Monday, March 3, 2014

The inevitable search for the easy-out loophole

The other day, my article regarding my personal preference for certain terminology went live. I've posted the link to it in my articles tab, and it's also below in the original form if folks wish to have a flick through it. I saw it shared widely and I got some great comments back, from those who both agreed and disagreed with my stance. What I was most pleased with were mob who welcomed the piece. They are kind enough when it was first written here, so when it went "mainstream" I did wonder how it would go. So thank you to those who shared it.

Mostly, I avoided the commentary, as is my want but also because in a lifetime of being a black woman, much of the dissenting opinion from outside the mob is rehash. I have heard it all before, several thousand times and it doesn't get more interesting or convincing the more I read it. Oh yeah, and calling me a "white" person who is appropriating political terminology to feed into my alleged victim mentality just shows the petty-mindedness of some, as well as their complete inability to read an entire article without regurgitating their incessant bile onto a keyboard. I made a footnote to my original blogpost on receiving a comment but apart from that, I didn't engage.

What I did see though, which is equally rather boring, are what I call the "easy out loophole arguments". Several places where my post was published, I saw comments like this:

"What if I am about to talk to room full of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I don't know their individual preferences for terminology? Am I supposed to go around asking everyone what they prefer before I start talking? What if they don't all agree? Am I then expected to use several terms?"

And this from progressive types. Allow me to *headdesk* before I go further...

In my piece I covered umbrella terminology and how I use it. Surely this would have given adequate insight to people on how to use these terms. The correct answer is "respectfully". Use the terms with respect, and if you are corrected by a community person later then take that information on board. It's really not that difficult. When I see people doing all this "what if...?" business I can't help but think that they are looking for some way to not engage fully with mob or are just throwing stuff into the "too hard basket". The key is always respect.

Respect, for example, is why I have actually lost count of the amount of times I have written to news publications over the years complaining about their use of a small 'i' when using the term "Indigenous" to refer to the mob. Several years ago I wrote a letter to the editor that got published in a Murdoch rag and although I had used capital 'I' throughout my letter, when it was published it had all been reduced to lower case. I rang up to complain to them about this and I was told that they had merely adhered to what was in their "style guide". I was not surprised that the Murdoch press had no style, I have to say...

"Indigenous" may not be a preferred term, but when we use it, in our own publications, we always capitalise the 'I'. When we say it, we are doing so with a capital 'I'. Why? Because we are using the term as a noun. We are naming ourselves as a collective of First Peoples of this country distinct from other inhabitants on the basis of history, culture, religious connection and timeline. We are not using it as an adjective; as a mere handy qualifier of the term "Australian". Indeed, we often use it without "Australian" tackled on at all. It never ceases to amaze me that certain publications will always capitalise the 'e' for "English", or the 'i' for "Indian" (to give a couple of examples) even when these terms precede "Australian", yet flatly refuse to take cues from the First Peoples of this country when it comes to how we would like to be addressed. How we are entitled to be addressed. And that, folks, is a perfect example of a term not being used in a respectful manner.

Then again, considering the amount of disrespectful coverage I have seen over the years from the MSM when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it probably is not remotely surprising that some sources still can't be bothered capitalising their 'i's...

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