pakis-british

Please note, this post contains language and ideas that some people may find offensive.

The reporting of Prince Harry’s racist remark about a Pakistani member of his army platoon has – both unsurprisingly and rightfully – prompted widespread criticism. Since the story was run in The News of the World yesterday about how Harry referred to one of his colleagues as a ‘Paki’, the Prince has issued an apology. As well as describing his fellow cadet as “Ah, our little Paki friend Ahmed”, Harry is also heard calling another cadet a “raghead”.

Back in 2005, following a gaffe that saw Harry wear a Nazi uniform emblazoned with swastikas to a fancy dress party, a spokeswoman at Clarence House said that the Prince wouldn’t be making any more apologies. Not, that is, until he decides to call someone a ‘Paki’.

Since then, Cabinet minister John Denham has described the term as “offensive” whilst a spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation called the Prince a “thug”. An Army spokesperson said it took the allegations “very seriously” and were duly investigating. Gordon Brown on GMTV said that such comments had “no part in our life…it was a mistake and he’s made the admission of that”.

Labour MP Keith Vaz said the term was “unacceptable and wounding”. He went on:

We cannot use language of this kind, even in jest…
He is not an understudy for Bernard Manning. He is third in line to the throne; he is a role model.

The EHRC (Equality & Human Rights Commission) have called for an inquiry.

However, some have – of course – jumped to the Prince’s defence. Another spokesperson, this time from St James’s Palace, said that he had used the term about a friend and without malice.

Rod Richards, former Foreign Office minister under John Major and officer in the Royal Marines, defended the prince arguing that he regarded ‘Paki’ as an abbreviation, and the prince, in his view, had “not crossed the line”. He went on to add that being a Welshman, he was frequently called ‘Taffy’ in the Army, and even in the House of Commons a colleague used to make references to him ‘having sexual relations with sheep’.

In many ways however, the arguments are irrelevant given that the word ‘Paki’ is one that is socially unacceptable. And no matter how many argue to the contrary, calling a colleague ‘Paki’ would – for the great many – result in them losing their job and possibly even facing prosecution.

It does however raises an interesting point about who owns language, especially those terms such as ‘Paki’ and ‘nigger’?

Whilst the term ‘Paki’ is widely accepted as being derogatory, there are some that are beginning to argue the need to ‘reclaim’ it as indeed some have (tried) with the term ‘nigger’, despite both terms being routinely levelled as racial – and racist – slurs.

The problem is that this type of argument is inherently exclusive: possibly even racist.

When arguments are put forward that suggest that only certain ‘types’ of people – based on their ethnicity or heritage for example – are allowed to say certain things and that it is only they who can determine what can and cannot be said, they are extremely similar to those arguments that are put forward by racists and bigots who try to justify who can and cannot be ‘British’ for example. Neither side however seem to recognise the most obvious of similarities.

The problem is that whilst some within black communities have sought to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘nigger’, many remain absolutely horrified about its usage in any way whatsoever. Indeed, some will be shocked and distressed by the use of the term here, something that can be seen in the way that elsewhere, the term is routinely written down as ‘n*gg*r’ or even the ‘N-word’ as a means of trying to avert offence. The same applies to those British Pakistanis who are now in a similar quandary about the ‘P-word’ and the inappropriate appropriation by some from within their own communities.

The flaws in the reclamation argument can be highlighted by some interviews with young British Pakistanis on the BBC website:

Young Pakistanis are increasingly using the word to associate and differentiate.

Zak, a 17-year old from Leyton, east London, says he and his friends think nothing of calling each other, “My Paki brother”.

“Paki is just a short-form of Pakistani,” continues Talha, 16.

“But only Pakistanis should be allowed to say it,” adds Adeel, 17.

Ask them about the historical significance of the word and they look blank. But they have strong views on how the word is used and by whom.

Ahsan, 15, says the P-word could be classed as racist if used by anyone else, including other Asians. Last year filmmaker Navdeep Kandola was forced to change the name of his work from Paki Slag after Screen Yorkshire threatened to pull funding and criticism from West Yorkshire Police.

But, in a further complicated twist, that is exactly how some non-Pakistani Asians are using it – as a term of abuse.

Sixteen-year-old Dinaz, who is of Bangladeshi origin, says at his school in Ilford Bangladeshis and Indians don’t use the P-word, although their Pakistani peers do.

“It’s accepted for Pakistanis to use it,” he says, and they use it in a similar fashion to how rappers use the N-word.

Whilst Dinaz – and others – suggest that it is acceptable for Pakistanis to use the term, what is the reason for this? Beyond ‘because we can’ there seems to be very little justification or rationale whatsoever. Consequently, questions about where, when and how these boundaries are created remain, as do questions about whether anybody else can determine who can and cannot use certain words in certain ways and circumstances.

In one newspaper today, it was suggested that Prince Harry’s colleague ‘was happy’ for him to call him ‘Paki’. Is this then ‘acceptable’ as it was sanctioned or permitted by a Pakistani?

Sadly, if the line of argument that seeks to justify reclaiming the term is pursued, then it could be that this is very acceptable. If some Pakistanis are able to determine their own and others’ usage of the term, then if one or more determine that a ‘Prince’ can also use the term, using the same line of argument would suggest that the Prince was perfectly right to do so. Which is of course totally wrong.

So for those who use the term pejoratively, they do so in broad and indiscriminate ways, directing it against anyone with brown skin, whether Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Even dark-skinned non-Asians – including some Arabs and those from the Meditterranean – find themselves being called the same. As such, the pursuance of such reclamation justifications fails to challenge the pejorative, discriminatory use of the term and so ensure the continuation of it as a term that insults and derogates.

When ‘Paki’ is used in this way, it is grotesque and stereotypical: conjuring and reinforcing a whole host of negative meanings and understandings that have been acquired over the past three or four decades. Despite trying to ‘reclaim’ either Paki and nigger – by Pakistani or black communities respectively – the terms therefore continue to allow those uasages that indiscriminately attribute and associate. It neither rights the wrongs of the past nor does it replace the pejorative associations with their meliorative equivalent.

Nor – sadly – does it make the unwanted gaffes of of the Prince and his ilk any less palatable.

Creative Commons License Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk

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4 thoughts on “Harry and the ‘Paki’: who has the right to use the N- and P- words?

  1. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  2. Hi !! ^_^
    I am Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: will you continue to post in this blog in future?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you:)
    Your Piter

  3. Paddy, Jock, Taffy, Sambo, Nigger, Spick, Kike, Limey, Kiwi, Half-Chat, Coolie, Coon, Wop, Dago, Paki, Wog, White ass, Black ass, Yellow ass, Nip, Yank, Geordie, Ausie, Brummie, Scouser, Yorkie, and many, many more are all part of our international language. These have come about by virtue of the cross cultural historical integration emerged in our humanistic history and ensuing. The ridiculous extent and store placed on comments by ‘elevated’ parties so clearly detached from the mainstream are of no consequence what so ever! I have no care (usually tabloid driven) on who said what about whom – my tread on this earth, our mother earth embraces all in laughing harmony that we are all from start to end both one and of the same! Beware of the racial manipulators, who in pursuance of their parochial self interest seek to keep the so unnecessary pot boiling!
    Best regards – Mick (White Scum) – that’s a joke by the way!

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