Paki (slur)

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Paki is a derogatory ethnic slur originating from the United Kingdom, directed towards people of Pakistani descent.[1][2]


"Paki" is derived from the exonym Pakistan. The term Pak (پاک) means "purity" in Persian, Urdu and Pashto. There was no "Pak" or "Paki" ethnic group before the state was created.[3][4] The name of Pakistan (initially as "Pakstan") was coined by the Cambridge University law student and Muslim nationalist Rahmat Ali, and was published on 28 January 1933 in the pamphlet Now or Never, which was the name adopted for the country after the partition of India and independence from the British Raj.[5][6]


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 often used as a slur. While it may seem like it would only be directed towards Pakistanis, it is also been directed at people of other South Asian backgrounds (mainly Indians and Bangladeshis) as well as people from other demographics who physically resemble South Asians.[7] Starting in the late-1960s,[8] 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,[9] and occasionally other ethnic minorities.[10] "Paki-bashing" became more common after Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech in 1968;[8] polls at the time showed that Powell's anti-immigrant rhetoric held support amongst the majority of the white populace at the time.[11][12] "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.[11][13] These attacks were usually referred to as either "Paki-bashing" or "skinhead terror", with the attackers usually called "Paki-bashers" or "skinheads".[8][14] "Paki-bashing" was partly fuelled by the media's anti-immigrant and anti-Pakistani rhetoric at the time,[13] 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 police involvement in racist violence.[8] 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".[8] 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 African-American 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-defence 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 black and Asian people entering academic life.[8]

In the 21st century, some younger British Pakistanis and other British South Asians have attempted to reclaim the word, thus drawing parallels to the LGBT reclamation of the slur "queer" and the African American reclamation of the slur "nigger".[7][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 in a negative way.[7]

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 seventeenth 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.[13][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 English Defence League (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.[13] Geddes notes that variations of the "Paki" racial slur are occasionally used by members of the EDL.[19]


The term is also used as a slur in Canada against South Asian Canadians[21] The term migrated to Canada around the 1970s with increased South Asian immigration to Canada.[22][23][24][25] In 2008, a campaign sign for an Indo-Canadian Alberta Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton was defaced when the slur was spray painted on it.[26]

Notable uses[edit]

Americans are generally unfamiliar with the term "Paki" as a slur, and U.S. leaders and public figures have occasionally had to apologise for using the term. 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 great respect for Pakistan.[10] This followed an incident four years earlier, when Clinton White House adviser Sandy Berger had to apologise for referencing "Pakis" in public comments.[10]

Spike Milligan, who was white, played the lead role of Kevin O'Grady in the 1969 LWT 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.[27] Following complaints, the BBC edited out use of the word in repeats of the 1980s sitcom Only Fools and Horses.[28] Columnists have perceived this as a way of obscuring the historical truth that the use of such words was commonplace at the time.[29] 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" when he worked as a baggage handler at London Heathrow Airport in 1970.[30]

In 2009, Prince Harry was publicly admonished when he was caught on video (taken years before) calling one of his fellow Army recruits "our little Paki friend."[31]

In 2015, the American film Jurassic World was mocked satirically by British Asian comedian Guz Khan for using "pachys" (pronounced "pakis") as shorthand for the genus Pachycephalosaurus.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Paki, n. and adj". OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 June 2023. slang (offensive and chiefly derogatory). Originally and chiefly British. A person of Pakistani (also more generally, South Asian) birth or descent, esp. one living in Britain.
  2. ^ "the definition of Paki". Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  3. ^ Raverty, Henry George. A Dictionary of Pashto. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary". 1872. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  5. ^ "Death anniversary of Ch Rehmat Ali being observed". Dunya News. 14 February 2008.
  6. ^ Choudhary Rahmat Ali; Mohd Aslam Khan; Sheikh Mohd Sadiq; Inayat Ullah Khan (28 January 1933), Now or Never; Are We to Live or Perish Forever?: "At this solemn hour in the history of India, when British and Indian statesmen are laying the foundations of a Federal Constitution for that land, we address this appeal to you, in the name of our common heritage, on behalf of our thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN [sic] – by which we mean the five Northern units of India, viz., Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan – for your sympathy and support in our grim and fateful struggle against political crucifixion and complete annihilation."
  7. ^ a b c Bhatia, Rajni (11 June 2007). "After the N-word, the P-word". BBC News. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "In the eye of the storm". Red Pepper. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b Nahid Afrose Kabir (2012), Young British Muslims Archived 2 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Edinburgh University Press
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (9 April 1970). "Attacks Terrorize Pakistanis in London". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  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. ^ Stonebanks, C. Darius. (2004). "Consequences of Perceived Ethnic Identities (reflection of an elementary school incident)" in The Miseducation of the West: The Hidden Curriculum of Western-Muslim Relations. Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg (Eds.) New York: Greenwood Press.
  22. ^ Trumbull, Robert (27 February 1977). "Upsurge of Racism in Toronto Afflicts South Asian Immigrants". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "DigiTool Stream Gateway Error". Archived from the original on 9 January 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  26. ^ "PressReader - Edmonton Journal: 2008-02-24 - Candidate 'disappointed' by racial slur defacing her election sign". Archived from the original on 7 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019 – via PressReader.
  27. ^ "Curry and Chips". Nostalgia Central. 27 June 2014. Archived from the original on 9 May 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  28. ^ Paine, Andrea (10 May 2004). "Del Boy Gagged". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ "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.
  31. ^ "Prince's racist term sparks anger Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine." BBC News. 11 January 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  32. ^ "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.