This week saw the tragic events of Minneapolis, where George Floyd, an African-American man died whilst in police custody. The four arresting officers were all white. Following this there have been riots in several US cities and there has been a global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
All this reminded me of a post I wrote 5 years ago that I had archived. It seems that little has changed from then to now, so I thought it timely to republish it.
The following text remains unchanged from the day that I wrote it way back in the summer of 2015.
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Obama Said The N-Word Live on TV!
This week, the president of the United States of America, Mr Barack Obama, said ‘the n-word’. Live.
And he was not ashamed of it.
Cue lots of media outlets decrying him, saying that it’s not OK to use ‘the n-word’ – ever!
I have to say, I agree with El Presidente in his opinion, rather than on the specific words he used to express that opinion. It’s all about context.
For those of you that didn’t hear it, here’s what he said:
“Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior”
- Barack Obama
In my opinion I don’t see anything wrong here because he had no intention to offend anyone, but it reminded me of something that happened to me many years ago.
Words Aren't Racist
Back in my College days I had a friend, Imran, and without realising it he taught me a great life lesson in racism.
He was a really nice guy (probably still is, but we lost contact many years ago) and he had a wicked sense of humour.
He had this habit of calling someone a ‘Paki’ whenever he was disappointed in them. His tongue was firmly in his cheek when he said it and – according to modern political correctness – he was allowed to call someone a Paki because although he was born and raised in the UK, Imran’s family originally came from Pakistan.
He called me a Paki many times, always with a smile on his face and always meant as a joke. If you haven’t seen my photo anywhere I’m a typical English white boy of mainly Viking heritage, and not having a Pakistani bone in my body, that’s what made it ironic.
One day we were in a room with lots of other people in it, most of whom neither of us knew.
I asked Imran if he was going to some event or other later in the week, and when he said that he wasn’t I retorted ‘oh, you Paki’ – in exactly the way he had said to me countless times before.
As one, the whole room held its breath, not daring to utter a single syllable. The silence in the room was deafening.
Imran, ever the joker, paused for effect for what seemed like an age and then burst out into laughter.
The room finally breathed a sigh of relief and everyone returned to what they were doing.
The Power of Words
At the time I was around 17 or 18 years of age and I had been brought up in a small country village where there were no black people. The only people whose families were not originally from the village were the owners of the local Chinese takeaway and their children – one of whom was in my class in primary school.
I didn’t have the faintest idea that there was such a thing as racism. It was only when I went to college that I met my first black person, my first Pakistani and my first Indian.
I became friends with people from all over the globe and it never entered my head that the colour of their skin changed the way that some people saw them until I heard Imran calling people Pakis.
I started to understand the power of words, and that the same words coming from different mouths can mean something completely different, depending on the context and on the observer.
You see, it was OK for Imran to call me a Paki because he was from Pakistan.
It wasn’t OK for me to call him a Paki because he was from Pakistan – that’s racist.
Ah yes, but it became OK for me to call him a Paki if we both knew it was a joke and he took it the way it was intended.
Words Are Not Racist - People Are #mlk #racism #black
The bottom line here is that it’s all about the intention and the emotion behind the word, not the word itself. Our audience thought I was being racist towards a Pakistani until they realised that it was a mutual joke and no offence was intended or caused. Then it was all OK.
And here’s another daft thing. If you call someone a Paki it’s racist, but if you call them a Pakistani it’s fine. Apparently the word Paki has racist connotations, yet the word Pakistani simply denotes the place where a person originated.
You can’t call someone a ‘Chinky’ because it’s racist, but you can call them Chinese.
And yet there is no difference between calling someone a Frenchy or a Frenchman. Similarly Aussie and Australian, Welshy and Welshman, Scot and Scottish, Brit and British.
Political correctness, while doing a fine job in shining a light on racism and racist issues has gone too far.
Words Are Not Racist – People Are.
Buildings Are Not Racist
When my mother was a young child they had a dog. Called Nigger. Predictably it was black.
It wasn’t until she was much older that racism became an issue and looking back on having a dog called Nigger she realised that it could cause a great deal of offence to a lot of people.
Whenever the dog went out – there weren’t very many cars around in those days, so doors were routinely left open for dogs and small children to come and go as they pleased – they would have to go and look for it when it was dinner time. Roaming the streets repeatedly shouting ‘Nigger’ to attract the dog was not an uncommon event. Imagine doing that today – a person could get lynched!
Back then there was absolutely nothing racist in naming the dog Nigger because there was no intention to cause offence. These days it would have the political-correctness police breaking down your door.
In our village there was a pub whose informal name was ‘The Niggers’. If you were talking with someone about the social club at the top of the hill, no-one knew which pub you were talking about, but if you called it the Niggers, everyone knew it.
There was never any racist connotations to it. It was simply the closest pub to the coal mine and when the workers came out of the pit they would go for a pint first and then a shower later. Everyone in the pub was black from head to toe from all the coal dust, so the pub became known as the Niggers.
I don’t doubt that some people who used the phrase were racist, but they were talking about a pub not a person. Is it racist to call a pub The Niggers? It certaintly wasn’t back then, but it probably would be now.
Although it was demolished recently to make way for a housing development, people still know it as The Niggers.
Motives and Reactions Matter
But it’s not just about the motives of the user of the word, it’s also about the reactions of the recipient.
Had my friend Imran been upset about me calling him a Paki then that would have constituted racism and I would have been absolutely mortified.
There are now lots of people from all over the world that live in my village and it certainly wouldn’t be OK to go around shouting ‘Nigger’ in the streets, and you would likely have a visit from the local gendarmes if you named your dog Nigger.
Having said that, people still call the pub The Niggers, including black people who live in the village. They laugh about it and think it’s funny. If a new pub was to open and be called the same name would it still be OK? Would they still laugh about it?
No idea, but I’m not about to test it out.
Words You Can't Use
Even writing this blog post is difficult. When talking about racist issues in the UK you risk being called a racist. The bleeding heart liberals will have you believe that there are certain words you are not allowed to use and no discussion will be entered into under any circumstances.
Try going into any public place and have an overly loud discussion about racism and say phrases like:
- The word ‘Nigger’ is racist
- I have a friend who is a Paki
- Where shall we eat tonight? Should we go for a Chinky?
There is nothing racist about these phrases but you will get a lot of very dark looks (even the phrase ‘dark looks’ may be frowned upon) and some people will get rather angry with you and call you a racist. The police may even be called.
We’re not allowed to discuss racism and racist issues for fear of being called racist. We can’t say the word Nigger, we have to say ‘the N-word’.
The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same
And to top it all off, the unwritten rules keep changing.
Originally, the term Nigger was not racist. It simply denoted someone who had black or dark skin (who hailed from the Niger Delta). Then it became a racist word. What replaced it in common usage was the word ‘Black’. You can’t call them Niggers any more you have to call them Blacks. And then Black became racist and you had to call them ‘Coloured’. Then Coloured became racist and we went back to calling them Black.
Then Black became racist again and we have to call them African Americans. Except we’re in the UK and we can’t call the Black population of the UK that because they’re not American, and most of them were born in the UK, not Africa.
So how do we refer to them?
Nobody knows and we’re all too afraid to ask.
Is Benedist Cumberbatch a Racist?
Benedict Cumberbatch recently referred to someone in an interview as being ‘Coloured’. There was clearly no racial connotation whatsoever and no offence was intended. But offence was taken by some – and most of them were white (are we allowed to call them ‘White People’? Isn’t that racist?). There was a big hoo-ha in the press and he was severely criticised. It was only when his Black actor friend Chiwetel Ejiofor defended Cumberbatch that the whole thing started to blow over.
When did we start to be afraid of discussing an issue such as the colour of a person’s skin or what words someone might find offensive?
And when are we going to be adult enough to be able to discuss racism and race issues?
If we’re not racist, why are we banned from talking about it openly?
I’m not saying that we should be allowed to say whatever we want. Of course not, but by labelling everybody as racist by default we obscure the real issues.
What I am saying is that we should exercise common sense, keep an open mind and have an adult conversation about it.
If we can’t do that then we’re in serious danger of not being able to spot real racist issues whenever they surface.
Perhaps what it takes is the most powerful Black man on the planet to use the word ‘nigger’ live in a national broadcast to get the discussion started…
Oh wait, he’s just done that.
OK then – who wants to keep the ball rolling? Anyone?
*sound of tumbleweed blowing past*
What are your experiences with racism?
Let's have this conversation in the comments below.
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