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We're Wasting Time Talking About Avocado When The Seed Of The Housing Problem Is Privilege

We live in an Australia defined by a generation seemingly obsessed with conserving its wealth at the expense of young people and their future.

17/05/2017 11:01 AM AEST | Updated 17/05/2017 11:20 AM AEST

The conversation on home ownership in Australia, specifically for young people, has become a tired one quite quickly. Countless cycles of the same old narrative -- of young people having to explain time and time again why exactly they believe they will never be able to own a home, and endlessly facing ridicule or incredulousness.

Case in point, real estate mogul Tim Gurner's appearance on '60 Minutes' over the weekend. Almost as though he was talking from a script, Gurner listed off all the typical arguments made against young people, the crown jewel of which being the bemoaning of our booming brunch culture, which has now made international news.

Putting aside the rather odd obsession these figures seem to have with smashed avocados (what did they ever do to you people? It's a delicious way to start the day and I stand by my breakfast choice), what seems to be a consistent missing element from these conversations is the way in which privilege has shaped the discussion.

That the struggles of young people have been reduced to a discussion on breakfast choices, and not the many policies that have come to damage our chances of home ownership, is a testament to just how welded on collective identities can be.

That is to say, the reason why it feels like we're having the same conversation ad nauseam isn't because young people have failed to word their response appropriately, or that they've have failed to find a meme to perfectly balance sarcastic bite with genuine outrage.

It's because we, as a society, seemingly have no idea how to talk about privilege. More specifically, Australia does not know how to reckon with the way in which privilege operates here. What has constantly characterised this conversation is the way the privileged and entitled have spoken for and to the underprivileged, often young people and minority communities.

Privilege here, often associated with fantasies of royalty or the ultra-rich, is framed by the benefits of opportunity and centrality. It is important to strip away the baggage that has come to be associated with the term, and to focus on its lived reality.

Opportunity comes in the form of inheritance, in the form of attending prestigious private schools and having countless pathways to wealth and financial stability. It's not having to work things out on your own, and is more than just a leg up, it's akin to having the keys to multiple doors other people are trying to force their way through.

Centrality here is the more annoying element because it's a consequence that is unnecessary and comes down to being able to command the centre of a conversation, to command the objective position. It means that all other positions, in objection or agreement, are still revolving around the core, and in this instance, that wealth is a matter of hard work and not being born lucky. It usually results in more air time and recognition provided to what is recognised as the 'central' position, marginalising any opposition.

These two elements, particularly the latter, have come to shape the manner and structure of our conversations on home ownership in Australia. It means that instead of sharing the perspective of a young person on the QandA panel, they are reduced to the role of a questioner, a blank face amongst many, their recognition beholden to the answer they receive. It means the perspective of the other side of the debate is never given the kind of weight someone like Gurner receives. Where are the 60 Minutes pieces on young people scraping together the rent, or on the student working unpaid internships to get a job?

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We, especially in an Australia obsessed with its tall poppy syndrome, have come to imagine privilege as a fantastical idea, something we would never participate in, certainly not us down-to-Earth, run-of-the-mill, straight-talking Aussies.

It has a lot to do with the fantasy of an Australia that's apparently a fair-dinkum society, welcome and equal to all. However, the veiling of privilege as central to this discussion reflects just how uncomfortable Australia is with its own reality.

The truth is this is we live in an Australia defined by a generation seemingly obsessed with conserving its wealth at the expense of young people and their future. We live in one that has indulged the privileged with air time and recognition, tipping the discussion in their favour. We live in one that seemingly mythologises financial success, ignoring the circumstances and context of said success.

That the struggles of young people have been reduced to a discussion on breakfast choices, and not the many policies that have come to damage our chances of home ownership, is a testament to just how welded on collective identities can be. They blind the privileged to their circumstances, and ensure the conversation continues to be about lax attitudes and excessive lattes, shielding their position from any resistance.

To move beyond platitudes and into conversations that can finally bring real change, we need to confront our realities and have the truly uncomfortable discussion on how privilege has come to shape what it means to be Australian, and how close or far we are from home ownership.

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