"Paki" is a racial slur typically referring to people of Pakistani descent, and often indiscriminately directed towards people of perceived South Asian descent. The slur is used chiefly in the United Kingdom and is also considered pejorative in Canada.
In the United Kingdom and Canada, the term "Paki" is commonly associated with "Paki-bashing", violent attacks against people of South Asian origin. "Paki-bashing" began in the late 1960s and was frequent during the 1970s–1980s. By 1985, there were annually more than 20,000 racist attacks on British people of colour, including Britons of South Asian origin.
"Paki" is derived from the exonym Pakistan(i). Unlike other -stan countries, where the first part of the name typically refers to the indigenous people (e.g. the Tajiks of Tajikistan, Turkmens of Turkmenistan, Afghans of Afghanistan), 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. After coining the name of the nation-state, Ali noticed that there is an acronym formed from the names of the "homelands" of Muslims in northwest India:
- "P" for Punjab, Pakistan
- "A" for Afghania (first known as the North-West Frontier Province but later changed to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010)
- "K" for Kashmir
- "I" for Indus
- "S" for Sindh
- "Tan" for Balochistan, Pakistan (thus forming "Pakistan")
The use of the term "Paki" was first recorded in 1964, during a period of increased immigration to the United Kingdom. In addition to Pakistanis (which included Bangladeshis up until 1971), it has also been directed to people of other South Asian backgrounds as well as people from other demographics who resemble South Asians. Starting in the late 1960s, and peaking in the 1970s and 1980s, violent gangs opposed to immigration took part in attacks known as "Paki-bashing", which targeted and assaulted people and premises of South Asian origin, and occasionally other ethnic minorities. "Paki-bashing" was unleashed after Enoch Powell's inflammatory Rivers of Blood speech in 1968; polls at the time showed that Powell's anti-immigrant and racial rhetoric was popular among the British population at the time. "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 (BNP). These attacks were usually referred to as either "Paki-bashing" or "skinhead terror", with the attackers usually called "Paki-bashers" or "skinheads". While the attackers were predominantly white, there were also instances of black skinheads engaging in "Paki-bashing" violence.
"Paki-bashing" was partly fueled by the British media's anti-immigrant and anti-Pakistani rhetoric at the time, 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. 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". 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.
Drawing inspiration from the Indian independence movement, the black power movement, and the anti-apartheid movement, young British Asian activists began a number of anti-racist Asian youth movements to resist 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.
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 (PWA) and National Federation of Pakistani Associations (NFPA) attempted to establish race relations while maintaining law and order, which was contrasted by the autonomous approach began by the Pakistani Progressive Party (PPP) and the Pakistani Workers’ Union (PWU) which engaged in vigilantism as self-defense against racist violence and police harassment as part of the black power movement (often working with the British Black Panthers and Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front) while also seeking to undermine the "weak" and "passive" stereotypes of Pakistanis and Asians. Divisions arose between the integrationist and autonomous movements by 1970, with integrationist leader Raja Mahmudabad criticizing 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 racist violence seriously, partly as a result of blacks and Asians entering academic life.
In the 21st century, some younger British Pakistanis have attempted to reclaim the word, drawing parallels to the African American reclamation of the slur "nigger", and the LGBT reclamation of the slur "queer". 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. However, other Pakistanis see use of the word as unacceptable even among members of their community, due to its historical racist use.
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.
Robert Lambert and Graham Edward Geddes have compared Islamophobia and anti-Muslim street violence in the 2000s and 2010s to that of Paki-bashing in the 1970s and 1980s. Lambert notes that a key difference is that, whereas the National Front and BNP targeted all South Asians (including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs), the EDL specifically target British Muslims. Lambert also compares the media's role in fueling "Paki-bashing" in the late 20th century to its role in fueling anti-Muslim sentiment in the early 21st century. Geddes notes that variations of the "Paki" racial slur are occasionally used by members of the English Defense League (EDL).
Americans generally are unfamiliar with "paki" as a slur, and U.S. leaders and public figures have occasionally had to apologize for using it. In January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush said on India–Pakistan relations "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. This followed an incident four years earlier, when Clinton White House adviser Sandy Berger had to apologize for referencing "Pakis" in public comments. The 2015 American film Jurassic World was attacked satirically by British comedian Guzzy Bear for using "pachys" (pronounced "pakis") as shorthand for Pachycephalosaurus.
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 bigotry. Following complaints, the BBC edited out use of the word in repeats of the 1980s sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Columnists have perceived this as a way of obscuring the historical truth that the use of such words was commonplace at the time. 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. In the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury, who was Indian Parsi, is often addressed derogatorily as a "Paki".
In 2009, Prince Harry was publicly admonished and forced 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."
- British Asian
- Islam in the United Kingdom
- Racism in the United Kingdom
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