"Real Blackfellas": Constructions and Meanings of Urban Indigenous Identity


Aboriginal people in Australia construct their identities in relationship to a state and public imaginary that places primacy on celebrating and preserving "traditional culture" and in turn regularly fails to recognize the impact of colonial history, state constructed definitions, and indigenous modes of identification. For Kooris in the suburban Sydney community of La Perouse, claiming and legitimating Aboriginality can be particularly challenging; they are suburban rather than urban or rural, neither assimilated nor traditional, and Black, but always suspect of being White. This article examines how urban Aboriginal identity is negotiated among/between Aboriginal people and the socio-political conditions that make this negotiation necessary, desirable, but sometimes risky. I explore the ways in which Kooris variously asserted their Aboriginality through their bodies, practices, and politics along a continuum of identity construction. I argue that Kooris move between affirming cultural belonging and differentiating between indigenous cultural styles, histories, and geographies. I suggest how constructions of intra-Aboriginal sameness and difference take us behind the veil of recognition and allow us to consider Aboriginal identity constructions as forms of indigenous knowledge production that can reproduce, speak back to, and sometimes shift, the geographic, racial, political, and cultural boundaries that underlie prevailing state policies and popular ideas about Aboriginal cultural identity and authenticity. © 2012 by the American Anthropological Association.

Publication Title

Transforming Anthropology