No, you may not call me a ‘Paki’

Published: April 10, 2018
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I don’t believe in labelling brown bodies as foreign, different and unwelcome.

There was a strange time when I was growing up, where I didn’t fully understand the dual identity I had as a Pakistani-Canadian. I thought I was just like everyone else, until I was nine-years-old.

At school, a notice was given to students with information about how to keep hair clean to avoid lice. A young white boy scoffed at the notice, and announced that the only people who needed this reminder were the “Paki” kids.

This was my first taste of prejudice, but it became all too familiar as I continued to grow up in a diverse, yet inharmonious society.

Fast forward to 2018, when trying to cross the street, my friend – who happens to be Bengali – was honked at by a man in a vehicle. The driver then proceeded to roll down his window and angrily yelled, “Paki”.

That’s all. There was no context needed, because he and my friend both understood the jab: your brown existence is the insult itself.

My ethnicity has been used as a derogatory slur where I grew up in Canada, following a trend created in the UK and Europe. Although Pakistan is made up of multiple ethnic groups like Punjabis, Balochis, Pathans and more, the abbreviation of “Pakistani” has been used to demean and insult anyone who looks like they are from the Indian subcontinent – furthering the implication that a South Asian is “the other” in a white-dominated society.

The origins of this can be traced back to the 60s, when there was an increase of South Asians moving to the UK. Attacks on new immigrants rose, and the term “Paki-bashing” was coined.

There are many instances of this slur rearing its head publicly in the UK; a notable mention would be when Prince Harry was caught on video describing a member of his platoon, Ahmed Raza Khan, as “our little Paki friend”.

In December 2000, the Advertising Standards Authority published research on attitudes of the British public to pejoratives. “Paki” ranked as the 10th most severe pejorative in English.

Being born and raised in Canada, there is an immense sense of pride I feel that my country, at least on the surface, touts that it embraces diversity. However, the reality is that just because we all live together, doesn’t mean we respect each other’s cultural and religious views.

Last summer, a video was released of a woman in Mississauga, Ontario yelling in a doctor’s office, refusing to be treated by a newly immigrated South Asian doctor.

“You’re telling me there’s not one white doctor in this whole entire building?” she said.

“You’re telling me that my kid has chest pains, and he’s going to have to sit here until four o’clock?” she added.

“Can I see a doctor that’s white, that doesn’t have brown teeth and speaks English? I’m not going there with all those Paki doctors.”

We can’t be blind to the fact that in North America, a lot of pushback exists on issues of immigration, especially from places like Asia, the Middle East and Africa. And it stems from a fear of foreign cultures and religions becoming the majority.

We can’t be blind to the fact that Islamophobia is alive and thriving, and those who have left their home countries to flee war, persecution, poverty or abuse face a daunting reality – being unwanted in the place they now call home.

I believe in freedom of speech, and one can try to argue the power and context of words, but what I don’t believe in is labelling brown bodies as foreign, different and unwelcome.

So no, you may not call me a “Paki.” You can, however, call me a Pakistani, because that is part of my identity and cultural history. Both my parents were born and raised in a country that holds immense pride for itself, and they embrace all of what being a Pakistani comes with – a distinct set of traditions, languages, food, art and history, that no four-letter abbreviation can diminish.

This post was originally published on BrownGirlMagazine and republished with permission.

Nisha Khan

Nisha Khan

The author is a writer based in Toronto, who is pursuing Journalism. She always has her head in a book, whether poetry or a cheesy romance novel. When the pen is down, she enjoys watching trashy reality shows, baking ready-made cookies and binge-buying apps on her phone. She tweets @foreignclaws (twitter.com/foreignclaws)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • I am a Khan

    what’s the big deal in the word Paki? its short for Pakistani, like Brit is short for British, Aussie is short for Australian, Kiwi for New Zealander, etc. But if a word is used as a way of expressing hatred for a community or people, then that is wrong.Recommend

  • sterry

    I think that Westerners have a better knowledge of different nationalities now. It used to be that any Asian in the UK was falsely labelled as a Pakistani – even if they were Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Indian, Afghan, West Indian ( Trinidad) etc but now even the people in Britain know there are different kinds of Asians so the label of Paki is disappearing. People call different races in the subcontinent different names too like Gujoo for Gujrati or whatever. There will always be name calling but it only bothers you if you let it. In the US people call Indians names too like Apu ( character from Simposons TV show or Gandhi) and generalize it to all South Asians so it depends on where you live too. I think with the UK, the problem is that lots of Kashmiris moved there and they started the trend of all Asians being called Paki but if you ask me, Paki is not really a bad name and it would not bother me at all in the United States.Recommend

  • Striver

    Great article. It was only after 9/11 that they satrted learning the difference between Sikhs, Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.
    Sikhs are still confused with what they call Taliban because of Turban and beard.
    Racism has changed from being open and “in-your-face” to being subtle.Recommend

  • zafars

    I wonder how we as Pakistanis would react if Hindus from India started moving here, threatening to become a majority? So, relax, every country’s original citizens feel that way, besides I am surprised that being called a Pakistani would ever be considered an insult unless you suffer from an inferiority complex.Recommend

  • Stupid Intelligent

    There is no Pakistani culture. What Pakistanis portray as their culture is actually the Indian subcontinent culture.

    As for being called a Paki; in the U.S. and Canada, being called a Paki is not derogatory. It’s only a racial slur in the UK.

    But Pakistanis should reflect as to why the name is Paki and not an Indi – the reputation of the community speaks for itself abroad.Recommend

  • ABKhan

    Thank you for writing this article. Our Indian friends (who themselves are victim of this slur) use this slur against Pakistanis.Recommend

  • AAM

    With all the prejudices that you have witnessed, I must say that your are still lucky that you were born and raised in Canada.Recommend

  • Amin Daha

    Well written.Recommend

  • ji sadhu

    In Hong Kong,they call all South Asians ‘A-cha,molo-cha,cha-chai’ and they demean,degrade and ‘bad,low’.Even Japanese who have an image of being polite,quiet are not exception when they come insult foreigner.Instead of saying ‘Gaikokujin’ which means ‘Foreigner’,they use word as ‘Gaijin’.And if they don’t like you ‘dete ike’,which means’get the out of my country’ and signs like ‘Japanese only’.South asians have become another outcast ‘Burakumin’ because they work 3K jobs(Kitsui, Kitanai, Kiken;in English, 3Ds: dirty, difficult, and dangerous).Now we have placed Burakumins and inherited defilement(kegare).With whites,they just may use Gaijin but even if you have brown skin and on your way to work on a train with suit and tie,you are still a ‘gaijin’ but intonation of ‘gaijin’ and as if the person who uses the word has swollowed some untasty black umeboshi(a pickled plum,achar,expired dated one) which he wants to pute out some saliva.Recommend

  • Awais

    As the great late Hawking’s said “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, its the illusion of knowledge”
    Only in Punjab (that to upper Punjab) of Pakistan you will see similarities to Indian culture but all other provinces specially KPK and Balochistan are quite distinct or rather should I say for your pleasure holds Afghan culture ??? Try to visit Pakistan sometime you will be surprised, the image you hold of ours is unfortunate.Recommend

  • Agrippa – The Skeptic

    The hatred of the Hindu is well drilled into you by your upbringing and, you have internalised it well.Recommend

  • Xahid

    and that’s what Author is talking about in the whole article!Recommend

  • Stupid Intelligent

    Punjab’s culture is not Pakistani culture. It’s Punjabi culture.
    For KPK; yes it is Afghan culture. All pathans are Afghans. Baluchis are Baluchis and Sindhis are Sindhis….Recommend

  • Stupid Intelligent

    Muslims living in the sub-continent are all converts. The Arabs invaded and Hindus complied; albeit not all of them.Recommend

  • Sharath Chandra

    Exactly, Its that inferiority complex which is the culprit here,Recommend

  • Sane sid

    Leave aside Hindus…..No Indian would think of that…..Recommend

  • SkepticalFaraz

    There is Punjabi culture, Pashtun culture, Balochi culture, and Kashmiri culture. The majority of Pakistanis belong to these ethnicities. The only thing Pakistan has in common with India is Punjab. Punjabis are not even 4% of India.
    just like India has Gujarati culture, Marathi culture, South Indian culture.. we don’t have a lot in common sorry.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    Exactly…. in depth analysisRecommend

  • Salman Sheikh

    i don’t mind if someone say paki to me, so what if we belong to subcontinent….Recommend

  • sterry

    It’s a little more complex than that. There are different racial influences in Pakistan because many other invaders came to what is now Pakistan and they were not just the Arabs. There is Central Asian, Greek, and Persian. Not to mention half the country Pakistan is KPK and Baluchistan which is Middle Eastern and closer to Afghanistan. The ones who converted and really appear typically Indian are the ones who come from India directly which is why a lot of the Indian origin Muhajirs you see in Karachi are more typically Indian looking. For example the late Zubaida Apa came from Hyderabad India to Pakistan and former President Musharraf came to Pakistan from India and both look more typically Indian because their ancestors probably converted like most people there.Recommend

  • sterry

    Punjab in Pakistan is much bigger than Punjab in India and Punjab culture is a mix of different influences. Even the word Punjab is Persian since it was part of Persian Empire at one time. Punjabi culture is different than many Indian cultures. Even Indian Punjabis will agree that the culture there in the smaller Indian Punjab is different than other Indian regions.Recommend

  • Aazam Khan

    I am from Khyber pakhtunkhwa pakistan living in foreign countries since small and people mostly assume me as middle eastern, italian, turkey, spanish greece or some other country, and i will say that Nothing is wrong with the word Paki since this is the short form of pakistani which nobody ever call me so far but if they do i will have no worries or problem for this word, and in foreign countries what we hear what those people call indians are even worse, those words i would not be able to mention since the majority of indian people are more dark brownish with visible identity, not all but some sick people of other countries calling foreigners in degrading manner and this kind of people should be answered in same manner.Recommend

  • Aazam Khan

    correct bro, but we should respect every human being no matter who they are and from whatever part of the world, this is purely evil what some human beings act as devils degrading others just because of their nationality or their skin colorRecommend

  • Joe Being

    Its same as saying there is no English Culture, French or Italian culture, because they all fall under “European Culture” . Sub Continent is even more diverse and culturally rich than Europe.

    Similarly, you can not deny unique characteristics of Eastern Indian culture and languages, or say that there is no Bengali or Tamil culture, because they all fall under “Indian Culture”Recommend

  • Joe Being

    You are negating your own comment above. At one hand you are saying that each province/state has its own culture, but then you deny it at country level, and say that it is all “Sub-Continent” culture. Unique blend of Tamil, Sinhalese and Euro-Lankan people, make Sri Lankan culture. Iranic, Dardic and Indic people form a unique blend and culture in Pakistan. India is lots more diverse than these 2, and has its own diversity.

    You also say” All Pathans are Afghans”, it is partially true, because Afghan used to eb a term fro Pashtoons, but after country of Afghanistan was formed in 1700s, it started to apply as a Nationality, not just an ethnicity. So today, not all Afghan Nationals are Pathans. They barely make half of its Population, rest are Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara, Turkmen etc. there are more Tajiks in Afghanistan than Tajikistan itself, and more Pashtoons in Pakistan than Afghanistan) . This creates a unique culture for each country.

    In Europe Switzerland is a perfect example, it has 4 official languages, German, French, Italian and Romanch. Try telling a Swiss, that there is no Swiss culture, and they are just Germans, French and Italians. Or tell an Austrian, that they are not Austrians, or that there is no Belgian culture.Recommend

  • zafars

    Another piece of nonsense, read my reply in its context.Recommend

  • zafars

    Take the second part of your avatar name out then you will make sense.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    Yes stop ….. Non SenseRecommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    And what actually i the Indian Subcontinent culture? Who exactly is an Indian? Is it a Kashmiri or a Tamil? or a Bengali?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Correct. You can see the heavy indigenous Hindustani influence, in the
    Punjabi facial features and names, like Pal, [Sialkot] Randhwa, Ranjha [Gujranwala] which are Jat Hindu in origin. Jats came from Sindh/Gujrat.
    As we know Punjab is the gateway to India. And as it happens everywhere, invading armies that passed through Punjab on their way
    to loot and plunder Hindustan, left their DNA’s, in the Punjabi indigenous population.
    You can see the effects of this all over Punjab. In the hair and skin textures, wide noses, dolichocephalic skull structure etc. Very revealing.
    Northern Bharat was populated by Aryans, who migrated there from the Caucasus Mountains Region in central Asia, around 1,700 BC. They pushed the indigenous Dravidians further south and into Punjab.
    You can clearly see these distinct Aryan facial characteristics in the Northern Hindustanis. Whether Muslim or Hindu. Which is also the home region of Urdu speaking Muhajjirs. Easily identifiable Caucasoid features.
    If you could put Zubaida Apa in a skirt and blouse she would have had
    no trouble passing for an English lady. Or take the Kalash or Hunzacuts
    they are the true descendants of Greeks and other Aryan migrations.
    You can see it in their faces.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    When was Punjab part of PERSIA.???? where did you read this……. ??????Recommend

  • Sane sid

    Indian Culture means respect for all and superiority of none….. India cannot be defined as a nation for one particular religion…… there is a country formed on those grounds….and brokeRecommend

  • abhi

    Sinidhi also have similarity with Indian culture. After the name Hind is based on Sindh only. If you remove these two provinces there is not much left for Pakistan any way.Recommend

  • abhi

    I don’t know why are you offended with Paki. If you are proud to be Pakistani then Paki is also fine. Because there are so many “stans” and “Paki” is the uniqueness in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sane

    Ha…ha….ha. You and quite good in creating jokes.

    Indian Culture means respect for all and superiority of none.Recommend

  • Sane

    We are proud to belong sub continents, which we rules for 800 years.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    As far English Language is concerned, Association is a different word altogether….. I am happy you made the correction …… Punjab was never a PART of Persian Empire…… PeriodRecommend

  • Patwari

    There is the Gilget-Baltistan-Hunza-Chitral-Kaghan culture.
    There is the Sindhi culture. There is the Urdu speaking
    Muhajjir culture.
    You did not mention them because of your deep rooted bias.Recommend

  • SkepticalFaraz

    Should have said et al. no bias.Recommend

  • Imran Sheikh

    Personally I have no issue with being called a Paki.
    It’s as meaningless as any other name, and a lot better than “Oi”, as I’m usually addressed, or “N–‘s husband”, or “O’s father”.
    “For that which we call a rose,
    Would by any name smell as sweet”.
    Not so?Recommend