Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"They’re not Aborigines, they’re 'Indigenous Australians'" - Tales of Political Correctness


If you’ve ever attempted to perform the stale and tiresome task of writing up an Australian History essay, chances are you’ve heard the pestering righteousness of straight-laced professors: It’s not Aborigine, its Indigenous Australian. Such brash, panicked corrections don’t end there, so just so we’re clear, readers, it’s not Black but African American, not half-breed but multi-ethnic, Advanced Learners rather than Gifted, Special Needs rather than Handicapped and (my personal favourite) Chronologically Advantaged rather than Old Person. Australia is often accused of being a racist country, and with recent scandals surrounding football players throwing around offensive racial slurs, it’s time we jumped onto the political-correctness bandwagon.

Unlike our friends in the United States and United Kingdom, political correctness has not had a very strong presence in Australia until recently. A few days ago when I’d misplaced my cousin somewhere inside a local Borders bookstore, I was offered assistance by a perky staff member, and asked her if she’d seen a tall Asian girl. She responded with a few nervous glances around the store, struggling for an answer until, very carefully, she offered, “The tall one, with…long black hair…the tall one that you walked in with...I think she’s in the Fantasy section.” I realise now that it had been terribly sadistic, but at that point it was too irresistible not to lean in slowly and whisper, “But was she…Asian?” Impressively, the determined assistant struggled on, flinching and squirming, and finally answering, “I hadn’t noticed, but she’s tall, with long black hair, and she’s wearing a black ACDC t-shirt and a bright blue necklace.”

Today, teachers are discouraged from writing negative feedback on students’ report cards, journalists are pressured to choose their words carefully, Santa Clause is ordered to swap his cheery “ho ho ho” with the less vulgar “ha ha ha”, Baa-Baa Black Sheep is now Baa-Baa Rainbow Sheep, and team-mates who are in the habit of taking regular jabs at one another are made to exercise special caution for their mates of non-Anglo heritage. I admit that I often shudder when somebody uses the dreaded gender-specific job titles (actress, waitress, stewardess), and there is no doubt that people can often go too far with blatancy and insensitivity, but it appears that the prodigious flight of political correctness has rendered people to the unfortunate habit of fighting ignorance with even more ignorance. If the girl at the bookstore had noticed the bright blue necklace and the ACDC t-shirt, chances are she would’ve also noticed that my cousin was in fact Asian. It is, as the Brits from the Daily Mail put it, “political madness gone wild”.

Academics have argued that political correctness thwart liberal ideals of free speech, reducing the phenomenon to the likes of cultural Marxism and totalitarianism. Scientists state that the alleged “correctness” of it all is characterised by emotional, rather than rational discourses. But, what do those pompous, uppity geezers know? Here are some helpful suggestions on how you can become more of a decent, politically correct citizen:

Abortion - Near-Life Experience
Alcoholic - Anti-Sobriety Activist
An Immigrant - a newcomer
Assassination - involuntary term limitation
Bald - follically independent
Body Odour - nondiscretionary fragrance
Cannibalism - Intra-Species Dining
Censorship - Selective Speech
China - Porcelain
Chronically Late - Temporarily Challenged
Corpse - Permanently Static Post-Human Mass
Dead - Actuarially Mature
Dishonest - Ethically disoriented
Fat - horizontally challenged
Fictional / Mythological - ontologically challenged
Frog - amphibian American
Gang - Youth Group
Garbage Man - sanitation engineer
Gas Station Attendant - petroleum transfer technician
Hamburger - Seared Mutilated Animal Flesh
Homeless - outdoor urban dwellers
Housewife - domestic engineer
Hunter - Animal Assassin
Ignorant - factually unencumbered
Incompetent - Uniquely Proficient
Insane People - Selectively Perceptive
Lazy - motivationally dispossessed
Loser - uniquely fortuned individual on an alternative career path
Off - energy-efficient
Paper Bag - processed tree carcass
Prostitute - sex care provider
Shoplifter - Cost-of-Living Adjustment Specialist
Someone who has no other reason to park in a handicapped zone - morally handicapped
Trees - Oxygen Exchange Units
Unemployed - Involuntarily leisured

25 comments:

  1. I'm all for political correctness myself. :D I think there is far too much inappropriate labelling. I teach my kids not to describe others by their age, gender, size, colour. If I'd been in Borders looking for your cousin, I really doubt I would have noticed if she was Asian or not, but I probably would have seen the t-shirt she was wearing.

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  2. I realize this is a serious subject, but your handling of it was very funny.

    Straight From Hel

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  3. I must say, I've found political correctness in the UK nothing compared to Canada! Interesting how it's still coming on in Australia.

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  4. Hi, thanks for your visit, so I called back. This is an excellent post ... and the best laugh we've had all day, I read them out to my daughter to much hilarity.
    thanks for sharing
    martine

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  5. Shouldn't "frog" be "amphibian Frenchman"?

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  6. I'm vertically challenged, myself. This was a great read. I'm for political correctness too but it takes a bit of effort to turn it into something that comes off naturally when you talk!

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  7. Yeah, I'm sure that if we all refer to people of Aboriginal descent as Indigenous Australians, it'll make them feel much better about their ridiculously shortened live expectancies, social standing and general lack of opportunities. Yep - that'll fix it good!

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  8. Too awesome Val :)

    I don't blame you one bit about asking "but was she Asian." I'm all for political correctedness, but sometimes, people just take it to rediculous levels. Sometimes - as in searching for people - you have to be specific. Denoting what race they are shouldn't make you an insensitive person; no more than specifying male/female, tall/short, curly/straight blond/black/grey hair. If you're not meaning it in a derogatory manner, then just say it for goodness sakes.

    .......dhole

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  9. Very thought-provoking post! People do indeed exaggerate it when it comes to political correctness, and you describe that with great humor. I've really enjoyed the read.

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  10. I always love reading your blog posts. This is no exception. Sending many blogger buddies your way :-)

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  11. You are a fabulous writer with a great sense of humor. I especially like the politically correct definition of "assassination."

    Thanks for finding and following me, so that I could do the same! Looking forward to lots more.

    xoRobyn (Anti-chocolate avoiders activist)

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  12. Ricky Gervais caught holy hell for his comedy routine about Obesity not being a disease. Apparently fat people (there, I said it) took offense.

    Although I have never been able to confirm it, apparently Eleanor Roosevelt said: "No one can offend you without your permission." I agree.

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  13. I love the list. Also, the Borders story was hilarious.

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  14. Sorry to be the hair in your salad, but...
    Out here in the country political correctness is still a joke murmured among friends. Whether someone is black or white makes no difference among mates, but there is still that colour difference and one would be a fool to not see that, and perhaps a bigger fool to pretend not to see it...especially so, just to please someone a zillion miles away who thinks we should behave to suit them. Slow to catch on here in OZ because Aussies have always wanted to think for themselves..dont ya think?!
    Cheers

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  15. val (culture served raw)July 8, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    haha tempo, I guess I'm being too subtle with the irony.

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  16. Returning the compliment, great blog. Loved the "but was she Asian" line.

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  17. I am so happy that you somehow found my paltry blog and left a nice comment on it, because now I have found YOUR blog! This "political correctness" commentary is spot on. I love your list, especially the definitions of abortion, alcoholic, cannibalism and frog. Did you think these up all by yourself (with the exceptions of garbage man and housewife, which I've heard before)? If so, you should be rich and famous, any day now.

    I can understand the injunction to avoid patently insulting terms, like "nigger," "chink" or "spic." But what on earth can possibly be wrong with describing someone as "Asian?" Asian means someone from Asia, for heaven's sake! And here in the states, salesclerks are not allowed to say "Merry Christmas" to customers. They must say, "Happy Holidays." I'm a flaming atheist, of Jewish descent, and *I* don't take offense if someone tells me Merry Christmas, for Christ's sake! December 25 is Christmas! It says so on the goddamned calendar! So what's wrong with being enjoined to be Merry on that day? Oops, I'm ranting. Sorry.

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  18. haha yes madam z it's so hard not to get carried away on an impassioned rant about this! All of these terms I've heard once before and have found around the Internet. "Frog" and "cannibalism" were my favourites!

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  19. Ha ha ha ha--we have come too far---
    There are no manholes in the street any more--
    And when A friend of mine couldn't lunch because she---oh, can I say she--oh well, because she was personing the switchboard--
    Oh, and you can call me white, balding and an Aussie

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  20. I like your refreshing common sense approach to life so I signed up to follow. PC is overdone and overblown. Stop by my place for a slice of pie.

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  21. Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep????
    Being sensitive is one thing, being ridiculous is definitely another.
    It's like people trying to have "To Kill a Mockingbird" banned from school reading lists because it contains the word "nigger", without ever realising the whole book is a critique of racism and intolerance.

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  22. I think being politically correct often leads to more discrimination. I agree with boomer...

    Be polite, try to not be offensive, but be real...Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep and Santa can't say ho ho ho???? WT?

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  23. I'm generally pro-PC speech. I think we should all make an effort to be respectful to each other in our words. But I also think that too much focus on just being PC, rather than on being sensitive and polite to the best of your ability (and educable on what you don't know), can shut down communication. Is it really worth spending five minutes debating whether it's OK to say black or better to say African American,than just discussing racism in the first place?

    Great post - I'm intrigued by your blog and off to go read more. :)

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  24. What is wrong with calling an Asian an Asian? Your country is better off without political correctness. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet and a fart still smells like a fart.

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