How to promote an anti-racist workplace

What can you do to promote an anti-racist workplace?

You might think you’re the most woke person in your workplace. Workplaces, remember those? Neither do I. Let’s rephrase that because we’re now living in an era of working from home. 

You might think you’re the most woke colleague on your team. You’re not a racist — well done you. But it’s time to go further than posting black squares on Instagram and declaring your ability to not be racist online. It’s time to make a concerted effort to promote anti-racism at work too.

It’s time to channel your motivation from the current Black Lives Movement to all aspects of your life, and the “workplace” is no different. 

According to an SBS and Western Sydney University survey, 32% of Australians have experienced racism within their workplace, and racial attacks have increased in Australia since the coronavirus pandemic started.

Here are seven ways to promote an anti-racist workplace: 

  1. Take a look at your team
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk about racism
  3. Ask your higher-ups about what they’re doing to promote equality
  4. Learn how to pronounce your colleague’s names
  5. Consider whether you are “micro-aggressive”
  6. Ask your colleagues about their experiences
  7. Hold yourself accountable to continue to promote an anti-racist workplace

Take a look at your team 

Take a look at your team. What do you see? If there are few or no people of colour in your workplace or on the board of your company, you need to start asking yourself why — and then ask management why too.

Don’t be afraid to talk about racism 

It might feel uncomfortable to talk about racism, but do you know what’s more uncomfortable? Avoiding the elephant in the room.

Speak up, ask your colleagues how they are feeling about the current movement, and how are they feeling in general. Is there anything you can do to support them during this time? Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it must feel like to read, watch and listen to the news right now. 

Ask your higher-ups about what they’re doing to promote equality 

If your boss thinks less of you for asking the important questions, you probably need a new boss. Ask your higher-ups what they’re doing to promote equality and inclusivity across the team. Ask them about pay, ask them about diversity workshops, ask them if the company cares.

The more people who put pressure on now, the better for everyone. By staying quiet, you are supporting white supremacy. 

Learn how to pronounce your colleague’s names

Learning how to pronounce your colleague’s names is so simple yet so powerful. It’s also so annoying for anyone, no matter where they’re from, to hear their name being mispronounced day in, day out. If you don’t know how to say it, just ask, and remember it. Practice if you need to, but don’t avoid using their name and don’t joke that it’s too hard to pronounce so you won’t bother. That’s a micro-aggression.

On the topic of micro-aggressions …

Consider whether you are “micro-aggressive”

A micro-aggression is a statement, action, or incident that is in fact an indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group, such as a racial or ethnic minority.

Examples of a micro-aggression include commenting that your co-worker has really good English, or is ‘soooo articulate’. A micro-aggression is asking the girl with the afro if you can touch her hair, it’s clutching your belongings when you see a person of colour; it’s looking past a minority when they’re speaking to you; it’s expecting the big boss to be white. Don’t comment, don’t touch and adjust your expectations, now. 

Ask your colleagues about their experiences

If you have a relationship with a colleague in which it feels appropriate to ask them about their experiences at work, ask them. The majority of the time, the minority is less likely to speak up about racial incidents at work for fear of being let go.

Ask colleagues about their experiences at work and outside of work. Not only will it help you to realise that racism is a very real issue, it will also give you the opportunity to be an ally and speak up for that colleague if they have been having a negative experience. 

Hold yourself accountable to continue to promote an anti-racist workplace

It’s time to audit our outlook. There is always work to be done in the white mental schema, whether you think it or not.

Take a look at your own conscious or unconscious biases. Think about times when you could have done better. Keep track of what’s happening around you and commit to holding yourself accountable for creating a better anti-racist workplace.

Read: Racism in Australia| Where does Australia rank in the world for racism?

Nine anti-racist movies to watch

There’s no shortage of information out there about what you should be watching, listening and reading right now, but you might be wondering what anti-racist movies to start with.

Here is a mix of nine fictional and documentary-style anti-racist movies to watch: 

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird
  2. Moonlight
  3. 13th
  4. I Am Not Your Negro 
  5. Get Out 
  6. Whose Streets?
  7. Green book 
  8. The Hate U Give 
  9. When They See Us 

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

To Kill A Mockingbird follows an unfortunately familiar storyline: a black man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit and faces the consequences of racism by death. The storyline is cleverly delivered from the innocent, unbiased eyes of young Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch. The film was released almost 60 years ago but still sadly rings true today.

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight is part coming-of-age tale, part social document. The storyline follows the life of an African American male from boy to man. What is striking about Moonlight is that the tale isn’t necessarily an overt showcase of racism in the United States. However, it does portray the notion that black men have an image they are expected to uphold, one of hyper-masculinity. This is a theme that is unpacked in the writing of Damon Young

13th (2016)

13th is a documentary named after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the country and ended involuntary servitude. The documentary explores racial inequality within the prison system in the United States. Scholars, activists and politicians analyse the criminalisation of African Americans and the US prison boom.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro is part visual essay, part documentary, exploring racism through the experiences of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary acts as both a political and poetic statement, and takes the audience on a journey of the “American Dream” through the eyes of an African American man. 

Get Out (2017)

Get Out feels like a horror film and it is. But the source of horror isn’t a monster in a mask, nor is it paranormal; the horror comes from the palpable racism that protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) faces when he visits his (white) girlfriend’s family in rural upstate New York. The spooky film mirrors the horrors that black men face as Chris becomes the victim, is trapped and cannot get out — much like a system that most minorities face. 

Whose Streets? (2017)

Whose Streets? is a documentary film that examines the uprising that followed the killing of 18-year old Michael Brown, and the resulting Ferguson uprising. The film hones in on Hands Up United’s co-founder Tory Russell, Brittany Ferrell, a nurse and young mother, and David Whitt, a recruiter for civilian organisation Cop Watch. It offers first-hand perspectives of those on the ground during racial riots and protests.

Green book (2018)

Green book follows the literal and metaphorical journey of an African American pianist and an Italian American bouncer as they travel through southern America. The film is based on a true story of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (once an avid racist) and classical and jazz pianist Donald Shirley, who needed a bodyguard to tackle that part of America during the 1960s. While the film has attracted certain controversies, it does showcase the severe racism that existed, and still does, from both the perspectives of a black man and a white man. Overall, it shows how interracial friendship and understanding are possible — a reminder that is unfortunately still necessary today.

The Hate U Give (2018)

The Hate U Give is a movie about 16-year old Starr Carter’s story of grief and mourning as she loses her friend Khalil to police brutality. Carter comes from the fictional black neighbourhood, Garden Heights, and attends a predominantly white private school, Williamson Prep. She finds herself battling between two mindsets: one in which she yearns to seek justice for her friend, and one in which she wants to silently move on from the trauma she has experienced at the hands of racism. This is one of the few anti-racist movies that showcase modern-day racism while being less confronting for a teenage audience. 

When They See Us (2019)

When They See Us is a four-part true story about the case of the ‘central park five’, in which jogger Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped in New York’s Central Park. The attack led to the wrongful conviction of five young men from Harlem, their exoneration in 2002, and an eventual collective settlement of $41 million. The series highlights the problems of the criminal justice system by showcasing how prosecutors in the New York County District Attorney’s Office framed these men and traumatised them into false confessions, while also forcing the audience to think about their own unconscious bias.

Which anti-racist movies have you been watching? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Read: Nine anti-racist books you need to read

Five anti-racist podcasts you should listen to

Wondering which anti-racist podcasts you should be listening to? We’ve got you covered.

Here are a variety of anti-racist podcasts that talk about the past and present of racism: 

  1. Getting White People To Talk About Racism 
  2. White Homework 
  3. Justice In America
  4. The Good Ancestor Podcast 
  5. 1619 

Getting White People To Talk About Racism 

Getting White People To Talk About Racism with David Remnick from The New Yorker discusses the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, alongside anti-racist trainer Suzanne Plihcik. Plihcik examines white supremacy in America, and how hard it is for those who benefit from structural racism to acknowledge its existence. This podcast is for anyone who wants to better understand the current protests and their impact on, and importance to, racism in the United States as it exists today. 

Listen here.

White Homework 

White Homework with Tori Williams Douglass is a podcast for people wanting to learn about racism, the non-revised version of American history, and how to leverage privilege to create a more equitable world for all. This podcast is for anyone who wants a no-nonsense approach to grasping racism and their own privilege in a language that is easy to understand. 

Listen here.

Justice in America 

The Justice in America podcast with Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith centres around the criminal justice system and reform. Duffy and Clint interview a broad range of people, including activists, practitioners, experts, journalists and organisers. This podcast is for anyone who wants to understand how the criminal justice system works, as well as its impact on people, particularly poor people and people of colour.

Listen here.

Good Ancestor Podcast 

The Good Ancestor Podcast with Layla F Saad is interview series with change makers and culture shapers, exploring what it means to be a good ancestor. Layla F. Saad is an anti-racism educator and the New York Times bestselling author of Me and White Supremacy. The Good Ancestor Podcast is the anti-racist podcast for you if you are seeking a fresh perspective through the eyes of activists who are making a difference in the fight against racism. 

Listen here.


Hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, 1619 is a New York Times audio series that examines how slavery has transformed America, connecting both the past and present. 1619 is the anti-racist podcast for you if you want to better understand the fundamental history of racism in the United States. 

Listen here.

Read: Nine anti-racist books you need to read

How can you make a difference to fight racism?

Are you wondering how you can make a difference to fight racism? 

Racism, xenophobia and intolerance are problems prevalent in all societies, but the small decisions you make on a daily basis can make a difference in the fight against racism. 

The actions you take don’t always need to cost money either.

  1. Sign petitions 
  2. Follow a variety of cultures on social media
  3. Speak up
  4. Engage with diverse characters
  5. Keep the conversation going on and offline
  6. Support black-owned businesses
  7. Donate 

Sign petitions

There is an infinite number of petitions you can sign to pledge your support towards anti-racism. Here are a selection of active petitions that you can sign:

Follow a variety of cultures on social media

If you only follow white people, you only follow a white narrative. If you only engage with white people, it will be very hard for you to hear anything outside of that narrative. Make your follower list diverse. Follow people of colour, whether they’re influencers or businesses; try to engage with a variety of stories each day. 

To get started, here are some accounts that are worth following on Instagram:

Speak up

If someone makes an inappropriate comment or joke regarding people of colour, it might feel uncomfortable to confront that person. You might want to stay quiet and brush it off, but by being passive, you are contributing to white supremacy.

Speak up! Tell that person the comment or joke they made was uncalled for, and that you will not tolerate them speaking this way. It is clearly not enough to simply say, “I’m not racist”, and block out everything that has been happening. It’s time to be anti-racist and not afraid of being assertive when you need to be. 

Engage with diverse characters

We’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of anti-racist books you should read, both fictional and non-fictional. It’s also useful to engage with diverse characters on screen, whether it’s via a fictional narrative or an in-depth documentary

Here are some options on Netflix:

  • Who Killed Malcolm X?
  • What Happened Miss Simone?
  • 13th
  • The Help
  • Dear White People
  • When They See Us
  • All Day And A Night 
  • Atlanta
  • To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before 
  • On My Block 
  • Jane The Virgin 
  • Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
  • Insecure 

Keep the conversation going on and offline 

After the black squares, hashtags and widespread outrage, it’s important to keep the conversation going, both on and offline. Channel the motivation you may be feeling right now into the future. Don’t let the current movement be a fleeting trend. Keep conversations going with your friends, family and colleagues. 

Support black-owned businesses

There has been a growing trend to support smaller businesses. Maybe you’re going to a small local coffee shop instead of a convenience store for your coffee; maybe you’re buying your gym gear from a company that makes their apparel from recycled materials.

So why not support black-owned businesses as a way of pledging ongoing support, and helping to close the wealth gap between white people and people of colour? Forbes has put together tis list of 75 businesses that you may consider supporting


Here are some Indigenous charities you may consider donating to. Charities and organisations that support the Black Lives Matters movement in Australia and the United States include:

Read: Nine anti-racist books you need to read

Nine anti-racist books you need to read

Here are nine award-winning anti-racist books we recommend you read to help better understand the lives of people of colour. 

The list include both fiction and nonfiction books, so there’s something for everyone. 

Nine anti-racist books you need to read

  1. Me and White Supremacy 
  2. Girl, Woman, Other 
  3. White Fragility
  4. Stay In Your Lane 
  5. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker 
  6. How To Be Antiracist 
  7. I Am Not Your Baby Mother 
  8. My Place 
  9. Talking To My Country 

Me and White Supremacy 

Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad started as an Instagram challenge in which Saad encouraged followers to think about, and take responsibility for, their often unintended participation in white supremacy and the contributions they may be making against black people, Indigenous Australians and people of colour. Me and White Supremacy: A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor is one of the few anti-racist books that includes a workbook; it is designed to bring readers on a journey of understanding their white privilege. The book helps readers to proactively understand their internal perspectives through its cultural context. Expect an eye-opening workbook, anecdotes and real-life examples of racism as it is experienced today. 

Girl, Woman, Other 

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo follows the lives of 12 women in the United Kingdom over several decades. The interlinked stories of the characters raise evergreen questions around both racism and feminism. Girl, Woman, Other speaks to experiences of struggle, marginalisation and hardship, shining a lens on a world that is not often discussed. Where there is struggle and pain, there is also joy and imagination. Where the reader is presented with a world they may not be able to relate to, they are still presented with universal themes — most notably, love. 

White Fragility

White Fragility, a book and term by Robin DiAngelo, who investigates why white people become defensive when the topic of racism arises. DiAngelo, a diversity and inclusion training facilitator, first coined the term “white fragility” in a 2011 article in which she made sense of why white people tend to feel attacked when racism is discussed. In the book, she articulates numerous examples that act as an eye-opening manual for everyone, even those who classify themselves as ‘woke’. Expect historical references mingled with present-day examples of racism in the United States, and proactive steps you can start taking now to break down the bedrock of racism within your own surroundings. 

Slay In Your Lane

Slay In Your Lane by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke — who met at university aged 18, and co-wrote this book aged 25 — is part celebration, and part self-help book written by and for black women. Slay In Your Lane is packed with real-life anecdotes and interviews with iconic women of colour to inspire their generation.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker 

What Doesn’t Kill You Make You Blacker by Damon Young chronicles his experiences of racism in the United States, including anecdotes of failures in the healthcare systems to which he lost his mother; expectations around how he should present his masculinity as a black male; and the injustices he faces for being black. The reader is taking on a journey of emotive consciousness. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker a book that is guaranteed to motivate its readers to do better. 

How To Be An Antiracist 

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi does exactly what it says on the tin, or book cover. It’s one of the anti-racist books that couldn’t be more relevant and necessary today. Ibram X. Kendi is founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington, DC. Kendi connects his personal experiences of growing up in Queens with the history of racism in America, up to the present day. Expect an analysis of power structures, culture, class, colour, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Kendi leads by example by addressing his own ideas in an insightful and all-encompassing discussion on what it means to be black in the United States today. 

I Am Not Your Baby Mother

I Am Not Your Baby Mother is a book by Candice Brathwaite, who was frustrated by the fact that she did not feel represented in memoirs of motherhood. Brathwaite takes her readers through the reality of what it is to be a mother, behind the Instagram feed and magazines that contain glossy imagery of mostly white mothers. I Am Not Your Baby Mother is part memoir, part guide to the modern challenges that Brathwaite faces as a black mother. This is Brathwaite’s personal attempt to create more colour equality in the media around representations of motherhood. 

My Place 

My Place, by Sally Morgan, is an autobiography that unearths political and societal issues contained within Australia’s indigenous culture. Sally Morgan travelled to her grandmother’s birthplace, starting a search for information about her family. She uncovers that she is not white but Aboriginal — information that was kept a secret because of the stigma of society. This moving account is a classic of Australian literature that finally frees the tongues of the author’s mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.

Talking To My Country  

Talking To My Country by Stan Grant is an autobiography about Grant’s life as an Indigenous Australian. As correspondent for CNN, Grant travelled to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia to cover stories of conflict. Seeing humanity living on in the face of repression and mass destruction spoke to his own story of sacrifice, endurance, and the undying call of family and homeland. In the lives of other dispossessed people, he saw his own. Talking To My Country is a book that examines the after-effects of colonialism on everyday racism; his main message is that we must not become complacent towards the inequalities that exist today. 

Read: How many Indigenous deaths in custody have been recorded?

Here are the Indigenous charities you should be supporting

Which Indigenous charities and campaigns should you be supporting? Following the death of George Floyd and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, you may be asking yourself how you can make a difference. 

Before we delve into the Indigenous charities and campaigns you may consider supporting, here are some key statistics to keep in mind: 

  • More than 400 Indigeneous Australians have died in police custody since the royal commission in 1991
  • Indigenous Australians make up 2% of the national population but represent 27% of the prison population
  • Indigenous suicide increased from 5% of total Australian suicides in 1991, to 50% in 2010, especially among those aged 10-24 years of age
  • Thirty-three pre cent of Indigenous adults reported high levels of psychological distress in 2014-15, and hospitalisations for self-harm increased by 56% between 2004-05 and 2014-15
  • Indigenous children were almost 10 times more likely to be placed in out of home care than non-Indigenous children in 2015-16.

Here are some Indigenous charities and organisations you may consider supporting: 

  • Healing Foundation 
  • The Indigenous Literacy Foundation 
  • The Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)
  • ANTaR
  • Yalari
  • Justice for David Dungay Junior
  • Justice for Yuendumu: Inquiry on Police Shooting
  • Indigenous Crisis Response & Recovery

Healing Foundation

The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address the ongoing trauma caused by actions including the forced removal of children from their families. Donate here.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation strives to make a difference to the lives of Indigenous families by gifting thousands of new culturally appropriate books ⁠— with a focus on early literacy and first language ⁠— and by running programs to inspire the communities to tell and publish their own stories. Donate here.

The Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)

The Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) works with Aboriginal communities, and key government and non-government stakeholders, to deliver services in a professional, culturally proficient and community sensitive manner.

The NAAJA Criminal and Civil Law services are delivered throughout the Northern Territory. Donate here.


ANTaR is an independent, national network of organisations and individuals working to support justice, rights and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. ANTaR’s mission is to engage, educate and mobilise a broad community movement to advocate for justice, rights and respect for Australia’s First Peoples. Donate here.


Yalari identifies children who are doing well at primary school and gives them the opportunity to be educated at some of the best boarding schools throughout Australia. Yalari aims to provide young Indigenous people with the ideas and skills to help them pursue their goals and dreams. Donate here.

There are also active GoFundMe campaigns for the families of those who have lost loved ones to police brutality, including: 

Justice for David Dungay Junior

In 2015, David Dungay (26) died in Long Bay jail in New South Wales due to police brutality. This GoFundMe page was set up by his mother Leetona Rose Dungay. Funds received from this page will be used to cover expenses, such travel costs to attend rallies and campaign events around our country. It will also cover legal expenses, accommodation and food for the family while they are campaigning. Donate here.

Justice for Yuendumu: Inquiry on Police Shooting

Kumanjayi Walker (19) was shot by police three times in his home at Yuendumu on November 9, 2019. The funds raised through this campaign will be withdrawn by organiser Lisa Watts to pay for lawyers to travel to Yuendumu to facilitate an independent inquiry into the shooting. While most of the lawyers will be working pro-bono, funds are still needed to cover the costs of airfares and other transport and associated forensic expertise. Donate here.

Indigenous Crisis Response & Recovery

The Indigenous Crisis Response & Recovery Aboriginal Corporation (ICRARAC) responds to the crisis needs of Indigenous people throughout Australia. This organisation has been established by Indigenous people for Indigenous people to respond to the bushfire crisis on the south east coast of Australia. Donate here.

Read: Indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders? It’s not black and white

Indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders? It’s not black and white

Indigenous, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders — unpicking the terminology around how Australia’s first people are reported in the media means navigating a minefield packed with political explosives.

In the past, Crikey has been chastised by readers for the use of the word “indigenous” and “aborigine”. One anonymous reader told us that “indigenous” and “aborigine” are both anachronisms. Martin Wardrop, director, Aboriginal Art Online, disagreed, telling Crikey: “Indigenous is not an anachronism — if anything, it is now more widely used than the longer phrase [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people].”

So as a white journalist who writes about indigenous issues semi-regularly (not that this just affects journalists — public servants, teachers and social workers all encounter terminology problems) what’s the best word/s to use?

Not indigenous it seems. That was deemed assimilation by semantics. Most of the Aboriginal groups Crikey spoke to encouraged usage of “Aboriginal” — or even better, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people” — over any other name. Plus, it also depends where in the country you are (there are some clear state differences), the context and everyone’s personal opinion.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

It’s the term that experts Crikey spoke to identified with the most. “We use the expression Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people,” O’Keefe told Crikey.

“In NSW, the term is generally Aboriginal or Aboriginal person,” said Seiver. “In South Australia, the preferred term is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” said a spokesperson from the SA Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division.

In Tasmanian there was acceptance of both. “We say Aboriginal or Aborigine,” Mansell told Crikey, although Aboriginal appears more popular. Although sometimes people become geographically specific with “Aboriginal”. “Tasmanian Aboriginal people say ‘We’re Tasmanian Aboriginal’,” said Mansell.


“We don’t like that word indigenous, it was imposed upon us,” Gail Beck, regional development unit manager at West Australia’s South West Land and Sea Council, told Crikey.

Damien O’Keefe, a project officer at Reconciliation Victoria, also avoids it. “There are sensitives from the communities about ‘indigenous’ being a scientific term that colonials have employed to describe them as part of the flora and fauna,” he told Crikey. Although he admits sometimes indigenous can be used since “there’s a practicality you can’t repeat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander five times in a sentence.” He notes that Aboriginal players in the AFL are often grouped as “indigenous players”, which was widely accepted. “It’s a bit of tricky one,” said O’Keefe.

“Indigenous is a catch-all term,” Anthony Seiver, a policy officer on Aboriginal affairs, told Crikey, as he noted the wider, global usage of “indigenous” to cover all indigenous people. “It’s largely used by the Australian government to capture Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” he said. But it can have its place. “It’s probably appropriate for national broadsheets for instance, or national media outlets.”

“Internationally the word indigenous has a particular meaning to most people, however, locally some people associate the term with the Howard government’s attempt to mainstream services and policies in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and therefore do not like to use the word, preferring to refer to themselves as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” Khatija Thomas, the South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, told Crikey.

It’s unpopular down south, too. “In Tasmania, for sure, a lot of people are very outspoken about not liking the word ‘indigenous’, especially ‘indigenous Australians’,” said Nala Mansell, state secretary of the Tasmania Aboriginal Centre. “When people label us as ‘indigenous Australians’, it puts us in the same boat as other Australians. We’re Aboriginal, a separate group of people to Australian people.”


“Aborigine” is a noun, while “Aboriginal” is an adjective. Most deemed Aborigine outdated, although it has seen a recent resurgence. “We would rarely use ‘Aborigines’,” said O’Keefe. “We prefer ‘Aboriginal peoples’, recognising there are a lot of different peoples in the country, not all just one mob, there’s hundreds of different language groups and tribes.”

“Aborigine is a bit more of an old-fashioned term,” added Seiver, comparing it to the old government term “Aboriginal person”, but he noted “Aborigine” “has re-entered common usage”.

“Aborigine was a word created to pluralise us,” said Beck, who noted that a lot of people still use it, although she prefers “Aboriginal”.


At The Hobart Mercury, the word “blacks” often appears in headlines of stories about Aboriginal people. “Down here, when we’re marching on the streets for land rights and the media says ‘blacks take to the streets for their rights’, that’s fine,” said Mansell. “If it’s used in a negative way, it’s offensive, when it’s used in a positive way, that’s fine.” The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre often writes “blacks” in its press releases.

Everyone else Crikey spoke to said that it depends on who is saying it, but that it was uncommon and unexpected to see it in the media or a public forum. Beck deemed it inappropriate: “We call ourselves that but to write that in the paper there you’re putting the colour there.”

It’s all about the context. “Depending on the audience, you might use the expression ‘blackfellas,’ which Aboriginal people use amongst themselves but you’d be very careful of using that in public because some people would it offensive for a whitefella to use that expression. Others wouldn’t,” said O’Keefe.

Seiver agreed: “Aboriginal people will sometimes describe as blackfella, but would not be appropriate for a white person to refer to a person as a blackfella. What matters is whether there’s malice attached to it. ‘Blacks’ in the local context is not necessarily a derogatory term, but in other circumstances, it may well be.”

Local terms

Other local terms such as “Koori” (Aboriginal people from NSW and Victoria), “Murri” (from Queensland) and “Noongar” (from Western Australia) are also commonly used, but very geographically specific. Even more preferred than”Aboriginal” is for the usage of cultural block name where possible. Meaning, identifying that someone from near Melbourne is from the Kulin nation, and more specifically from the Wurundjeri People.

There’s also a push for other cultural identifying names. Beck says that “first nations” or “originals” (short for “original peoples”) is currently being mooted around on Facebook and among the media as a preferred group name for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This is an edited version of Crikey article that was first published on August 15, 2012.

Read: How many indigenous deaths in custody have been recorded?

How many Indigenous deaths in custody have been recorded?

More than 400 Indigenous Australians have reportedly died in police custody since the royal commission in 1991.

According to 2018-2019 findings from the Guardian

  • The proportion of Indigenous deaths where medical care was required but not given increased from 35.4% to 38.6%
  • The proportion of Indigenous deaths where not all procedures were followed in the events leading up to the death increased from 38.8% to 41.2%
  • The proportion of Indigenous deaths involving mental health or cognitive impairment increased from 40.7% to 42.8%
  • The proportion of deaths attributed to a medical episode following restraint increased from 4.9% to 6.5%
  • Indigenous women were less likely to have received all appropriate medical care prior to their death, and authorities were less likely to have followed all their own procedures in cases where an Indigenous woman died in custody.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Indigenous people in the prison system has increased from 19% in 2000 to 30% in March this year.  

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners who were in prison but not sentenced also increased by 3% since December 2019. Those sentenced decreased by 4% since December 2019.

Of all states and territories, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates were highest in Western Australia at 4,118 persons per 100,000 adults in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population; and lowest in Tasmania at 740 persons.

According to the same data, there has been a steady increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons who are in the community-based correction system. 

According to reports, recent protests across Australia have prompted a review of the Closing the Gap scheme, which seeks to lower the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people incarcerated. 

Officials from state and federal departments will meet Indigenous representative Pat Turner, before deciding on new targets by July 2.

Read: What matters to the local Black Lives Matter movement