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Is it okay for South Asians to use the N-word?

Is it okay for South Asians to use the N-word?

Editorial Desk
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The N-word is perhaps one of the most widely debated words in South Asian circles, especially in Pakistan; many use it without a second thought, while others label anyone who uses it a racist. Being brown, many South Asians think it is okay to use the N-word, considering themselves a part of the larger coloured community – but by doing so, they unknowingly ignore years of slavery, discrimination and struggle faced by the Black community.

Understanding the word’s history

The N-word was, in American history, used to dehumanize Black people and differentiate them from the whites (for example, a Black person with the name George would be called N**** George to differentiate him from other Georges). For decades and centuries, the word was also used to paint the Black people as the “Others”, as something less than human; by casting the Black community as the “Other” they enforced their own superiority not only through laws but through spoken language as well.

As the world started to realise the horrors of slavery, the use of the word became taboo.

Then a time came when Black people began to reuse the word, out of a desire to reclaim and redefine it. Using it in conversation to refer to their brothers and sisters in an affectionate way, they worked to rid it of its horrific past and express pride in their identity.

The word can now be heard in chart topping rap songs, poetry, art and even in speeches by activists – but here’s the thing, it is used exclusively by the Black community. After decades of injustice and having their narrative and history distorted by those in power, it should be up to the Black community to claim their power how they see fit; only the oppressed can erase a word of oppression and convert it into an expression of empowerment.

When other races use the N-word, they inadvertently hijack the efforts of Black people to redefine their narrative. 

South Asians who claim to be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement argue that they can use the N-word since it doesn’t come from bad intent and they aren’t racist or responsible for the word’s origin – so why not be an ally in a way that is acceptable by the Black community itself and doesn’t damage their efforts?

Black artists Childish Gambino, Kanye West, Drake and many others are extremely popular with younger generations and over time they have normalised the use of the N-word through their art, which has had a spillover effect in the vocabulary of South Asian youth. But the reason they feel using the word isn’t a problem is because of the lack of conversations on racism, colourism, cultural appropriation in South Asian families and societies.

Coates said, “I think the experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word “n***er” is actually very, very insightful. It will give you just a little peek into the world of what it means to black. Because to be black is to walk through the world, and watch people doing things that you cannot do, that you can’t join in and do. So I think there’s actually a lot to be learned from refraining.” 

When other races use the N-word, they inadvertently hijack the efforts of Black people to redefine their narrative. 

South Asians who claim to be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement argue that they can use the N-word since it doesn’t come from bad intent and they aren’t racist or responsible for the word’s origin – so why not be an ally in a way that is acceptable by the Black community itself and doesn’t damage their efforts?

Following the murder of George Floyd, Hassan Minhaj upload a video on Patriot Act’s Youtube channel, calling out the South Asian community’s duplicity on racism. While they are very vocal in calling out acts of racism by western communities, they often carry racist notions themselves; Minhaj highlighted how many people still refer to the Black community as being ‘kaala’ in his video which called out brown people for their hypocrisy.

While South Asians were not at the forefront of racism against Black people, they indisputably participated and still participate in it, a fact which is abundantly clear by the colourism present even today, and the preference of white skin over black skin. This reinforcement of racism means that South Asians had and have played a passive role in racism against the Black community. Not only do South Asians still hold onto the colonised idea of the superiority of white skin, but their use of the N-word further compounds the racist ideology which then trickles into local culture as well.

Everytime the N-word is used by someone who is not a member of the Black community, it should be kept in mind that they are intentionally or unintentionally glorifying, praising and participating in centuries of systemic racism and dehumanization against Black people.