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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
After the N-word, the P-word
By Rajni Bhatia
BBC News

Racist graffiti
Just as the N-word has been reclaimed by some in the black community, so some young British Asians are starting to adopt a word which has long been levelled against them as a racial slur.

The ejection of 19-year-old student Emily Parr from the Big Brother house for using a racist insult has reawakened debate about who can and who can't say the N-word.

Parr, who is white, was thrown out of the house while little was made of the fact that housemate Charley Uchea, who is black, also used the word nigger.

While many black people are still horrified by any mention of it, others believe that in adopting it themselves they can divest it of its power to offend.

While reclaiming the N-word has prompted debate in wider society British Asians are engaged in a similar quandary about the word Paki.

Emily Parr
Emily Parr - some non-whites have defended her use of the N-word
It's a word I heard all too often in my formative years and one which still stirs up bad memories of bovver boots, skinheads and "Paki-bashing".

The origins of the P-word, as its known in polite society, are far more recent than its black equivalent, which dates back to the 16th Century.

Its first recorded use was in 1964, when hostility in Britain to immigration from its former colonies in the Asian sub-continent, was beginning to find a voice.

Despite being an abbreviation for "Pakistani", its proponents tended to be less discriminating about its application - directing it against anyone with brown skin, be they Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Sometimes even non-Asians who happened to have a dark complexion found themselves on the receiving end.

Forty years on, use of the word is still highly sensitive and has the potential to cause great offence. Earlier this year, it was alluded to in unbroadcast material from the Celebrity Big Brother house, when Indian housemate Shilpa Shetty became the target of racist abuse.

White House

Only at the weekend, the Ministry of Defence removed a promotional video from its website because it included a British soldier using the word to describe Afghan insurgents.

I certainly wouldn't want it used in music, the way in which the n-word, has been widely adopted in hip hop and rap
Steve Chandrasonic, Asian Dub Foundation
Back in 2002, a minor diplomatic storm blew up when US president, George Bush, used the word, although unaware of its offensive connotations.

The episode forced an intervention from a White House spokesman who said Mr Bush had "great respect for Pakistan, the Pakistani people and the Pakistani culture".

Yet to some younger Asians, it appears to have none of the baggage their parents would associate with it.

Young Pakistanis are increasingly using the word to associate and differentiate.

Zak, a 17-year old from Leyton, east London, says he and his friends think nothing of calling each other, "My Paki brother".

"Paki is just a short-form of Pakistani," continues Talha, 16.

For years, the word stood solely for vehement racial abuse
"But only Pakistanis should be allowed to say it," adds Adeel, 17.

Ask them about the historical significance of the word and they look blank. But they have strong views on how the word is used and by whom.

Ahsan, 15, says the P-word could be classed as racist if used by anyone else, including other Asians. Last year filmmaker Navdeep Kandola was forced to change the name of his work from Paki Slag after Screen Yorkshire threatened to pull funding and criticism from West Yorkshire Police.

But, in a further complicated twist, that is exactly how some non-Pakistani Asians are using it - as a term of abuse.

Sixteen-year-old Dinaz, who is of Bangladeshi origin, says at his school in Ilford Bangladeshis and Indians don't use the P-word, although their Pakistani peers do.

"It's accepted for Pakistanis to use it," he says, and they use it in a similar fashion to how rappers use the N-word.

Bonding word

John Ayto, author of the Oxford Dictionary of Slang, says it's just another example of how trying to control usage of a word can backfire.

The modern usage of something like the P-word can be seen as a "bonding device", he suggests, without taboos. So, will the P-word eventually find its way into mainstream conversation?

"Never," says Steve Chandrasonic, of the band Asian Dub Foundation. "I certainly wouldn't want it used in music, the way in which the N-word, has been widely adopted in hip hop and rap," he says.

The P-word which "encompasses anyone in brown skin... should be consigned to the dustbin of history," he adds.

Below is a selection of your comments.

"But only Pakistanis should be allowed to say it," adds Adeel, 17. Is this just a racist comment. But seriously, it's the context of it's use which is the most important thing. The question being is it promoting offence to a group of people?
Ian, Bradford

While it's not right to lightly use words that cause offence, I think it's reasonable to hope that people learn to develop thicker skins too. For insults to work, they aren't just given, they are taken too. I dream of a world where all of us acknowledge whatever other people call us, and accept them as just labels, not sentiments. As the early fictional cowboy 'The Virginian' said, "When you call me that, smile".
VOLDEMORT! , Midlands

I understand the sentiment, but surely it's mad to have a word thats "OK" for some groups to use, and highly offensive for everyone else? Either a word is offensive to some people, or it isn't.
Andrew, Glasgow, Scotland

Does this mean I should be offended by the "Brit" awards. Or maybe cos I'm from Birmingham I should be castrated for saying I'm a Brummie. This whole PC thing is daft they should lock the doors to everyone wanting to enter our country and only open it to those that will allow us the same freedom as we give them (to do/wear/say/drink etc as they want), when we enter their country.
David Young, Hartlepool

It is racial discrimination for one race of people to be able to do something when others cannot. Either the terms are racist and should be condemned whenever used or everyone should be able to use them without fear of reproach. The current situation of supposed political correctness is illogical.
Alex, Colchester, England

I initially didn't understand why I was being called a 'Paki' The word has no derogatory meaning and is a statement of fact to people born in Pakistan. I guess this sums up the intelligence of the narrow minded people that used the word in a racist context. I am Indian and always corrected those people that called me it. They didn't understand why I didn't take offence to what they were saying to me. Personally I believe racism still hasn't gone away. People are lot more discreet about how they get that message across as society has turned against individuals that openly make racist comments.
Amrit Hundal, London

As someone who would never use the N word and not having seen the incident referred to in BB I get the impression that once again this is something which is being blown out of proportion. I found the last BB incident odd as well since it appeared there was a bit of hypocrisy and double standards therein. Using the term White Trash is surly just as much a racist comment as some of the other terms which where used. All too often I get the impression that some of these situations are more policital than bearing any relation to the incidents themselves. If the term was used by both parties is it then justified that only one person is ostracised?
margaret, glasgow

The disabled community are also reclaiming words, such as "crip" and "spazz" - but again they need to be used with understanding. Sometimes they are a bit tongue in cheek, sometimes they are just the words we use to describe ourselves - I call disabled viewing platforms the "cripple pen". I think that with all these words, an awareness of where they came from and who has the "right" to use them - along with the right intentions of course - is important. But sometimes it's good to claim them back.
Flash Bristow, London UK

Sorry but if theres any way to stop these racist words is to not make these words acceptable to anyone, even if you are of that colour or origin of that country. Its degrading to yourself to call yourself a P-word, N-word and should stop being used by all races. Its completely hypocritical if its ok for one race to use it but unacceptable for all the others. If we're on the matter of racial slurs what about other ethnicities like the chinese, do they use the C word as a form of brotherhood??
Lisa, Edinburgh

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