I’ll never forget the shock I felt one Christmas Day as my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents sang along with great gusto to the Charlie Drake classic, My boomerang won’t come back.
It was the early 90s and my teenage sisters and I were horrified by the lyrics, which include: “I’ve waved the thing all over the place/practised till I was black in the face/I’m a big disgrace to the Aborigine race/My boomerang won’t come back!”
Reflecting on this moment, my mother – who is usually a denizen of diplomacy – says it wasn’t until she saw the looks on our faces that she even realised the song was culturally insensitive (to put it lightly).
This has us thinking. What are some other things you just can’t say these days?
There are the obvious ones, like my Nanna calling her nurses “darkies” (to their faces) or another gentlemanly bloke I know who likes to compliment women on having a “nice chassis”, plus many more colourful phrases we all agree are best locked up in the annals of history.
But there are still some grey areas and today we want shine some light in those corners – not because we want you all to drown in political correctness but because your grandchildren and any other young people you have a relationship have grown up speaking a very different language and it’s important to stay on their level.
Daryl Somers got it wrong in the Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion in 2009. He was left with a very red face when a bunch of blokes completely offended guest judge Harry Connick Jnr by painting their faces black and singing Michael Jackson songs. The Jackson Jive had appeared on the show 20 years earlier and no one batted an eyelid. Two decades later, what was funny once simply was no more, and the Aussie TV show was widely criticised at home and abroad.
So how can you tread lightly without going crazy about being “PC”?
Start by taking some tips from Monash University, which has a very clear guide to the new age of “inclusive language” on its website:
“Use language that reflects Australia’s diversity without stereotyping groups of people on the basis of their race, age, ability, gender, religion, culture, appearance or dress code. Not all students from China work hard, and not all skinheads are thugs”.
Here are some more tips from Monash Uni:
- When talking about Indigenous Australians, “islanders”, “natives”, “blacks” and “Aborigines” are all out.
- Steer clear of calling adult women “girls” and stick to gender-neutral phrases: “workforce instead of manpower; artificial instead of manmade; police officer instead of policeman; cleaner instead of cleaning lady”.
- “Remember that sexuality is not a given, so don’t make assumptions. Prefer ‘partner’ to ‘husband/wife’, unless you are sure.”
- Say “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”, about whom the Monash guide is blunt: “Do not adopt sympathetic or sycophantic language when talking about people with disabilities. They may not want sympathy, and they may not feel particularly heroic”.
So next time you’re choosing an ice-cream flavour with your little ones, remember it’s “eeni meeni mini mo, catch a TIGER by the toe”. Confusingly, Enid Blyton books and golliwog dolls are back in fashion, despite a brief period of being out in the cold.
Do you make an effort to keep up with the PC police or do you stick to your guns? And have you ever said something that shocked your kids or grandkids?