A friend forwarded me this Julian Baggini article on racism in the UK, which appeared in the Guardian last week. If I could give an award to someone for coming up with the most horribly written piece of drivel I’ve read in a while, it would surely go to this Baggini guy. No, seriously. I’m not being sarcastic.
Baggini tries to argue two things. Well, he rambles on and on and ON endlessly, but I’m taking the liberty to condense his points here. First, he argues that when some white Britons refer to us brown folks as ‘Pakis,’ they don’t really mean any harm. Second, he argues that if only we were to integrate and tolerate one another more, then people wouldn’t use the word ‘Paki’ so often. My response to him is, you’re dead wrong and, it’s not that easy.
This is how Baggini sets up his argument:
The mainstream British mind is not so much misunderstood as not seriously considered. To rectify this, 18 months ago I set out to examine the national “folk philosophy” – the set of beliefs and assumptions that informs how we live and how we think. To help me do this, I found the area with the closest match of household type – young and old, rich and poor, single and married – to the country as a whole. And so I ended up living for six months in S66, on the outskirts of Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
Then comes the subject of the P bomb:
Almost everyone [in Rotherham] used the word “Paki” when referring to British Asians, yet of everyone I got to know, only Neil – happy to be described as somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun – would merit the charge of being truly racist.
First of all, how on earth do you judge whether “no one in this town except X person” is “truly racist?” Did he go around Rotherham with some special racism-detecting gadget that instantly identifies individuals as “truly racist,” “somewhat racist” and “not at all racist?”His logic gets even more absurd:
Although people’s use of the word made me feel uncomfortable, there was a kind of innocence in their use of it that made me react less strongly than I would have imagined. There was no edge to what they were saying. It didn’t take long before I became able to hear it without assuming the speaker was racist….There is no contradiction in asserting that the words someone uses are racist (because they cause offence), but the person is not (because they mean none).
So in other words, if people use certain words often enough without hesitation, it’s not really that harmful. It doesn’t mean anything. If someone uses the word ‘faggot’ often enough, then it’s probably not malicious. It doesn’t mean that the said individual is in any way responsible for his/her hate speech. It’s just the word s/he uses that’s offensive.
Then he tries to argue that ‘Paki’ is not a racial slur:
Many argue that goreh is not at all derogatory, since it literally just means “white”. But then Paki is literally just an abbreviation for “Pakistani”, so that in itself proves nothing. The point is, in what contexts are these words used? Both “Paki” and “goreh” are “our” words for “them”, only used among “us”. It’s certainly true that if you break this rule and use either word in mixed company, the effects are different, but that’s at least in part to do with the fact that most white people don’t know what goreh means and it does not have a history of abusive misuse, as Paki does. In a Britain in which white people and Asians mixed freely, I don’t think we would hear either word very much at all. The use of “Paki” is therefore not primarily a symptom of race hatred but of a divided nation.
I don’t pretend to know very much about the UK; I’ve only been there once, and that too, when I was eight, so I don’t remember much. But I’ve taken enough microecon courses to know that “social mixing” isn’t always cheap, particularly for those towards the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. It’s not as simple as waking up one day and thinking, I’m going to move to the white part of town and away from my Asian ghetto so I can do my part to defeat racism! Most people choose their area of residence not because they want to completely avoid certain ethnic groups but because of proximity to job opportunities, cost of living, and quality of public goods offered in a certain area. Did it even occur to Baggini that maybe Rotherham just doesn’t have a job market that’s lucrative to diverse groups of people? And that’s probably why there’s little “mixing” in that area?
I think what also bothers me is that nowhere in the article does Baggini provide an Asian perspective on what it’s like to hear the word “Paki.” Instead Baggini has his own firm set of ideas on the root of the word, on how it’s said, and what it means for him. The only time an Asian perspective is provided in this article is to confirm that Asians, in fact, use the word themselves. So therefore, it can’t be that bad.
This article is almost as ridiculous as a white American writing a paper on the n word, and concluding, “I’ve heard the word used many times. I don’t particularly care for it, but I really don’t think people mean any ill will when they say it. I know this because people often use the n word in the same unflinching manner as they would to describe someone who is tall or short. Besides, I’ve heard black people refer to themselves as n. Maybe if they didn’t choose to live in Compton or the South Bronx, I wouldn’t have to feel so embarrassed about my fellow white people saying the n word so often.”