- A racist poem targeting Captain Cook has been praised as being objectively hilarious.
- A performance of the poem has been funded by the Government, costing over $100,000.
- Would this content be allowed if it targeted other races?
Last week Tusiata Avia, a largely unknown poet from Christchurch, presented a poem to the world. The poem, a monologue written to Captain Cook, is being adapted for the stage. An excerpt:
These days we’re driving round in SUVs looking for ya, or white men like you, who might be thieves, or rapists, or kidnappers, or murderers. Yeah, or any of your descendants, or any of your incarnations, cos, you know, ay, b….? We’re gonna F… YOU UP.
The poem largely uses the shock of simple profanity, exaggerated threats and racist remarks aimed at the British explorer who figured in NZ history and was killed(then eaten) in Hawaii. The composition of expletives is a crude attempt at humour, which for some may indeed be entertaining. But to others it is not. The irony of presenting the poem in English – the language Cook brought with him – is apparently lost on Avia and her supporters.
Reporting on the upcoming performances, Stuff said her work was “objectively hilarious”. Stuff is apparently forgetting that they have been very critical of anything remotely racist against Māori. A search on the Stuff website returns tens of thousands of results for articles containing the term racist. Yet, for this overtly violent and profane poem they failed to even mention the blatant prejudice against whites.
Picking the winners
The performance of Avia’s poems at the Auckland Arts Festival is funded by a number of Government organisations, including the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Auckland City Council. The stage adaptation reportedly cost more than 100k.
With boards appointed by the Government, how did these organisations decide to fund this type of content? And would they fund or even allow performance that was using profanity and threats – comedic as they may be – toward other ethnic groups? The Arts Festival, apparently aware of the poem’s shocking and disturbing nature, posted a warning and details for suicide helplines along side their review.
Earlier, on 14 February 2023, Rawiri Waititi of the Maori party posted a similar rant on social media, which appears to have since been taken down. It said we should celebrate the violent death of Captain Cook.
Double standards and funding priorities
Aunty HeiHei, a social media commentator objecting to the poem, raised the point that only because her skin is brown can she even mention this double standard without being called a racist herself. We see similar racist double standards in other media, as the Government attempts to control the narrative through initiatives like He Puapua and NZ on Air’s funding priorities.
Free speech allows people to voice their feelings on matters such as this, but that does not mean the Government should be paying for it.