Sunday, 22 October 2017

Appropriating White Housing

Foreign buyers give Australians a taste of cultural appropriation.

"Sold! To the Playa with the biggest deposit."
Despite conclusions that foreign purchasers of housing have little impact on overall residential property prices (apart from new constructions) the myth of funny accents with deep pockets driving housing unaffordability continues to trigger comment.

This has more in common with fish shop dim sims or blackface than you think. They're examples of 'cultural appropriation':
"The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."
White culture was thought immune to appropriation because of its dominance and its fluidity. In fact it had, until very recently, imagined itself a pluralistic, global meta-culture, until some disenfranchised members (read: supremacists) manufactured/revived something they could feel both downtrodden and superior about. Regardless of its changing dimensions, white culture exists therefore it can be appropriated.

This is how it goes down in the housing market:

Dominance - Easy. Nothing confirms your beta-status quite like being outbid at an auction.

Customs, practices, ideas - It's a little tougher to say exactly what previously 'owned' by white culture has been appropriated. Australians(1) pride themselves on being secular, but far from eliminating sacred things to appropriate, sanctity has been transferred to the perceived fruits of pragmatism, namely prosperity. The quarter-acre block is a totem of the modern Australian Dream(ing). It is as much a stretch of the imagination to consider low density housing culturally significant as it is dreadlocks or dot paintings.

Unacknowledged/unpermitted adoption - the defense of takers has always been that they paid fair price for what they received, whether that consideration was convict-ship journeys or 60 guilders. Foreign buyers would argue that because they acted lawfully, they appreciate rather than appropriate. But - and I'm sure Australians would agree only in this instance - what is fair should be decided by the dispossessed(2). Hence, complaints of properties left vacant, nominal Australian residency being exploited … in other words, traditions not being honored.

Because power is decreasingly aligned along geographic or racial boundaries(3), pretty much everyone can now savour equivalent feelings of having their birthright sold.

Not that prevalence, of course, ever makes cultural insensitivity ... appropriate.

  1. And much of the Anglo-sphere, and developed countries like Singapore.
  2. Who are the victims? Foreign buyers acknowledging the traditional owners or humbly requesting a 'welcome to country' would likely miss the mark.
  3. Power is still divided along gender and age lines though.


  1. This is pretty cool!
    Foreign buyers don't really "appreciate" the Australian dream of home-ownership. They're (implicitly) rich enough to be buying property in a foreign market, which undercuts the golden rule of a "fair go".

    1. You raise an excellent question. Does the Australian 'fair go' include foreign buying? (Australians buying overseas as well as foreigners buying in Australia)
      Australians themselves may be divided on the meaning of home ownership, treating it as they do a sometimes incompatible hybrid of housing and capital.