In July 2015, as the debate over Adam Goodes being booed at AFL games raged and got ever more heated and ugly, Stan Grant wrote a short but powerful piece for The Guardian that went viral, not only in Australia but right around the world. His was a personal, passionate and powerful response to racism in Australian and the sorrow, shame, anger and hardship of being an indigenous man.
Stan Grant was lucky enough to find an escape route, making his way through education to become one of our leading journalists. He also spent many years outside Australia, working in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, a time that liberated him and gave him a unique perspective on Australia. This is his very personal meditation on what it means to be Australian, what it means to be indigenous, and what racism really means in this country.
If there is one issue in which our group finds complete agreement it would have to be the matter of racism. Over the years we have read many novels with this as either an underlying or central theme. It can lead to a highly emotional discussion, but one that always leaves us passionately opposed to what we consider one of the worst of all human flaws.
Grant’s Talking to My Country did not disappoint in the discussion stakes, and although the general opinion was one of high regard for what the author was saying, our views differed on how he said it.
Some felt that it was an especially personal account of suffered racism and on that level, very confronting. Grant’s childhood experiences … consistent relocating, indifferent teachers, juvenile justice … were not overly surprising to us and while he did encounter a certain amount of ‘luck’ in his educational path, we felt the strong family unit he was raised in helped in no small way to create a solid, resilient character. Something he put to good use in his chosen career.
There were those of us who tired a little of the repetitive nature of his dialogue, feeling he laboured the point just a little and there was some discussion of the reconciliation debate and what has (and hasn’t) changed in the last 20-25 years. How racists are Australians and why don’t those who believe differently speak out?
Then there is the Adam Goodes speech, the Australia Day invasion debate, deaths in custody and Indigenous education … all fiery issues that we spent the better part of 90 minutes discussing.
But in the end there were but two things said which sent a jolt through most of us …
As quoted from Stan Grant ‘… ours is an inheritance of sadness …’
And from Shirley ‘… I was brought up to be thankful that I was born in Australia, with a white face …’
As sad and alarming as both these statements are, they could be the start of moving towards a different way of thinking. Let’s hope that day arrives sooner rather than later.