Leadership Network member standing up to be heard

Leadership Network member Kii Small was shocked by the overt racism he experienced on moving to Wellington but says the solution is in opening a dialogue with abusers rather than going on the offensive.
Kii standing in front of a block of flats

Kii joined the Leadership Network in 2020

They say don’t read the comments.

And that’s probably especially true if you are a black, immigrant Kiwi.

But rather than avoiding the comments section of an online news story, too often a portal into a cesspool of abuse, bigotry and toxic communication, Kii Small dives in.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network member is half of the pair producing the Unpack podcast.

Together with Thabiso Sibanda, Kii sieves through comments and retweets of Stuff, Newshub, NZ Herald and Radio New Zealand news stories as a way of dissecting New Zealand events and culture.

Some topics are a bit of fun – marmageddon and Michael Jackson – others – Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and the dole - potentially raw-nerve hitting.

Key standing outside among trees

Kii: "Health is wealth…yet support for each other can often be lost in the race for our personal missions.”

Kii says most keyboard warriors are the same people he rubs up against every day – they live next door; they’re sitting at the neighbouring table in a café.

He’s not naïve – plenty of what he reads online angers and frustrates him. Sadly, he reckons he’s desensitised to racial insults purely because, as a black person, they’ve been constantly slung at him.

But attitudinal change won’t come from “taking a screenshot and laughing”; it will come from meeting people halfway, taking time to try and understand where they’re coming from, and having conversations, he says.

It’s brave to create a platform from which to provide commentary on fundamental features of an adopted homeland.

Kii chatting to the Foundation's Alexis Allen and Suzannah Jessep

Kii says he brings fresh perspectives to the Leadership Network

Kii says the very fact that he is a minority is his motivation to stand up and be heard.

“I'm black. Not only are there a lack of black people in New Zealand, but there’s also a lack of black perspective around the world.

“I have to give this perspective for history.”

It’s a strength he brings to the Leadership Network too, he says.

“Nobody in the Foundation looks like me, which means nobody can tell the stories that I tell.

“That also gives me the opportunity to be able to speak in a way that people will listen.”

Kii is quick to point out his story is multidimensional, his perspective far richer than any stereotype.

He arrived in Kaitaia from Bermuda as a 12-year-old. Yet, surprisingly, he says his greatest lesson in resilience was relocating from the Northland town to Wellington for university.

Kii found it tough finding his feet in the big smoke, missing te ao Māori and discovering overt pockets of racism in the capital he hadn’t experienced in Kaitaia.

He landed a job with university student magazine Salient, which he later edited, and the process of writing openly and vulnerably about his experience was cathartic and connecting.

Kii Small

Kii: "“Tuakana teina goes both ways – we can all learn from each other.”

It perhaps explains some of his motivation behind a second passion-project – the SaySo Project, a digital journaling platform.

Users are invited to put their thoughts and experiences into words.

Background computer cleverness then finds common themes in the stories, anonymising them and creating something of an archive of emotional outpouring, capable of connecting and empowering people.

With mental healthcare resources stretched in New Zealand, SaySo can help people “buy time” while waiting to access help services, Kii says.

“Plus, journaling teaches emotional intelligence…it’s shown that just starting a diary can relieve so many negatives, giving you the resilience for mental wellbeing.”

Earlier this year Kii was MC at a wellbeing hui run by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Members of the Leadership Network gathered to think about what wellbeing looks like for them as individuals and what they can do to foster collective wellbeing in society in general.

Being in a position of influence in New Zealand is tiring, Kii says.

“You’re dealing with tall poppy syndrome and the insular nature of so many sectors here can be exhausting.

“Health is wealth…yet support for each other can often be lost in the race for our personal missions.”

Leaders need to be authentic in their approach to wellbeing, willing to be vulnerable as well as advocate for the vulnerable, he says.

“The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ narrative is extremely dangerous and outdated. It contains this hierarchy that I’m uncomfortable with.

“Tuakana teina goes both ways – we can all learn from each other.”