The P Word

Hello, Internet. I wrote this a while ago but it's something I still find myself struggling with today so I have decided to repost it. It's amazing how one small, careless incident can change absolutely everything.

As a British Pakistani woman, I am both proud and extremely positive about all parts of my cultural and religious heritage. I have, however, noticed a strange converse phenomena in some first generation kids I grew up.with. There seems a desperate need to expunge all things ethnic from their identity; including wanting to exclusively be with non POC partners. I truly believe that the reasons for this disconnect stems, not only from colonialism as a whole, but the state of race relations in Britian in the 70s - 90s. It begins with things as simple as negative language... namely words like "Paki".

For those that are unfamiliar, this word is a common British racial slur for anyone of Pakistani or South Asian descent. It is held (by many of us) in the same regard as the N word. These hate filled, ugly, violent words were designed to provoke and demean and reduce your identity to something derogatory and inferior. This bastardisation of the word Pakistani is, to me, wholly provocative. I physically react to it, as do many others like me. By using it, you are insulting not only me personally, but my culture, heritage and, by extension, my family.

In a time when it was normal to have this word spat at you in the playground, in the street, at dinner with your parents, walking home from the post office, whether you were 5 or 15, what other conclusion could you draw but that you were inferior? It was a relentless battleground of grace under fire whilst simultaneously trying to combat your rapidly crippling self esteem. I remember growing up thinking I was dirty, desperately scrubbing my little knees in the bath so the colour might come off and I could look like everyone else. There were no Asian people on television, in the books we read at school, there was no brown Barbie. Anything I looked up to or wanted to play with wholly excluded anything and everything that resembled what I recognised as me.


I happened to watch a movie called The Butler the other day and certain themes rang very true to my own experience and those of my family. Obviously, I am not comparing our struggle to that of those during the Civil Rights Movement, I wouldn't dare. But the reminder that the oppression of people of colour was a not so distant a memory has shaken me these last few weeks. I cannot believe that the right to be served equally in the same cafes, shops and restaurants was only granted to African Americans in 1963.
I have heard stories of the racial abuse my parents received when they each arrived here in the 70s but I was always viewing this from the perspective of a British citizen with the law on her side. I will never know what it's like to walk into a university and have them tell me I can't be a doctor because my degree and postgraduate aren't valid in this country. It's not true, but they could get away with saying it in those days; and that's exactly what they did when they wouldn't let my mother on to the course she'd been preparing for her entire life. Similarly, with my father, his law degree wasn't recognised and so he went back to school and retrained as an accountant, despite being a lawyer already.
I could almost wrap my head around the yobbish, thuggish abuse you get in the street, because it was someone else's problem and, ultimately, you could leave it behind and carry on living your life. But what happened to my parents irks me because it would never be allowed to happen to me today, There are checks, balances and measures against this behaviour now; against someone blocking your path and being so unabashed about taking the value of your education away from you. But it did happen and it happened at the expense of them.

These indignities no longer seem so far removed from the stories of yesteryear when Indians / Pakistanis were forced to address every English person they saw in their occupied country as "Sir" or "Ma'am" in acknowledgement their seniority. Or like my friend's South African father, who nearly went to prison because the woman he loved was black and he was white. During Apartheid, their relationship was considered a crime.

The sad reality is, that the echoes of our sinister history reverberate still. This was not a thousand years ago, it wasn't even one hundred years ago. We must never forget that this kind of brutal thinking, ethos, and behaviour is but one generation behind us... and it could catch up again at any minute.

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With all of this in mind, I keep asking myself, what is my responsibility as a woman of colour? A woman who has married out of her race? What is it my duty to hold on to? I have never tolerated racism in any form and neither do my friends or family. I had created, what I thought, was a protective bubble around my life; an environment within which I could seriously think about raising children.

You see, should I have children, they will be British, Pakistani, Caucasian, Muslim, and Jewish. I am therefore fiercely protective of their lovely hypothetical lives already and would never want them to view their unique make up as a negative factor. I want my children to be proud and celebrate all the beautiful strands of our family that have knit themselves together and folded around us all.

So you can imagine my surprise when, a few months before my wedding, a younger member of Bob's family used the word "Paki" in my home.

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They didn't fling it at me, rather it was used casually in conversation to describe something they referred to as the "Paki Shop". I was stunned. Never in my life have I ever socialised with people who speak this way, rather my friends are the type of people who would call somebody out for something like this.

I'm not naive, I know that some people talk like this but, given everything I've mentioned above, this is an attitude and mentality I have never been exposed to (and, quite frankly, have worked very hard to protect myself from) in my own home. I felt so violated. As though someone had barged into our lovely little bubble and set it on fire.

I am so ashamed that, when confronted with this situation, I was, ironically, so British about it. I sit up at night thinking about how I ought to have stood up and demanded they leave our home immediately. Instead, I laughed in disbelief and asked them to use another word. When challenged, the person said, "What word should I use? (My partner) says it all the time" I said something less offensive would suffice. Then they looked at me and cavalierly said, "Oh, I'm sorry, the PAKI- STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANI shop." My blood boiled. I looked over to Bob who looked equally as horrified as me. Then, seeing as it was his family, I deferred to him. I politely went through the motions until I made my excuses to end the visit and this person left my home. I did so under the assumption that my husband-to-be would take their ass aside later and call them out on their vile behaviour and I would get a grovelling apology. So off Bob went to have a word,

then.... nothing.

No apology, no talking to me about it. Nothing.
Then this person was in my wedding party.
And I paid for four of their friends and their partners to attend as evening guests.
Then they announced their pregnancy in my bridal suite.

I can appreciate that from Bob's perspective, this is all new territory and that he is not perfect, no one is, but I can't shake this bitter taste in my mouth. It has been three years since my wedding and I am now related to this person and I can't sleep some nights. I am so ashamed that this was brushed under the rug. That we have inadvertently created a situation where this foul, disgusting language might be used again in my presence or, worse, around my future children. I am doubly ashamed that Bob's family have also tried to excuse, explain, and justify this person's actions following the event and have even gone so far as to say we were in the wrong for being offended. And I am most ashamed of the fact that my husband didn't stand up with me, look this in the face and use this opportunity to lay down clear boundaries around appropriate vernacular and behaviour.

Accountability has always resonated with me, especially in situations like this, and I suppose I am not satisfied. Especially because I am still waiting for a damn apology. I want to make it clear to this person that we don't tolerate this behaviour and that we will not raise our children anywhere near theirs if this is the kind of filth they can say so flippantly about my race.

When that person refers to my people as "Paki" and the convenience store as the "Paki Shop", they, apparently, mean it as a contraction. I, however, hear my parents being spat at and openly being called a "dirty Paki" in the street, gangs on buses calling me a "Paki Bitch" throwing things at me and telling me I stink of shit and curry, random members of the public telling my family to go home and detailing why they think we don't belong in this country, my father being chased and run down by a mob in Paris while he was on holiday in his student days, and my friend having his throat slit when he was 17 on a night out because some thugs didn't like that that particular "Paki" had a white girlfriend.

So, no, I don't hear a contraction. I hear you being an ignorant moron.

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My whole life, I have watched my parents handle these scenarios with such grace and a quiet dignity that I am still in awe of. And they have always taught me that, the first time someone crosses that line with you socially, you stop and use it as an opportunity to educate. If they fail to take that opportunity then you must either get tough with boundaries or remove yourself from their negative influence altogether.

Although, this approach has served me well, I think I forgot along the way that, sometimes, it is appropriate to have some fight in you. Particularly when you are setting the tone for what is right and wrong with your new family who have never had to consider these things before and are used to always getting their own way #whiteprivilegewoes

But the damage has been done. The hubris of this person who has still not apologised to me is unbelievable; and it does have consequences. I will not expose myself or my half Pakistani children to an environment where the P-Bomb is dropped conversationally. I do not want my (future) children alone with this person or socialising with this person's children unsupervised by me or my husband. In fact, I don't really care too much about this person at all any more, which breaks my heart a little if I'm honest.

I realise that interracial marriage is a potential minefield of faux pas before you find your way but there are times when the ship has sailed and you just screwed the pooch. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations. Had this person come to me, with their hands up, and honestly said they fucked up and were sorry, I probably would have forgotten all about it. But saying nothing, letting it hang in the air like this for years without a resolution is, to me, the height of vulgarity and behaviour I cannot ignore or excuse.

What precedent have I set here? I know Bob's family like to handle things with hushed conversations after the fact and then it won't happen again but this isn't about Bob's family. This is about my family, the one I want to create with my husband and I'm pretty sure we just stamped the word WELCOME on our foreheads. I think back to the struggle of my parents, the abuse I suffered as a child and how vocal I was when I was a teenager and in my twenties; how I spoke out against this kind of behaviour against any race or minority group. That girl doesn't recognise this woman and her current situation. That girl would probably want to kick my ass if she saw me now.

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It seems that, as the struggle lessened outwardly, I have somehow let my guard down. I realise that the fact that I was caught off guard in the first place means situations like this are now few and far between. I appreciate that, but where did my fight go? Where is that part of me that always stood up in defiance of such disgusting, minimising behaviour?

I do feel for Bob, he is absolutely mortified. Largely due to the fact that this kind of mentality had never, ever been exhibited in his family before, rather, I was made to feel completely welcome and like I belonged from the word go. I think that's why we were both so stunned when confronted with this person's actions. So, for Bob's sake, I have been trying my best to give this person the benefit of the doubt and am adopting the 'Never Again' approach. Which basically involves taking an aggressive, definitive stand should this ever occur in the future.

In the meantime though, shelving my feelings about the first incident, and then the entire family's complicit denial about it, is my immediate problem; and one that I would be lying if I said I wasn't struggling with. I don't know if I will ever fully be able to let this go, or if I should. But this is something I will need to muddle through with my husband as we find our way through this interracial, interfaith life together. We just don't have a precedent for this and it's so hard to educate someone who doesn't think they've done anything wrong.

With my current predicament in mind, I would like to close with a few words of advice:

If you are one of these people that use racial slurs, colloquially or otherwise, about a minority group that is not your own, these words do not belong to you. We have commandeered them because it was our only recourse- to take back this ugly and violent language designed solely to demean and use it in our own context, on our own terms, if at all.

You have no part to play in this.

Never, do you ever, get to determine when it is appropriate to use the P word, the N word or any other racial slur. And to those of you out there that try to justify bastardising someone's race in this derogatory way, I'm going to go ahead and pull a Morgan Freeman:


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You do not pass GO
You do not collect £200

2 comments

  1. Word. I'm sorry that person was a cunt to you. I'm expecting to deal with the same issue when my bob and I marry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you my darling, much appreciated.
      As Socrates often said, "bitches be crazy".

      Delete

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