It’s recurrent in Internet comment sections, sensationalist newspapers and it is generously littered throughout the speeches of politicians. ‘Political correctness’ has allegedly ‘gone mad’, and is ‘ruining our society.’ But what is political correctness? Why is the phrase so frequently used? Are the repercussions of political correctness really all that disastrous?
The term was first used by Soviet Russians and their associates to justify its faction’s constituents abiding by party lines – a practice emulated by most in our apparent democracy. Over time, the phrase has seemingly become a blanket descriptor for anything that concerns social change. To be progressive in politics garners inevitable, if not instantaneous, heckles of ‘political correctness’.
It would seem many Australians, in generations both present and past, are hesitant regarding change. Of 44 referendums initiated through Parliament for the alteration of Australia’s Commonwealth Constitution, merely eight have been successful. Only recently has same-sex marriage become lawful in Australia – the 26th country to do so, and the only one to precede it with an inane, non-binding $122 million postal plebiscite. Just when you’d thought that all the debts to the Indigenous population had been recovered by a Kevin Rudd apology and that all the horrors of decades, nay centuries, past had been forgotten, an Indigenous Palm Island woman goes and gets herself convicted for – get this – purchasing alcohol. A heartening throwback to pre-1960s Australia where Indigenous purchase or consumption of alcohol could lead to imprisonment. Grog, according to some a national emblem, is currently banned across 95 Indigenous sites in the Northern Territory alone. This despite the questionable institution of a ‘Banned Drinker Register’ and a corresponding increase in alcohol-related offences. This despite a rigorous Royal Commission 31 years ago linking Aboriginal incarceration and the subsequent incidence of deaths in custody to a range of systemic issues. It’s getting difficult to discern whether Australia has really changed all that much since the 1950s in terms of civil rights and politics. For all the regressive huff about political correctness, it’s not too plain to see what is actually ‘correct’ about the current state of society.
You can almost see why conservative and populist politicians opt for the buzzwords so frequently – to make socially stagnant Australia more inclusive seems almost wrong. To dare suggest Australia Day’s date be changed to one that is not fundamentally offensive to natives, to hint at the erosion of the sturdy foundations of our national holiday – officially established in 1994, practically the olden days – this is what is purportedly tearing apart our society. To dare suggest that changes to our nation are made in everyone’s best interests, indiscriminate of age, sexuality, ethnicity or gender – this is what apparently constitutes ‘political correctness’.
At the core of these types of claims lies an intrinsic fear of change – the terrifying thought of a more cohesive life for all constituents of this nation. So why are politicians trying to sell us a more divided Australia? Why is it that in the age of globalisation and cultural immersion, in a political climate as hostile as the present, that politicians are not striving for unity among all Australians? Is such a concept really as profound or as idealistic as they would have us believe? Is a gender-neutral bathroom really as confronting a prospect as a segregated Australia in the era of passive nuclear warfare? Whatever their motives, it has become a strenuous task taking these politicians at face value.