'Totally inappropriate' - MPs condemn Invercargill mayor's n-word use

The Beehive (File image).

MPs have condemned Invercargill's mayor for saying the n-word at a public event and later repeatedly in media interviews as "inappropriate" and "unacceptable".

Mayor Nobby Clark has been unapologetic about saying the n-word during a speech at a public event, adding that he was only using the word to spark a debate about artistic expression.

In interviews with 1News and Newshub, Clark continued saying the word despite complaints following the public event.

The mayor first said the n-word on Tuesday while speaking at a local event that brought together speakers to talk about arts and creativity.

Grant Robertson today condemned the mayor's words and said they were unacceptable.

"The comments he made are not ones that I would make, and are not ones that many New Zealanders would find acceptable."

Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty agreed and said he couldn't think of situations where saying the n-word would be appropriate.

"I can't think of any circumstance where that would be appropriate," he said. "Even if you were directly quoting someone else that said it, you'd apply some caution in that regard."

In a video of the event shared on social media, Clark can be heard posing a question: "Does poetic expression override some of our society norms?

"So you've got to close your ears if you've got a sensitive mind now," the mayor said.

"But if we have art or poetry that uses words like queer, n*****, f*** the bitch, which I have heard recently — is that beyond our tolerance as a society, and how does that interface with the right of people within the art world to have freedom of expression to push their points".

When speaking to 1News, the mayor said his initial remarks were prompted by a debate over the content that a potential new council-owned art gallery would be prohibited from being exhibited.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the n-word had been "soul-destroying" for many in the past and that Clark's use had been "totally inappropriate".

Nanaia Mahuta (file image).

When asked about the impact of language, like the n-word, Mahuta said: "I think for a lot of people who are at the receiving end of racist comments, it doesn't build or edify your sense of self and can be very soul destroying."

ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden said Clark should've stayed out of the debate over artistic expression.

"I don't think it's an acceptable piece of speech. It's not something I would say, and it's not something I would advise anybody to say," she said.

"He shouldn't have said it, but he should stick to the issues that matter to the people in his area – rather than being a voice on cultural matters."

Brooke van Velden (file image).

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the mayor should reflect on the impact that his words would have on others.

"He should reflect that as a Pākehā man in a powerful leadership position, the impact, even if he's quoting other people's words, the impact that he has staying the n-word over and over again is going to cause emotion," she said.

She said Clark didn't need to resign over the comments but that the mayor should "reflect on how that is going to make people feel".

"That word has been used to defame entire groups of people around the world, we need to hold space for indigenous artists to reflect the pain of colonisation.

"But he, as a Pākehā in a leadership position, should be aware of when he uses that word, how it is going to upset people - even if he is quoting other people."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson (file).

Earlier, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said he couldn't condone the usage of the n-word and that "we are constantly on a learning journey."

"The 'N-word' holds a connection to a terrible and horrific history, and in that light, caution should be taken around its use," he said.

"As time passes, our understanding of issues and the impact of language evolve, and some words are just not appropriate in today's world. It is important to not normalise the use of words which are derogatory or offensive to others."