“So where are you from?” quizzed the blithe young man, as he interposed himself between the young woman and her companion. Her lips parted to make way for the perfectly formed British vowels and consonants she strung together to formulate her answer, “Iraq…a terrorist!” She giggled to soften the certain blow received by the man at the admittance of her ethnic identity. Her reply was met with an outburst of unbridled and appreciative laughter from her newfound acquaintance. I attempted to suppress my distaste from view, endeavouring to bury events in my mind recounting instances when the word ‘terrorist’ was not used as a comical prop to ‘break the ice’. Since 2011, ‘terrorism’ has meant more bullets, bombs, invasions, innocent deaths, racist attacks, indefinite detention without trial, torture and the piecemeal encroachment on our civil rights
In defence of my discomfort at this seemingly inoffensive yet totally feckless act of self-deprecation, I shall employ the argument against the use of the ‘N-word’ in Anglophonic society. The two words represent very different contexts, but their present usage is the product of the same disease. Racism is what has led to their indiscriminate dissemination and aids the systematic dehumanisation of the user’s target. ‘Terrorist’ is a word no longer used strictly within the confines of its dictionary definition. It is often irreverently and undiscerningly shoehorned into discussions concerning the Middle East and Islam, or even used to sue individuals for challenging members of the establishment in America.
When the ‘N-word’ is used by individuals in society, it sadly provides others with the false sense, or excuse, that they are at liberty to hurl it at others. The concerning community shall decide for itself as to whether it is an acceptable term, but I shan’t be in the camp that uses derogatory or racist language to refer to myself or others. The widespread use of racist slurs is a symptom of a more pervasive and damaging mentality present in our society. Women neither have headscarves ripped from their heads in the street, nor are they threatened with glass bottles as “payback” just for being women. Three young individuals were not assassinated in Chapel Hill for being young. It is the normalisation and acceptance of racism on all levels that feeds the present disharmony in our society.
In the case of the young Iraqi woman, her age should have guaranteed the maturity to understand the relevance of her actions. If we were to flip the situation around and the young man had called the woman a terrorist, I doubt it would have been a laughing matter. I am a firm believer of self-critique and humour in the right moment, but when denying one’s history or playing into negative stereotypes is considered an appropriate way to socialise, we can only expect the casual use of racist terms guised as ‘banter’ in the UK, to become a practice we shall have to work incredibly hard to weed out.