Nina Lakhani: 'Paki' wasn't funny 40 years ago. Why is it now, Bruce?

Share
Related Topics

The last time I was called a Paki was about a year ago. I was walking back to Loughton Tube station after visiting some friends on a Saturday afternoon when a young boy, 12 or 13, casually made the remark as he walked past me with his two mates on a quiet, suburban street. It stopped me in my tracks. "What did you say?" I asked, astonished. The boys kept on walking and didn't look back. I, on the other hand, kept looking back all the way to the station. More than angry, I felt scared.

When the Strictly Come Dancing veteran, Anton Du Beke, told his celebrity partner she looked like a Paki during rehearsals, she walked out, furious. The olive-skinned Footballers' Wives actress Laila Rouass is of Moroccan and Indian descent, but had turned up to rehearsal browner than usual, thanks to a spray tan. This followed Du Beke's previous comment (also in jest, we're assured) when he asked her if she was a terrorist. Should the BBC have sacked him or will an apology do, with the assurance that he is not a racist? No. It's just not good enough.

Going to school during the Seventies and Eighties, the odd racist remark was par for the course. This included occasional taunts of "you Paki" from kids on the bus, to peers at school calling a girl they didn't like "a Paki bitch", quickly followed by "I don't mean you, you're different". At lunch time some of the kids went down to "the Paki shop", as it was commonly known, for crisps and a can of Coke. To some, it was a harmless nickname, but to me it never was. It made me feel anxious, and still does.

Until last year, I don't think I'd been called a Paki since I left school in 1993. By general consent, by that time it was unquestionably offensive, unacceptable on TV or even in pub banter.

So when Bruce Forsyth last week tap danced into the row during an interview on TalkSport radio, pleading for the nation to stop taking such things so seriously, it was like the return of an unwanted bygone age.

"I remember when we had a sense of humour about these things," he lamented. Well, Brucie, the world has moved on since the days when Alf Garnett referred happily to "Pakis", "coons" and "yids". Believe it or not, for those on the receiving end, it wasn't that funny.

In the past 10 years, there have been some attempts by young people of Pakistani descent to reclaim the word, as pockets of African-American youth have done with the word "nigger". But I've yet to meet anyone, young or old, male or female, Indian or Pakistani, who hasn't been upset by it. Some may have let it go unchallenged, and may have even laughed along with the banter, which is what, perhaps, persuaded Prince Harry to use the term of an army colleague. But don't tell me they didn't feel cowed into silence.

When I was growing up, my dad's friend was attacked and robbed by teenagers with knives in his off-licence, all shouting "Paki" as they beat him up. I can still picture my mum coming home from her job at a Punjabi restaurant, distraught because some kids had been calling her a Paki on the bus.

"We're Indian," she said in between her tears."Can't they tell I'm not Pakistani? I'm wearing a sari!" Her response actually made us laugh as we tried to explain to her that to racists we all looked the same.

Paki is a word many people associate with unhappy memories, with insults and abuse. I hate the fact that I never challenged my school friends for their casual use of the word. I would now, I'm sure of that. It's called progress. Take note, BBC.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor