Blak, Black, Blackfulla – Language is important, but it can be tricky

By Jack Latimore

If you followed the last year’s Black Lives Matter uprisings, you will have  noticed the word Blak being used by writers and commentators. If you’re  curious, interested, baffled, or thinking of super- casually dropping some words into a conversation or piece of writing yourself, this handy usage guide is for you.

Aboriginal or aboriginal

Let’s start with a worrying trend I’ve observed creeping into common practice over the past decade: the reversion to the uncapitalised aboriginal. I’m not even sure it’s due to not knowing better. I think in most instances, it’s deliberate because it’s usually surrounded by other, grammatically correct capitalisations. It’s been common and correct practice since the late-1970s to capitalise Aboriginal, so, you know, get the “caps” right then proceed to the next black tile on the pathway to personal Recognition. Blak Tip: Language is important and respect goes a long way.

Indigenous or indigenous

Same thing with Indigenous – you better put a cap on it, as Queen Bey would say. This is more recent practice and many publications and newsrooms (though not this one) are yet to shift with the times and update their house style. Insistence on its usage is also sometimes belittled, usually along the lines of: “There’s more important things in Aboriginal Affairs that we should be worried about.” Snore. Watch how we walk and chew gum at the same time.

Also, it’s weird that everybody accepts and celebrates the sporting parlance: “It’s the little, 1 per cent efforts that make a real champion”, but are quick to dismiss the same logic when it applies to communication. 

So be a champion, uppercase the I.

Blak or Black or Blackfella or Blackfulla

Let’s get back to Blak. The provenance of this term goes back to 1994 and Aboriginal artist Destiny Deacon, who urged art curators Hetti Perkins and Claire Williamson to use Blak instead of Black for an exhibition. It ended up being titled Blakness: Blak City Culture. Last year, I asked Deacon the reason she advocated Blak and it came sharply back to the issue of representation. Growing up, Deacon always heard white people calling Aboriginal people “black c—s”. She wanted to take the “c” out of Black.

Between then and now, the use of Blak has taken on additional functions.

It still signifies urban, contemporary Indigeneity, but has also become important in differentiating the Blak experience from the racialised experiences of non-Indigenous communities of colour. Blackfella or Blackfulla is now often used for the same purpose, but Blak also carries with it connotations of actively engaged, critical-political conscience, which Blackfella or Blackfulla, arguably, doesn’t always convey. The concept and relational use of Blak also continues to emerge, which adds to its dynamism.

The above is an excerpt – read the full article online in the latest edition of Reconciliation News. 

This edition of Reconciliation News is all about the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural empowerment, protection and rights. Download the full PDF or read the full edition online. 

This article was originally published by The Age. Head to theage.com.au to read more.

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Reconciliation Australia acknowledges and pays respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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