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

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Syed Tahir Rashdi
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.. 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 he 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. hen 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. outh
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. outh 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.

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