Editorial Note: The misspelling in the title is deliberate. In this emotive and perhaps controversial article, Archi draws on his experiences of growing up in 1960s Britain to propose a variation of a very powerful word in order to combat 21st-century prejudice.—DE
I was born in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I was three months old when my parents emigrated to London. It was May 1961—shortly before Independence. I was brought up in the culture of the Indian diaspora and wasn’t really aware of any other culture until I started primary school at the age of five.
Primary school was very strenuous because I didn’t speak much English, and I remember the complete and utter isolation quite vividly. I don’t remember my progress in the command of English, but what I do remember was the hostility of the place and how other kids were not nice. Beyond the few English words I’d learned from home, the first words I would know would include sambo, nig nog, and golliwog. I didn’t realise they were insults at first, and simply thought those were names they had for me. I don’t remember the word pakki being so frequently used back then, although I would hear it a lot as I got older. (The word pakki was a derogatory term used in the UK to describe South Asian people and is equivalent to nigger.)
I remember when the penny dropped, however …
One of the kids showed me a picture. I’m not sure what kind of ape or monkey it was, but it was a primate. Then he did the actions and sound effects, and everyone in the class pointed and laughed while saying, “Jungle bunny! Jungle bunny!” I think that was when I first realised that I was somehow less than human.
There was a lot of taunting, particularly in the playground. If it happened in class and the taunts became too disruptive, the teachers might say, “Enough! Everybody sit down now.” But I think they only did it for the sake of discipline; I don’t think it registered with any of them that what was happening was particularly wrong.
The term pakki bashing came into my awareness in the later years at primary school. Typically, I would be walking to shop on the corner or something, and I’d be set upon by strangers in the street—it was never by anybody I actually knew. I would say that during my time at primary school, it happened about half a dozen times where I was severely duffed up by two or more White kids. When you’re on your own, you can’t actually do anything about it. I think the worst psychological harm occurs when you’re on your own and you can’t fight back. The odd thing was that my mother did not relate to this in what I would consider to be an intelligent way. I would come home with bruises, cuts, blood on my top from my bleeding nose, and she’d talk to me as if it was my own fault.
I actually knew from early on that my mother had no real interest in me at all. To her, I was just an investment. That might be a shocking thing to say, and most people wouldn’t dare to identify with it because it’s so against the cultural norm. However, I have little doubt now that my mother had a personality, a character, that fits in absolutely with my understanding of narcissistic personality disorder. She always behaved as though she was an empress, and wanted more than anything else to be a matriarchal figure over an extended family. In reality, she drove people away—and utterly destroyed my father.
I don’t think that my mother ever saw my dad as a person; he was only ever a provider and a “handy man” to her and she would often scream at him to “do this” or “fix that.” She used him as a lever to assert her matriarchal dominance over the extended family, and even though I was too young to understand, I sensed that there was something wrong on an emotional level.
I know that my father didn’t get much support from his side of the family, even though it would have been blatantly obvious to everyone how much my mother tormented him. Eventually he left my mother, and he was seen within my family as the one who broke the marriage rather than my mother, who always portrayed herself as having been wronged.
At the time, I was told that he had gone off with another woman, and I was to believe that for another 20 years or so, although it was never true. He had actually left penniless, a broken wreck, and went into a mental institution with manic depression. Although he recovered somewhat, he never got off the pills. Later, he married a White woman and her colour was seen within my family as a particular affront to my mother.
Looking back, and considering my own experiences of my mother in adulthood, I can now see how she must have made my father’s life a living hell. As a child, however, I was brainwashed into hating him without realising it. For example, my mother would relay her fantasies to me about how I would take revenge against my father on her behalf when I was older, including one scenario where I was to slap him across the face in front of an imaginary audience. If you ever try to tell anybody this kind of thing, they think you’re an immoral misfit because you just don’t say things like this about your mother. I carried on hating my father into my forties. To my great shame, my heart was so closed that I may never have known my father or ever got to see what kind of man he really was.
The secondary school I attended took kids predominantly from the immigrants coming into London at that time. It was widely considered to be a “dumping ground” as it was assumed that Black students would be low achievers, but I liked it because it looked modern. I found myself mixing with kids who were predominantly non-White and, for the first time, I started to enjoy school.
I went to school with a Black guy called John who lived on the next street. Around the corner lived a kid called Ayo, but for several years I called him Michael because that’s what he told us his name was. He spoke with an upper-class accent, although his mum and dad didn’t speak like that. We figured it out eventually—he was ashamed of his Nigerian name and his background. My depth of friendship with these two was more than many other friends that I’ve had, and I think it was because we all felt excluded. It certainly felt much safer when you were with two or three others who had the same problem rather than walking the streets alone.
And the fear was real …
John and Ayo would usually go straight home on the bus after school—that’s how African kids behaved. Caribbean kids, however, wanted to go out in the evening, even if it was just to walk about aimlessly and congregate. And that’s what made them vulnerable. If you were out at night, the SPG would get you.
The SPG, or Special Patrol Groups, were the police. They drove around in distinctive blue transit vans, and under the “SUS law” in force at that time, if they thought you looked like a suspicious person, you could be arrested and charged on those grounds alone. Most SPG were hard-line racists and their language made that obvious. Sometimes you’d hear them use the word nigger, and sometimes you’d hear sambo or nig nog. In the UK, I think sambo was just as common as nigger back then. I knew when they were talking to me because they’d call me pakki.
In one instance, we were outside Streatham Hill station when someone gave the warning, “Dem Babylon come!”—that was the vernacular for the SPG. The street was quite busy, and it stays in my mind that there was so much pedestrian traffic when the van pulled up and the policeman leaned out of the window as he shouted, “Get in the van, niggers!” The back doors of the van flew open and a number of police got out. I shouted at them but was warned, “Shut the fuck up, pakki, or you’re going in the van too!” They never took me in the van; they seemed to have this rule—only Blacks.
Pedestrians crossed the road and pretended they couldn’t see. Not one of them said anything to the police and the White people just kept walking by. Nobody wanted to see what was happening.
Blood doesn’t show very well on black skin; you can see it more on the clothing, though.
Eventually, two White guys pulled me away. They held me up against the wall and told me to think myself lucky, but I didn’t and resented them for telling me that. Eventually, the SPG got all my friends in the van, the doors closed, and the van drove off. I’ve always felt a sense of guilt over not being taken in the van also.
Things have changed a lot since those years, and today the UK is perhaps the most non-racist country in the world. We’ve had decades of adjusting to the harm done back then, and in my personal view, it’s so overadjusted it’s actually harmful in the other direction now.
My college years were when I started to open my eyes to the idea that prejudice is actually commonplace, and the people who I thought were just victims are sometimes its proponents also. In non-Western cultures, prejudice is often so much a normal part of everyday life, it is invisible. For example, as a teenager, it came out in my own community that I was hanging out with girls after school. It was assumed that these were White girls. I let that go because I was only concerned with keeping the greater truth secret—that these girls were Black. The idea that an Indian would go with a Black girl was simply unimaginable to my family, and the shame and dishonour would have been endless. It would have been such a “lowering” for them. Back then, however, I was only able to see racism as a monopoly of White people.
I also saw my father only as an object of hatred. I maintained this view of him throughout most of his life. In adulthood, what was before my eyes, but what I refused to see, was a perfect marriage between him and his Irish wife. My dad always referred to her as “dear” or by her nickname, “Diddly,” in the most warm and loving way. And she was always warm and loving back to him. I was so bigoted and closed to him that I only saw what I wanted to see—that he was nothing more than a bastard. It was never true, and it was only toward the end of his life that my eyes were opened to how he had been bullied by my mother to the point where he had experienced a living hell. If we were living in a more enlightened society, we would say that this is unacceptable. But in our contemporary society, it seems to me that we celebrate it.
Whenever a man comes into conflict with a woman, especially a mother, people become slaves to their instincts. This is the basis for women, such as my mother, to manipulate feelings. Yet nobody really wants to acknowledge this because we don’t like to think that we are governed by our instincts rather than our intellect. Instead, our intellect is used to rationalise our instincts, not to question them.
The theme of To Kill a Mocking Bird is one of racial prejudice and injustice in the Deep South during the early 20th century. It is a book that has been studied in classrooms for decades. Today, we in the West like to believe that we are more enlightened, but we are not. We may have identified racism as wrong, but we are as blind to the wider issue of prejudice as ever.
In an article entitled “The Real Love that Dare Not Speak its Name,” Bob Geldof recounts his experience of the family courts in the UK:
As I entered court on my first day someone leant over who felt they were doing me a favour. “Whatever you do,” he said, “for Chrissakes never say you love your children.” Bewildered, I asked, “Why not?” The answer was as shocking as it is illustrative. “The court thinks you’re being unhealthily extreme if, being a man, you express your love for a child.”
For two years I shut up while I heard the presumptions in favour of a mother’s love.
Finally I began articulating the real love that dare not speak its name—that of a father for his child.
No law should stand that serves to stifle this.
The good advice he was given simply reflects reality—that in the family courts, anything that is perceived to compromise the mother will go down badly. The whole process of the family courts rest upon the view that fathers are unworthy, and that their love is unworthy and doesn’t count because they do not have the same human worth as women. If you try to say that you love your children, it will go down just as badly as a Black man in an Alabama court a hundred years ago who was to say, “I am a human being.” Such a simple statement will not be tolerated because it exposes the error and prejudice of those within the court system.
I have seen the mockery of due process whenever the interests of a man come into conflict with those of a woman. I have seen first-hand how evidence is dismissed and laws are set aside. Family courts take action based solely on the testimony of a mother, and even when that testimony is later proven to be false, the action is carried out regardless. Social workers, who were busy taking notes during the mother’s testimony, put down their pens when it’s the man’s turn to speak. This is the kind of thing that happened in the Deep South a hundred years ago, and now, like then, it isn’t seen as wrong.
A British barrister told me recently that, in his experience, in 85% of cases where a man is prosecuted for domestic violence, it is actually the female who is the primary abuser. But because this is not seen as wrong, the injustice remains invisible.
The word nigger is one of the most powerful words I know, and possibly one of the most dehumanising and crushing words the English language has ever come up with. When I was young, I thought it was just about colour. In reality, the worst forms of prejudice occur when they are invisible, and I’ve seen enough non-Black people being niggerised to understand that it is also a very good word to describe someone who is less than human.
Men are not only niggers within our legal systems, but within feminist-dominated education and media, young impressionable males are given a clear message: “All you boys, you’re all potentially violent and wicked, and you’re all potential rapists. All the good things in the world are about females, and all the bad things are down to you.” As an Indian who grew up in the Britain of the 1960s, I am poignantly aware of the lasting harm that this kind of thing inflicts.
Steve Beko, an anti-apartheid activist, once said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” It is as true today as it was then. I believe most people live in a cocktail of delusion for their own comfort so that they don’t have to face reality in full.
I don’t know what it will take for men to see their chains, but I know when my humanity is being denied. I may be damned for my attitude, but I am under no illusion that I am a nigger, and today it has nothing to do with my colour. I also know that it is up to me whether I simply accept my loss of humanity or not. I don’t accept it.
No one should accept it.
There is no word in the English language that comes close to nigger. It needs to be used to self-identify with what we are not willing to accept so that we may begin to cast off our chains. What I would like to propose is a variation of this word for use by all males in connection with misandry—NIGGGER—where the additional middle G represents gender.
All men need to feel able to say, “Don’t nigggerise me!” as a means of retort against misandric bigotry. This is not about colour, but it is about prejudice just the same.
There is no reason not to resist when we have already lost so much by not resisting. The word niggger needs to be promoted and accepted by men in the 21st century as a description of our own human worth, or rather the lack of it.