Bush and Harry Use the P-Word

Americans, take note:

Prince Harry has apologised for using offensive language to describe a member of his army platoon.
The News of the World has published video in which the prince calls one of his Sandhurst colleagues a “Paki” in commentary he made over filming.

bbc

Now, help me out here, citizens of the UK and colonies and former colonies: How bad is this?

I had always assumed that “Paki” was a slur. I have seen the word used mainly in novels in which Brits or Americans were speaking distainfully of the Pakistanis, usually in spy novels and such, but I never knew if “Paki” was really bad (like the n-word bad) or not so bad at all (like calling Brits Brits) or highly variable (like the word “frog” for French of Kanook for Canadians).

The reason I ask this is the following: Some years ago, George Bush was being interviewed and in that interview made specific mention of the “Pakis” for the Pakistanis. No outrage was claimed, no apologies were asked for, no backpedaling happened. It was like “Paki” was perfectly normal and acceptable. That made me wonder.

So maybe now we should be going back over the old newsreels to find George Bush using the P-word?????

Comments

  1. #1 JackH
    January 11, 2009

    interesting point. in the uk we had a large influx from the indian sub-continent. the racism they met with was largely made up of white skinheads calling them ‘pakis’. prince harry would have been well aware of this.

    by itself, of course, it’s no more offensive than ‘afghan’ or ‘uzbek’. but there you go, our societies define us all. it would seem there is such a thing, after all.

  2. #2 UKGP
    January 11, 2009

    It has some force. I wouldn’t ever use it, except perhaps to report what someone else had said. I don’t think it -usually- has the full force of the N-word, for instance, but it is at the same order of magnitude. It would be difficult to use the word, and then deny that you were racist. It would be unthinkable for a serious British politician to use the word publicly; only the BNP, who are quite far to the right of common sense, would be caught using it, and then in private.

    For context, I am a Scot, living in a town mostly populated by indigenous Scots, but with significant numbers of people from other places.

  3. #3 Charlotte
    January 11, 2009

    It’s definitely not as bad as the N-word, my impression is that it’s seen as the relic of the casual racism of an earlier generation. I think the words were used in much the same way here actually, the N-word is commonly found in literature up to the 50s or so (E. Nesbit, Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton) and I suspect the taboo now associated with it came from the US.

    The Bush incident made headlines in the UK at the time…was it really no big deal over there? The version we heard was that he’d meant to say ‘Pak’, which would correspond to Afghan, Uzbek, etc. ‘Paki’ may simply be a diminutive, but it’s not the literal meaning so much as the baggage associated with it. Again, much like the N-word. The UK, of course, has had far more immigrants from the Indian subcontinent over the last century than the US, and has a far smaller population of African descent – perhaps explaining the difference in the ways these words are viewed.

  4. #4 The Chimp's Raging Id
    January 11, 2009

    “Paki” is viewed as very offensive. Not quite on the scale as the N-word but bad enough that anyone in the public eye caught using it would expect to find themselves in the middle of a royal shitstorm (pun intended).

    With regards to Bush’s use of “Pak”, this was taken as another example of the man’s raging buffoonery, ignorance and lack of cultural awareness.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    January 11, 2009

    I do not see the Bush P-word instance on Youtube. You’d think it’d be there.

  6. #6 CJ
    January 11, 2009

    Given that where I live it’s entirely possible to go your entire life without seeing a single person who isn’t white, to hear it around here is more an indication of utter ignorance and stupidity than any true malice (that or you’re really, really old and refuse to know any better and Dorset is a county of old people after all).

    PS. Get me out of here.

  7. #7 Barry
    January 11, 2009

    I’d rate it as somewhere between frog/kraut/nip and the N-word.

    AFAIK it rarely gets much use conversationally (“paki shop”) these days. You wouldn’t normally hear it on TV/radio in light fare but it could be in a drama (one exception being comedian David Badiel’s joke about having been beaten up twice: once for being jewish, once for being a paki).

  8. #8 jenjen1352
    January 12, 2009

    Growing up in central London in the seventies, the word ‘Paki’ on its own was used as an identification, like ‘Black’, or ‘Aussie’. Adding a rude adjective eg ‘dirty’ made it an insult. Paki is, after all, somewhat quicker to say than Pakistani. As it became apparent that some ‘Pakis’ were actually Indian or Bangladeshi, ‘Asian’ took over as the catch-all term, like ‘Brit’.

    These days it’s also about context, and calling someone “our little Paki friend” as Prince Harry did is rather too condescending, coming from an heir to the throne! He should know better than that.

    ‘Paki’ never carried the weight of the N word when used by the average person, but could still be considered derogatory if you weren’t from Pakistan. A bit like calling a Scotsman ‘English’! Or in my case, calling an Englishwoman a ‘Brit’…

  9. #9 Propter Doc
    January 12, 2009

    Yeah, I was surprised by the level of outrage this comment provoked. I wouldn’t normally use the word because the level of tolerance to/offense from it varies from person to person. Bit like bimbo really.

    I’d say his remarks about ragheads were equally problematic…

    How do Americans view the term ‘Yanks’?

    Jenjen, what exactly would the problem be with calling an English woman a ‘Brit’? They are, after all, British. Calling a Scottish, Irish or Welsh person English is ignorant of the structure of the UK, calling a Scottish or English person a ‘Brit’ is technically correct.

  10. #10 Cannonball Jones
    January 12, 2009

    Allegedly he used the lovely epithet ‘raghead’ in another video. This is the boy who dressed up as a Nazi for a fancy dress party and whose grandfather is one of the most vocally racist people in the UK apart from Bernard Manning. Not really a great surprise to be honest and you’ll forgive me if I don’t take his apology too seriously.

    To be fair in Britain, as noted above, “paki” isn’t as offensive as the N-word (not sure whether that would have got my comment blocked if I’d spelled it out) but it certainly can be used to carry a lot of weight. Depends on who uses it and on the context. Still, for a high-profile public figure it wasn’t the smartest move – and that’s what happens when cousins marry!

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    January 12, 2009

    Propter: How do Americans view the term ‘Yanks’? To my knowledge, Americans have no trouble with “Yanks” but southerners might not like it because within the US, the Northerners are Yankees.

    Regarding confusion about English, Scott, Brit, etc. I have zero sympathy for Brits who get offended when people screw that up. Nobody else has a system like that, and it is a result in part of centuries of colonial behavior, so tough it out! Stiff upper lip and all!

  12. #12 Mark P
    January 12, 2009

    As a Southerner (US South, that is), I can say that the terms “Yank” and “Yankee” are entirely different. Not many people these days talk about Yankees, except jokingly. At least in my circles. I doubt that many Southerners would be confused by being called a Yank by, for example, a Brit.

  13. #13 Iain
    January 12, 2009

    So that caused a stir. What got to me was your suggestion that Bush might yet be heir to the US throne!

  14. #14 SimonG
    January 12, 2009

    I can recall back in the ’70s and even ’80s referring to the local corner shop as a “Paki store”, with no racism intended. It was just convenient verbal short-hand. This was in various places, but not those with particularly large asian populations.
    Many of the shops were probably run by Indians; some possibly by Chinese or even folk with no connection with Asia.

    I don’t recall ever using “Paki” to refer to people. I think not so much because I perceived it as a racist slur but because it implied ignorance: many of the people so referred to probably weren’t of Pakistani origin. There was perhaps a sense that the sort of people who DID use the term tended to be racist.

    I didn’t have much social contact with asians of any sort until I went to university in the ’80s and subsequently got a job. As far as I recall I only knew one Indian (not Pakistani) girl at school and no other non-white. Obviously I just referred to her by name.

    So I guess for me it seems it started off as a fairly neutral term but because of its association with racists like the NF I came to see it as a racist term, although not a serious one: more the sort of thing which nice people just don’t say.

  15. #15 bluefoot
    January 12, 2009

    SimonG: I don’t know where you are, but in the Boston area, “Packy store” in the 70s and 80s was colloquial for “package store” i.e. someplace you could buy beer/alcohol and a “packy run” was a trip to said store to buy beer.

    The term “Paki” is indeed offensive, though possibly less so than the n-word. I may find it offensive, rather than descriptive as some folks here have stated, since I’ve mostly heard it used in the context of “Paki go home” “dirty Paki” and “those f-ing Pakis.”

  16. #16 jj
    January 12, 2009

    Not to be too picky, but for Canadians isn’t it spelled “Canuck” not “Kanook”? Or are these different? And if that’s what you were getting at, I wouldn’t even call it “highly variable” as it’s not a negative term (or shouldn’t be to anyone, I think) as it is the name of Vancouver’s NHL hockey team.

  17. #17 jj
    January 12, 2009

    Not to be too picky, but for Canadians isn’t it spelled “Canuck” not “Kanook”? Or are these different? And if that’s what you were getting at, I wouldn’t even call it “highly variable” as it’s not a negative term (or shouldn’t be to anyone, I think) as it is the name of Vancouver’s NHL hockey team.

  18. #18 JamieJ
    January 12, 2009

    Not to be too picky, but for Canadians isn’t it spelled “Canuck” not “Kanook”? Or are these different? And if that’s what you were getting at, I wouldn’t even call it “highly variable” as it’s not a negative term (or shouldn’t be to anyone, I think) as it is the name of Vancouver’s NHL hockey team (also, Calgary’s rugby team, I think).

  19. #19 JamieJ
    January 12, 2009

    Not to be too picky, but for Canadians isn’t it spelled “Canuck” not “Kanook”? Or are these different? And if that’s what you were getting at, I wouldn’t even call it “highly variable” as it’s not a negative term (or shouldn’t be to anyone, I think) as it is the name of Vancouver’s NHL hockey team (also, Calgary’s rugby team, I think).

  20. #20 JJ
    January 12, 2009

    Not to be too picky, but for Canadians isn’t it spelled “Canuck” not “Kanook”? Or are these different? And if that’s what you were getting at, I wouldn’t even call it “highly variable” as it’s not a negative term (or shouldn’t be to anyone, I think) as it is the name of Vancouver’s NHL hockey team (also, Calgary’s rugby team, I think).

  21. #21 Pyre
    January 12, 2009

    I see I’m not the only one getting suckered by SB’s “post failed” message.

  22. #22 Colonel Molerat
    January 13, 2009

    Context: I was born in Liverpool (North-West England) in 1987.
    As far as I can remember, I was always taught that ‘paki’ was racist, but would encounter people who still used it out of ignorance rather than racism, including people my own age – I get the impression that many (white British) people simply didn’t know that it had become insulting. People would always know what it meant when a racist term was used to describe a black person, but it just didn’t cross their mind that ‘paki’ may cause similar offence.
    It was, of course, used deliberately by racist people as a denigratory term.
    Currently, I see it as equally insulting as the ‘n-word’ (are there filters? I feel a bit silly skirting around a word when analysing it), but just not as ingrained in our culture. I think it’s at that stage that happened with the ‘n-word’, where all educated people know to avoid it, but well-meaning people (especially the old) may still use it without realising.
    Similarly, isn’t calling people who live at the North Pole ‘Eskimos’ insulting, as ‘Eskimo’ refers to only one tribe? ‘Inuit’ refers to everybody in that area, or belonging to that culture, or something similar. Most people would still use ‘Eskimo’, even if they weren’t in the slightest bit racist. As others here have mentioned, it’s the baggage attached to the word that causes the offense, and awareness raised by the people it refers to (and, after a point, everybody else) that eventually ends its usage.

  23. #23 Iain
    January 13, 2009

    I agree that the P word is offensive. But Colonel Molerat’s comment reminds me of a nice comment by George Silberbauer about the shift from referring to Bushmen to referring to San. He said, if I remember right, that this was just transferring a term of abuse from one language in which it was clear that it was offensive into another where it was less clear, but no less offensive.
    Of course the whole naming thing invites this. How many names people have for their own group translate as “us” or “people”? Where the name for the others is “people not like us and we don’t really like them” or, of course, most famously “people who do not speak like us”. The greeks had a word for the last group “Barbarians”. This feature of naming may be a human universal.