What's wrong with the 'P' word?

Ambur Beg

As I sat watching the news I was saddened to see the video footage of Prince Harry using the term  "Paki friend" to describe a colleague of his in the army. I expected more from the Royal Family  — but I have since been even more distressed by the number of  'enlightened' people who have come out to defend his choice of words.

Repeated assertions were made by various voices saying that his words were taken out of context, that he meant them as a term of affection and that if the people who were complaining about the incident watched the video they would feel differently about the matter. Well, I have watched the video many times and I am not feeling any better about it.

On the morning debate show, The Wright Stuff, presenter Matthew Wright posed the question:  "What did Prince Harry have to apologise for?"   Wright went on to suggest the real villain of this story was person who flogged the video and that it was a shame that this incident would overshadow the charity work Prince Harry had done in Africa. Granted, the person who  "flogged" the video would have had his own financial motives for doing so and Prince Harry may have meant the term  "affectionately", but the fact that Write bandied the term  "Paki" about as if he were spraying the room with vanilla scented air freshener showed that he had failed to understand the term.

 "Paki", in the UK, has a history steeped in racism by the thugs who use it to cut off at the knees any person with skin darker than a bed sheet. Trying to polish over the deep insult by declaring it as, just,  "an abbreviation of the word Pakistani" is dismissing the experiences of generations of Asians who have had to endure that word in a myriad of awful circumstances.

Those who defend it have, clearly, have never had to walk down the road, like me, only to hear  "Fuck off back to where you came from you Paki" screamed at them from the other side of the street, or, at school, had it bellowed in their face as they were beaten up and spat at. They weren't shop owners who had to wash the bile-filled word from their walls and their families didn't hear it shouted at them as eggs and other missiles were thrown at their windows.

For British Asians, those days were filled with a fear of the vitriol directed at them for being different and the word  'Paki' is symbolic of that hatred. This fear was later replaced by relief when Britain, as a nation, began to understand how a mere word could be used to cruelly put down a people and began to strike it from our vocabulary. The re-emergence of the word and, worse still, the defence of it has brought back harsh memories of the bad old days. It breaks my heart to think that our understanding of why "Paki" should never be made an acceptable term in the English language has not yet been fully comprehended.

The silence of Ahmed Raza Khan, the Prince's army colleague in question, is irrelevant, as is the fact that Harry's offending video diary was made three years ago, as is the notion that the comment was, as said in a statement made by a spokesperson for the Royals that it was,  "made without malice".

I have found myself in situations where people I consider to be friends have used the word in this way but that doesn't mean that the very sound of it didn't cut like a knife. I have also been guilty of keeping my silence at those times. But that, certainly, did not mean that I was happy for the word to be used; it simply meant that I realised the person using it was a victim of their own stupidity and thought that if they chose to use language that would gain approval from ignorant thugs and members of the racist British National Party then that was their own folly.

I am not concerned about the type of punishment Prince Harry should receive for what may have been an error of judgement, but I do have grave reservations about is the subsequent rush to try and play down the nastiness of the word that was used. No amount of mollifying from an all-white panel on a day time Tv show, or any other such programme, can change that.

* See also what the Editor thinks of the 'N' word


5 Responses to "What's wrong with the 'P' word?"

chris's picture


Mon, 01/12/2009 - 22:40
The problem with this country is it is becoming increasingly cloudy to distinguish between what is perceieved to be offensive and what actually is offensive. Unfortuantely, Harry has just illustrated what is wrong with this country. Pretty soon, you will not be able to say anything in this country (intentional or unintentional) for fear of being branded a racist. That is Labour's doing. No wonder there are people turning to the BNP because, despite the fact that they have their own agenda, people (black and white) feel alienated from their communities. (Im not a BNP supporter by the way) I abhore people who are racist - but in this instance, I think it was blown right out of proportion due to the vulchers of the mainstream media. And without denigrating the family of the person involved - would it be fare to assume that their abhorrance will earn them a nice little wad of cash from papers like the Murdoch press or any others? You have to think outside of the box. I agree though if someone is shouting the word down the street in your direction then that is wrong.


Tue, 01/13/2009 - 18:18
<p>Chris- I have to disagree with you. &#39;Paki&#39; IS an offensive term. I have never heard it used in any other way. You should not have to think about using it. It&#39;s not like Paddy or Jock which could be a term of affection or it could be offensive depending on how well you know the person.</p><p>As for people turning to the BNP, I think this in inevitable in a recession. People want somebody to blame and the easiest target are people who look like immigrants.</p>
chris's picture


Tue, 01/13/2009 - 18:34
Just heard that Prince Charles has been accused of being racist now for calling one of his fellow players, &#39;sooty.&#39; The person has gone on the record and said the Prince means no harm by it, it is a term of affection. So, are the mainstream media whipping these stories up into a frenzy? I think they sometimes have a lot to answer for.... The Royal Family are the one decent thing left in this country that seem to at the moment be being used as a smokescreen for other people&#39;s insecurities about themselves....


Sat, 01/17/2009 - 03:17
<p>I find that a bit of a strong comment. At the end of the day, the Royal Family needs to represent this country in the only way it should: impartially and without any intolerance. Paki is a disgraceful term and Harry should know better. Besides, you can&#39;t compare the Sooty comment as it is a completely separate case. Has the &quot;target&quot; said anything to defend Harry&#39;s actions? I think not.</p><p>You know, I wouldn&#39;t be surprised if you said that &quot;Paki&quot; is akin to &quot;Brit&quot; because of the shortening. Trying to justify Harry&#39;s actions is utterly futile - it shouldn&#39;t have happened in the first place. <br /></p>


Wed, 01/14/2009 - 00:50
absolutely, offensive! just as bad as using &quot; n&quot; word.Harry was quite condescending in his tone...... it showed that he percieves this fellow as &#39;beneath&#39; him.