Read a Blak Book lately? Alice Pung on Anita Heiss’s Am I Black Enough For You?
The first Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival, Blak & Bright, runs this weekend from 18-21 February. To celebrate the festival, we asked writers to share a story about a Blak book that means something special to them. Today, 2015 Stella shortlistee and 2016 Stella Prize judge Alice Pung discusses Anita Heiss’s Am I Black Enough For You?
In society today we still categorise levels of being Australian: ‘New Australian’ has been replaced with Greek-Australian, Chinese Australian … Our language still separates those who are ‘un-Australian’ from those ‘real’ Anglo Australians who can trace their family heritage back to the First Fleet, the original boat people.
– Dr Anita Heiss
Anita Heiss’s book Am I Black Enough For You? is part memoir, part manifesto, and the sort of generous book that can change a generation – if it weren’t for the fact that when it first came out, an inordinate number of haters with ‘hurt feelings’ went on the internet to write reviews denouncing it without ever having read a page. This is because Anita writes about the racial discrimination case against Bolt, to which she was a plaintiff. Yet there is no gloating in her legal victory, just endless patience and humour in the face of confronting entrenched ignorance:
I’ve often felt that my life is about making others understand that you can’t prescribe Aboriginality, and you can’t place genetically based stereotypes on individuals.
What I loved about Am I Black Enough For You? is its ability to meld highbrow academia, popular culture, revolutionary ideas and family love into something extraordinarily easy and enjoyable to read; a testament to a very talented writer. My favourite passages are those where Anita writes about the love between her strong Aboriginal mum and stoic Austrian father, and the absolute acceptance they had for who she was.
I wish I had this book when I was a young adult trying to grapple with my own issues of identity – it speaks to all of us considered by society not to be ‘fully’ Australian, feeling like half-formed, diluted human beings. This is the book that tells us that we need not shrink into shame or silence, that we are complete in ourselves.
– Alice Pung
The Stella Prize is proud to support the Sistas Are Doing It… panel at Blak & Bright, held on Saturday 20 February 12.15-1.15pm. Featuring Tammy Anderson, Anita Heiss, and Kate Howarth and moderated by Ellen van Neerven. Tickets are free, but please book here.