. As so far as they can be used as a tool of oppression, they can also be wielded to claw back rangatiranga (sovereignty), mana motuhake (self-determination) or whatever expression of freedom fits for your particular community.
I know we know this...but do we focus on this?
I know we know this...but are we brave enough to use our words - and use them well?
For many of us the answer is no, and that's ok. There are lots of ways that our voices are oppressed, and to me that's the great irony in this debate over freedom of speech. That unbridled freedom of speech exists at all is a myth... well I think it is anyway. I don't know how many brilliant, bright, articulate people I know who can't say or do things for fear of very real consequences - is that not a form of oppression? I too was in this boat - and the day those constraints dropped away (because in my case I changed jobs) I proclaimed to the world that I felt like the Little Mermaid in the final scene of the movie when she got her voice back. Freedom is sweet, but you can only really appreciate it if you've experienced its absence... I wonder if the ideologically harmed know this feeling like survivors of colonisation do?
For some of us - the lucky ones of us - the answer is yes. Yes we can speak, yes we want to use our voice to help give power to others, to heal and to move us towards our collective aspirations. It is for you that I've created this blog. This is a space for you to share your beautiful views and thoughts with the world.
I'm pretty sure the words you will read on this blog wont all be pretty...or polite...or poetic. Some of them may even be confronting and abrasive. The point is not to react - the point is to share stories to help grow and expand our critical analysis as Maori of things impacting on our wellbeing and our world. For me at least - the point is kotahitanga (unity/one-ness) - we don't all have to agree with one another to be travelling in the same general direction, but we do have to acknowledge that we're all there, and respect the diversity of whakaaro (thought) that exists within our community for whom we're fight for.
Somehow we have to find a way to get on with it, and get on with it together. I hope this space can serve a purpose in supporting this outcome.