I have just finished reading Stan Grant’s latest book Australia Day. I have been devouring his books in the last three months, prompted by his thinking on identity.
Our world is in love with identity. Having a sharp definition of who you are is said to provide you with greater understanding of and comfort with yourself and a place to stand in the world. Sexual preference, gender selection, family position, occupation, racial history and a myriad of other factors can all be used to define your identity. You only need to look at our fingerprints to know we are unique, but a sharply categorised identity ensures you can proclaim that uniqueness to the world. I heard this week that Sam Smith (famous singer) has asked all his fans to use “they” or “them” when referring to him from now on. His identity is now de-gendered and corporatised.
Stan Grant takes a contrary and profound view to the current cultural milieu. And it is fascinating given he is proudly a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi man. Grant’s view is that pursuing our own sharply individualistic identities will only divide us from each other. He constantly critiques the (well meaning) identity warriors and draws on a myriad of historians and philosophers to make his case. The more we define the “I”, the more I am separated from the “us”.
In Australia Day he shares the story of the 30 steps that exist between the Australian Constitution and the Larrakia Petition delivered to the Queen in 1972 requesting a treaty in Australia. Those 30 steps are paradigmatic of the way identity as currently formulated divides us.
Grant calls us to eschew the unending grievance that is caused by separatism, and to get on with the “serious business of healing the memory of wounds, resolving the Australian settlement and connecting us all”. Elsewhere, he points to the need for synthesis through struggle; I think that’s how Grant would describe his own Australian identity. He is in an ongoing self-battle to be neither black, nor white but Australian. He also suggests that pursuing love as our paradigm will bring us together. His are wonderfully challenging and profound books and I would commend them to
anyone wanting to know more of the mind, experience and life of indigenous Australians. I think he is close to helping us chart a course through the rampant racism that still exists in our time.
What’s interesting is that the teaching of Jesus is littered throughout his books. He loves the mandate to love and the way Jesus was towards outsiders. Sadly, Grant misses the most profound point that flows from the Gospel – when we recognise that we are all united by our being made in the image of God, we find our true identity in the one who is love – Jesus himself. If we were all to come to Jesus as loving King we would find both truth, identity and love. Ultimately, being united as Australians would be good, but being united in Christ is best.