Stan Grant, an indigenous Australian journalist, gave a speech in October 2015 at a debate on racism in Australia. The video of that speech has gone viral.
Several people are touting it as the Australian equivalent of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. While I would not elevate this speech to that status—and Grant himself has said that, while he is flattered, he is “not in any way worthy of that sort of comparison”—it is an excellent speech. Forceful, hopeful, compelling, moving.
Interestingly, Grant apparently delivered the speech off-the-cuff.
I didn’t want to write anything, I didn’t want to be standing there looking down at notes. I just wanted to look people directly in the eye. I wanted to make a statement about how we live with the weight of history.
Stan Grant succeeded.
A moving speech; here are my thoughts on it.
- Grant was right to stand behind the lectern. Usually, a speaker should be out in front of the lectern so as to shrink the distance between himself and the audience. But certain occasions mandate the use of a lectern. A debate such as this is one of those times.
- He has great eye contact throughout the speech.
- Grant’s voice was powerful without being overbearing. He maintained a good pace and he excellent pauses.
- He uses good hand gestures to emphasize his points. Even when he holds his hands together (starting at 1:05), it works well. Typically, speakers want to adopt and open posture and not hold their hands together; however, this is a good example of an exception to the rule.
- He anchors his speech by returning to a phrase, “The Australian Dream”, 11 times. This certainly has echoes of Martin Luther’s King’s speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In that speech, King invoked the phrase “I have a dream” eight times.
- He uses alliteration to frame his arguments: “We heard a howl. We heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival.” / “The Australian Dream is rooted in racism.”
- Grant tells personal stories of his family members and the indignities that they suffered, whether they were indigenous or white. He thereby enhances his own credibility when it comes to the subject of racism in Australia.
- Grant is humble in crediting his success to his family members who came before him.
- He uses statistics to support his arguments. “My people die young in this country. We die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free. We are fewer than three percent of the Australian population and yet we are 25 percent, a quarter of those Australians locked up in our prisons and if you are a juvenile, it is worse, it is 50 percent. An Indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school.”
- Grant invokes passages from important Australian songs and poems—the Australian National Anthem and Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country—and then uses antimetabole to show how the state of indigenous peoples in Australia has been the opposite of what is praised in song and verse.
“We sing of it, and we recite it in verse. Australians all, let us rejoice for we are young and free. My people die young in this country. We die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free.”
“I love a sunburned country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges. It reminds me that my people were killed on those plains. We were shot on those plains, disease ravaged us on those plains.”
- He uses commoratio to emphasize the disdain and hatred with which the British regarded the indigenous peoples of Australia: “And when British people looked at us, they saw something sub-human, and if we were human at all, we occupied the lowest rung on civilisation’s ladder. We were fly-blown, stone age savages and that was the language that was used.”
- Notwithstanding the foregoing, Grant sounds a hopeful note by appealing to the higher instincts of Australians.
“The Australian Dream. We’re better than this. I have seen the worst of the world as a reporter. I spent a decade in war zones from Iraq to Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We are an extraordinary country. We are in so many respects the envy of the world.”
And, using epistrophe: “Of course racism is killing the Australian Dream. It is self evident that it’s killing the Australian dream. But we are better than that. The people who stood up and supported Adam Goodes and said, “No more,” they are better than that. The people who marched across the bridge for reconciliation, they are better than that. The people who supported Kevin Rudd when he said sorry to the Stolen Generations, they are better than that. My children and their non-Indigenous friends are better than that. My wife who is not Indigenous is better than that.”
- He concludes by returning to the line from the Australian that he referenced at the beginning. He thus has a circular ending. But more than that, he emphasizes the word “all” to show his hope for the future: “And one day, I want to stand here and be able to say as proudly and sing as loudly as anyone else in this room, Australians all, let us rejoice.”
Congratulations, Stan Grant on your excellent speech. Here’s hoping that it leads to some positive, concrete steps in your country. And elsewhere.
To all my friends Down Under, Happy Australia Day!