The maker of popular board game Scrabble is facing a human rights complaint for including racist slurs against Aboriginal people as playable words.
The maker of popular board game Scrabble is facing a human rights complaint for including racist slurs against Aboriginal people as playable words.

Complaint over Scrabble’s ‘racist slurs’

A Northern Territory man has filed a formal complaint against the owners of popular board game Scrabble for including racist slurs against Aboriginal people in the game's dictionary of playable words.

Aboriginal activist Stephen Hagan - formerly of Queensland, who last year forced Coon cheese to change its name - lodged the complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission against international toymaker Mattel for allowing the words "abo", "coon" and "boong" to be played.

He said he was "absolutely flabbergasted" the company permitted the use of such offensive words.

"My wife and I never encouraged our children, when they were young, to experiment with racially offensive words or slurs whenever they played Scrabble," Dr Hagan wrote in his complaint, obtained by NCA NewsWire.

"I would like to think that when they have children they would also explain the importance of not using racially offensive words to gain points in Scrabble."

Aboriginal activist Stephen Hagan filed a discrimination complaint against the owners of Scrabble. Picture: Supplied
Aboriginal activist Stephen Hagan filed a discrimination complaint against the owners of Scrabble. Picture: Supplied

Dr Hagan, from Darwin, said the popular board game company, which has an office in Melbourne, failed to reassess its values following the global Black Lives Matter movement and made little effort to audit products with potential to cause offence.

"I know that with COVID-19, more people are looking at board games and families actually talking over dinner together," he told NCA NewsWire.

"It's appalling that Mattel promotes teaching kids that it is OK to use a racial slur if that's what it takes to win a Scrabble game.

"That's when kids start using them in backyards and schools."

According to collinsdictionary.com - which is endorsed by Mattel and the World English-Language Scrabble™ Players' Association - all three words are valid in the game.

Under the definitions, an "abo" is "an offensive name for an Aborigine".

The word "boong" is defined as "an offensive name for a Black person".

While "coon" is validated, the word is defined as a raccoon in the Collins dictionary.

Dr Hagan is calling for the three words to be removed from the Scrabble dictionary and an audit on all other possibly offensive words. Picture: Brenda Mau
Dr Hagan is calling for the three words to be removed from the Scrabble dictionary and an audit on all other possibly offensive words. Picture: Brenda Mau

Dr Hagan is calling for the words to be removed from the Scrabble dictionary and for the company to conduct an audit to identify other words that may be offensive to ethnic groups.

He also wants a formal apology and $150,000 in compensation for hurt and humiliation.

"They have a responsibility to be accountable for their actions," he said.

"It's not an oversight. It's in their written dictionary so they know very well what's in there.

"I object to overseas companies making financial gain by peddling bigotry in their products to Aussie families, especially First Nations families.

"It's time for fair-minded Australians to make a stand by not buying Scrabble or any of Mattel's products until such time as they cease validating racial slurs abo, boong and coon."

Mattel has been contacted for comment.

Originally published as Complaint over Scrabble's 'racist slurs'


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