Middle-class Indigenous Australia exists

By Anika Baset | 21 Jun 17
Quarterly Essay 64 Feature Image
Quarterly Essay 64, The Australian Dream: Blood, History and Becoming.

The Australian Dream: Blood, History and Becoming
Stan Grant
Black Inc

In late 2015, award-winning journalist Stan Grant gave a speech, entitled Racism is Destroying the Australian Dream, that would go viral:

The Australian Dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It is there at the birth of the nation. It is there in terra nullius. An empty land. A land for the taking. Sixty thousand years of occupation. A people who made the first seafaring journey in the history of mankind. A people of law, a people of lore, a people of music and art and dance and politics. None of it mattered because our rights were extinguished because we were not here according to British law.

Grant’s Quarterly Essay, The Australian Dream: Blood, History and Becoming, is written as a coda to this speech, yet it takes on a vastly different tone. Worried that he has inadvertently “perpetuated a lazy narrative about Indigenous Australia, he focuses instead on “the dynamism and potential of modern Australia and the Indigenous men and women who fought to secure their place in it.

Much of Grant’s essay focuses on the achievements of the Indigenous middle-class, whose contributions to Australian society are overshadowed by a focus on problems in remote and regional Aboriginal communities. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of educated, well-paid Indigenous professionals increased by 75%, more than double the increase in non-Indigenous professionals.

Yet the public discourse is centred on the other Indigenous Australia: “the shadow world of choking poverty, rivers of grog, frightening rates of violence, over-crowded housing and intergenerational unemployment.” Ignoring the existence of middle-class Aboriginals to instead equate Indigenous identity with misery and sadness creates a “risk of falling into caricature and stereotype”. Grant argues that this one-dimensional view of Aboriginal identity limits the opportunities available for Indigenous people to fully participate in the social and cultural fabric of modern Australia.

He is critical of black activism, arguing that placing history at the centre of identity emboldens a sense of victimhood.

The Australian Dream also serves as a warning against identity politics, which Grant claims is “wreaking devastation”. He is critical of black activism, arguing that placing history at the centre of identity emboldens a sense of victimhood. While Grant speaks about Indigenous identity, his reasoning could be extended to any minority group battling with one-dimensional tropes borne out of a legacy of oppression.

However, no matter how well intentioned Grant may be, his solution of liberalism does little to challenge the white hegemony of Australia. Grant fails to address the additional barriers of entrenched racism that Indigenous Australians (and migrants) face, even after firmly securing themselves as middle-class citizens. It is, of course, a celebration that many Indigenous Australians can now trawl through domain.com for their next investments, shop around for private schools, just as likely as they are to book their next holiday escape”. But it would be a mistake to believe that a more inclusive Australian Dream starts and ends with economic empowerment alone.

That aside, The Australian Dream is a resounding celebration of Indigenous success in contemporary Australia – one that also argues for a broader definition of Indigenous identity, one that allows First Nations peoples to share fully in the possibilities of the nation.