Paki (slur)

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Paki is a term typically directed towards people of South Asian descent,[1][2] and as a racial slur is often used indiscriminately towards people of perceived South Asian descent in general.[3] The slur is used primarily in English-speaking countries. In the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Canada, the term "Paki" is commonly associated with "Paki-bashing", which consist of violent attacks against people of South Asian origin.


"Paki" is derived from the exonym Pakistan. The term Pak (پاک) means "pure" in Persian, Urdu and Pashto. There was no "Pak" or "Paki" ethnic group before the state was created.[4][5] The name of Pakistan was coined by the Cambridge University political science student and Muslim nationalist Rahmat Ali, and was published on 28 January 1933 in the pamphlet Now or Never.[citation needed]


United Kingdom[edit]

The use of the term "Paki" was first recorded in 1964, during a period of increased South Asian immigration to the United Kingdom. At this time the term "Paki" was very much in mixed usage it was used as a slur by some but also as an abbreviation by most others and was not considered any more offensive than the term Brits, Aussies or Kiwis. In addition to Pakistanis (which included Bangladeshis up until 1971), it has also been directed at people of other South Asian backgrounds as well as people from other demographics who physically resemble South Asians.[3] Starting in the late 1960s,[6] and peaking in the 1970s and 1980s, violent gangs opposed to immigration took part in attacks known as "Paki-bashing", which targeted and assaulted South Asians and businesses owned by them,[7] and occasionally other ethnic minorities.[8] "Paki-bashing" became more common after Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech in 1968;[6] polls at the time showed that Powell's anti-immigrant rhetoric held support among sectors of the white populace at the time.[9][10] "Paki-bashing" peaked during the 1970s–1980s, with the attackers often being supporters of far-right fascist, racist and anti-immigrant movements, including the white power skinheads, the National Front, and the British National Party.[9][11] These attacks were usually referred to as either "Paki-bashing" or "skinhead terror", with the attackers usually called "Paki-bashers" or "skinheads".[6] While the attackers were predominantly white, there were also instances of black skinheads engaging in "Paki-bashing" violence.[12][13][14]

"Paki-bashing" was partly fuelled by the media's anti-immigrant and anti-Pakistani rhetoric at the time,[11] and by systemic failures of state authorities, which included under-reporting racist attacks, the criminal justice system not taking racist violence seriously, constant racial harassment by police, and sometimes police involvement in racist violence.[6] Asians were frequently stereotyped as "weak" and "passive" in the 1960s and 1970s, with Pakistanis viewed as "passive objects" and "unwilling to fight back", making them seen as easy targets by "Paki-bashers".[6] The Joint Campaign Against Racism committee reported that there had been more than 20,000 racist attacks on British people of colour, including Britons of South Asian origin, during 1985.[15]

Drawing inspiration from the Civil rights movement, the black power movement, and the anti-apartheid movement, young British Asian activists began a number of anti-racist youth movements against "Paki-bashing", including the Bradford Youth Movement in 1977, the Bangladeshi Youth Movement following the murder of Altab Ali in 1978, and the Newham Youth Movement following the murder of Akhtar Ali Baig in 1980.[16]

The earliest groups to resist "Paki-bashing" date back to 1968–1970, with two distinct movements that emerged: the integrationist approach began by the Pakistani Welfare Association and National Federation of Pakistani Associations attempted to establish positive race relations while maintaining law and order, which was contrasted by the autonomous approach began by the Pakistani Progressive Party and the Pakistani Workers’ Union which engaged in vigilantism as self-defense against racially motivated violence and police harassment in conjunction with the black power movement (often working with the British Black Panthers and Communist Workers League of Britain) while also seeking to replace the "weak" and "passive" stereotypes of Pakistanis and Asians. Divisions arose between the integrationist and autonomous movements by 1970, with integrationist leader Raja Mahmudabad criticising the vigilantism of the latter as "alien to the spirit and practice of Islam" whereas PPP/PWU leader Abdul Hye stated they "have no intention of fighting or killing anyone, but if it comes to us, we will hit back." It was not until the 1980s and 1990s that academics began to take racially motivated violence into serious focus, partly as a result of blacks and Asians entering academic life.[6]

In the 21st century, some younger British Pakistanis have attempted to reclaim the word, drawing parallels to the LGBT reclamation of the slur "queer" and the African American reclamation of the slur "nigger".[3][17] Peterborough businessman Abdul Rahim, who produces merchandise reclaiming the word, equates it to more socially accepted terms such as "Aussie" and "Kiwi", saying that it is more similar to them than it is to "nigger", as it denotes a nationality and not a biological race.[17] However, other British Pakistanis see use of the word as unacceptable even among members of their community, due to its historical usage.[3]

In December 2000, the Advertising Standards Authority published research on attitudes of the British public to pejoratives. It ranked Paki as the tenth severest pejorative in the English language, up from 17th three years earlier.[18]

Several scholars have compared Islamophobic street violence in the 2000s and 2010s to that of Paki-bashing in the 1970s and 1980s.[11][19][20] Robert Lambert notes that a key difference is that, whereas the National Front and BNP targeted all British South Asians (including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs), the EDL specifically target British Muslims. Lambert also compares the media's role in fuelling "Paki-bashing" in the late 20th century to its role in fuelling Islamophobic sentiment in the early 21st century.[11] Geddes notes that variations of the "Paki" racial slur are occasionally used by members of the English Defence League.[19]


The term is also used as a slur in Canada against Canadians of Pakistani descent. This term is even used as a slur against other Canadians of South Asian descent, including Indians, Bangladeshis, etc. The term migrated to Canada around the 1970s with increased Pakistani immigration to Canada.[21][22][23] In 2008, a campaign sign for an Alberta Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton was defaced when the slur was spray painted on it.[24]

Notable uses[edit]

Americans generally are unfamiliar with the word "Paki" as a slur because it is also just an abbreviation used by millions of people,[25] and U.S. leaders and public figures have occasionally had to apologise for using it. In January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush said on India–Pakistan relations that "We are working hard to convince both the Indians and the Pakis that there's a way to deal with their problems without going to war." After a Pakistani American journalist complained, a White House spokesman made a statement that Bush had respect for Pakistan and its culture.[8] This followed an incident four years earlier, when Clinton White House adviser Sandy Berger had to apologise for referencing "Pakis" in public comments.[8] The 2015 American film Jurassic World was mocked satirically by British Asian comedian Guzzy Bear for using "pachys" (pronounced "pakis") as shorthand for Pachycephalosaurus.[25]

Spike Milligan, who was white, played the lead role of Kevin O'Grady in the 1969 BBC sitcom Curry and Chips. O'Grady, half-Irish and half-Pakistani, was taunted with the name "Paki-Paddy"; the show intended to mock racism and bigotry.[26] Following complaints, the BBC edited out use of the word in repeats of the 1980s sitcom Only Fools and Horses.[27] Columnists have perceived this as a way of obscuring the historical truth that the use of such words was commonplace at the time.[28] The word was used in Rita, Sue and Bob Too – set in Bradford, one of the first cities to have a large Pakistani community – and also in East is East – in which it is used by the mixed-race family as well as by racist characters.[citation needed] In the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury, who was Indian Parsi, is often addressed derogatorily as a "Paki".[29]

In 2009, Prince Harry was publicly admonished and was made by the military to undergo sensitivity training when he was caught on video (taken years before) calling one of his fellow Army recruits "our little paki friend."[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor, Matthew; Gillan, Audrey (13 January 2009). "Racist slur or army banter? What the soldiers say about Prince Harry's comments". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 10 July 2017. Retrieved 3 August 2017 – via
  2. ^ "the definition of Paki". Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Bhatia, Rajni (11 June 2007). "After the N-word, the P-word". BBC News. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  4. ^ Raverty, Henry George. A Dictionary of Pashto. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary". 1872. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Ashe, Stephen; Virdee, Satnam; Brown, Laurence (2016). "Striking back against racist violence in the East End of London, 1968–1970". Race & Class. 58 (1): 34–54. doi:10.1177/0306396816642997. ISSN 0306-3968. PMC 5327924. PMID 28479657. S2CID 243689. Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  7. ^ "In the eye of the storm". Red Pepper. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Naive Bush slights Pakistanis with a short-cut". The Guardian. 9 January 2002. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  9. ^ a b Nahid Afrose Kabir (2012), Young British Muslims Archived 2 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Edinburgh University Press
  10. ^ Collins, Marcus (2016). "Immigration and opinion polls in postwar Britain". Modern History Review. Loughborough University. 18 (4): 8–13. hdl:2134/21458. ISBN 978-1-4718-8713-0.
  11. ^ a b c d Taylor, Max; Currie, P. M.; Holbrook, Donald (2013). Extreme Right Wing Political Violence and Terrorism. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 40–53. ISBN 978-1-4411-4087-6. Archived from the original on 27 May 2020. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  12. ^ "Britain: The Skinheads". Time. 8 June 1970. Archived from the original on 21 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  13. ^ Marshall, George. Skinhead Nation. ST Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-898927-45-6, ISBN 978-1-898927-45-7.
  14. ^ "Monty Montgomery of the Pyramids/Symarip interview". Archived from the original on 29 September 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  15. ^ Law and Order, moral order: The changing rhetoric of the Thatcher government. online Archived 24 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Ian Taylor. Accessed 6 October 2006
  16. ^ Timothy Peace (2015), European Social Movements and Muslim Activism: Another World but with Whom?, page 55 Archived 2 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Springer Science+Business Media
  17. ^ a b Manzoor, Sarfraz (25 February 2004). "'I'm a paki and proud'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Delete expletives?". Advertising Standards Authority, accessed via Wayback Machine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2015. (pdf)
  19. ^ a b Geddes, Graham Edward (2016). Keyboard Warriors: The Production of Islamophobic Identity and an Extreme Worldview within an Online Political Community. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 132–133. ISBN 978-1-4438-9855-3. Archived from the original on 1 June 2020. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  20. ^ Sampson, Alice (2016). "From 'Paki Bashing' to 'Muslim Bashing'". In Hobbs, Dick (ed.). Mischief, Morality and Mobs: Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Pearson. Routledge. pp. 44–60. ISBN 978-1-134-82532-5. Archived from the original on 19 May 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  21. ^ Welsh, Moira (17 February 2010). "Racist taunts cost boss $25,000". Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 6 March 2017 – via Toronto Star.
  22. ^ "Reaction to Calgary cab video shows progress in fighting racism, says immigration lawyer". Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  23. ^ "DigiTool Stream Gateway Error". Archived from the original on 9 January 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  24. ^ " - Your favorite newspapers and magazines". Archived from the original on 7 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Trying to give the Pachycephalosaurus a shorter nickname might have been a mistake Archived 1 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine." The Hollywood Reporter. 23 June 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  26. ^ "CURRY AND CHIPS". Nostalgia Central. Archived from the original on 9 May 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  27. ^ Paine, Andrea (10 May 2004). "Del Boy Gagged". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  28. ^ Deacon, Michael (18 January 2010). "Censor Del Boy for being racist? Don't be a plonker". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  29. ^ "A Persian Popinjay. A Review of the Film Bohemian Rhapsody". Areo. 11 November 2018. Archived from the original on 30 November 2019. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  30. ^ "Prince's racist term sparks anger Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine." BBC News. 11 January 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2015.