Use of 'nigger' by white man to black man ruled not abusive by UK court

Damien Hall damien.hall at NEWCASTLE.AC.UK
Fri Dec 7 11:06:17 UTC 2012

Wilson and I said:

> the customary _rule_ in the US whereby a black person _may_ address another as 'nigger' / 'nigga'

"Customary"? "Rule"? "May"? Surely, that is not what you intend to say!


Well, like Dave Chappelle's complainers, I shouldn't pretend to authority, being white, and British at that (and I don't).  Still, I should have said that certain black people may address certain friends of theirs as 'nigger' / 'nigga', in the right circumstances, which is correct, isn't it? I'm grateful for the clarification:

'In this case, I think that the British court made a serious error in
accepting that incredibly-fanciful defense. defense.judges erred
seriously, from the American point of view. A black person in any
country anywhere would not address a random black stranger come upon
in the public way as "nigger" any more than a member of that court
would address a random white stranger as, e.g. "cocksucker," in that

Having lived in the US, and in an African American neighbourhood at that, I thought I had a little more insight into this than your average white Brit, and certainly more than your average, probably older and white, North Staffordshire magistrate; but there's always a lot missing if you're not a long-time member of a community, whether it's racial, local, both or what.

'BTW, why did the court not simply ask the plaintiff whether what the
defendant claimed was the truth? Why did the black man not object?
After all, the "some-of-my-best-friends-are-niggers" defense is a
further offense, to say the least.'

These were my questions, too, but I haven't seen the case covered anywhere else, so I know no more about it than you do, now!  My reaction too was that this was an error of judgement by the court committed maybe by a magistrate who wanted to seem modern, forward-looking and not fuddy-duddy, but completely missed the target.

It's probably relevant that magistrates in England and Wales don't have to have legal qualifications. There are two types of magistrate, both of whom may try certain types of cases, but only one of the types is usually qualified in the law; the other type is made up of retired people and others who have time during the week, and a social conscience, and they do the work voluntarily, which probably necessarily predisposes them to be a certain type of person. The article doesn't say which of the types of magistrate tried this particular case, but I'd be surprised if it was one of the qualified ones.  If you're interested:

Thanks for answering, Wilson.



Damien Hall
Newcastle University (UK)

The American Dialect Society -

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