Ayesha Kazmi

We all Call Each Other Paki

In The Personal on 19/03/2011 at 00:53

It’s true.

It follows the same logic that African Americans follow: it’s ok when it comes from one of ‘us,’ but if it comes from a gora, then it’s racist.

I think the first time I used the word ‘Paki’ was when I was with a few of my friends from my previous job as a magazine editor. I worked with several Pakis – well, one Indian, and three Bangladeshis, an Afro-Caribbean, and a couple of goras to be precise. I was hanging out with my Indian co-worker and one of my Bangladeshi co-workers when we were all being having fun being stupid – and then it just slipped out of my mouth: “you Pakis!” Actually, oddly enough, saying it felt quite natural. I’ve been using the term regularly since and am happy to report that it’s become a part of my everyday vocab.

On many occasions, however, I’ve had the pleasure of having Paki hurled at me for insulting purposes – ie: from a white person. There was one day I was crossing the street, shortly after I moved here. At that time I would get quite confused about the right/left side of the road with the drivers and often crossed the street with caution. One day I looked the wrong way when crossing a residential road, I didn’t see any cars coming – upon crossing the road, I had my head turned the wrong way when a car came to a screeching halt just before me. “You flipping Paki!” yelled the incensed driver. While he did not want to kill me, he clearly had absolutely no problem with racially insulting me. A good trade off in that moment, I suppose. The driver drove off never to be seen again.

The most memorable moment of my rather inglorious Paki-life, was on a Friday night when my former husband and I were going home from Oxford Street in Central London. We had just missed the last train and had the Underground gates shut in our faces; “Last train already gone.” Just great. I stood in the cold in high heels. We had no choice but to take the God forsaken night bus – none of which would bring us directly to our neighbourhood, so we’d have to switch about three or four times. London night buses are notorious for being quite sleazy, not to mention.

Just as we got onto the final bus, we were reminded of the evenings football match. The bus was filled with a bunch of Chelsea yobs singing victory songs. Even better. Especially in our neighbourhood which was overpopulated by – ahem – chavs.

A couple of young fellows stood by us. They were from South Africa and were Liverpool fans – I don’t keep track of European football, but apparently Chelsea played them that same night and had won. A match of witless banter commenced between the two sides. It got pretty heated. Ever heard of how seriously European football fans take their football? Certainly not to be messed with. So I didn’t.

We couldn’t help but to get involved, however, when one young and rather chavvy girl became so incensed at the two South Africans for their leanings that she grabbed the first thing out of her pocketbook (some mascara, lip gloss, and a pen) and hurled it at the guys. Her mascara hit me on the shoulder needless to say, which made my husband rather angry. In his diplomatic tone, he called out to the girl telling her to watch where she threw her stuff because it had hit me. Perhaps not the best idea.

She walked over to us and told me to pick up her fallen mascara. I, of course, being the rather proud American woman that I am, absolutely refused to bow down and obey her orders. Who did she think she was speaking to me like this? So she pushed me. While my parents had raised me to be non-violent, I smelled a racist in front of me. Her ordering me to pick up her paraphernalia told me everything I needed to know about her reflexive view of me. She may get away with intimidating other “Asians” like me, but I wasn’t going to allow her to think she could get away with it every single time. So, after a few moments of serious contemplation, I pushed her back. Then came the words: “Go home you Paki!”

Home? Little did this little twerp know that home was indeed the United States and not the Indian subcontinent, as she so cleverly thought. So I called her a chav – which she didn’t take very well, needless to say. So came her fist at my shoulder. And then came my foot at her leg. “Ow,” she cried. She knew to stop then. Smart girl. I don’t know what came over me that night, but I most certainly would have kept going if she hadn’t stopped. She leaned over, grabbed her mascara, then whimpered off back to her seat.

Stuff like this has happened on many unfortunate occasions. It’s been a shock to my system to say the least. Coming from the US where South Asians are often considered a “model minority,” a rather problematic term, nevertheless, I was accustomed to the wider public assuming that I came from an educated background headed for success. Here, in Britain I was seen as nothing more than a conquered subject – a slave. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the UK are at the bottom of the statistical rung; often the least educated and the most poor.

Somehow, I managed to embrace the term ‘Paki’ amongst friends. I often use it as a term of endearment when a friend might have a clumsy moment, or as an expression of annoyance when a friend would suddenly change her plans on me and say she can no longer meet me for dinner after we’d planned to do so. My friends often even call me one. That’s when I’m ok with it. It’s a term that has been “taken back” by its subordinates. After living in Britain for over five years, it’s added another layer to my already complexly hyphenated identity: a Pakistani-Muslim-American-British-Paki. I rather like it.

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