People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance.

We are multifaceted.

And stories in which we neither suffer nor resist are just as authentic. They are a part of our daily lives.

(Click on “View subtitles” to turn on the subtitles.)

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story (TED Talks) transcript:

I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call “the danger of the single story.” I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader. And what I read were British and American children’s books.

I was also an early writer. And when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow. We ate mangoes. And we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.

My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story.

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books, by their very nature, had to have foreigners in them, and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Now, things changed when I discovered African books. There weren’t many of them available. And they weren’t quite as easy to find as the foreign books.

But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.

Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit. And his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket, made of dyed raffia, that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them is how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listed to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.

I must say that before I went to the U.S. I didn’t consciously identify as African. But in the U.S. whenever Africa came up people turned to me. Never mind that I knew nothing about places like Namibia. But I did come to embrace this new identity. And in many ways I think of myself now as African. Although I still get quite irritable when Africa is referred to as a country. The most recent example being my otherwise wonderful flight from Lagos two days ago, in which there was an announcement on the Virgin flight about the charity work in “India, Africa and other countries.”

So after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate’s response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves, and waiting to be saved, by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide’s family.

This single story of Africa ultimately comes, I think, from Western literature. Now, here is a quote from the writing of a London merchant called John Locke, who sailed to west Africa in 1561, and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. After referring to the black Africans as “beasts who have no houses,” he writes, “They are also people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts.”

Now, I’ve laughed every time I’ve read this. And one must admire the imagination of John Locke. But what is important about his writing is that it represents the beginning of a tradition of telling African stories in the West. A tradition of Sub-Saharan Africa as a place of negatives, of difference, of darkness, of people who, in the words of the wonderful poet, Rudyard Kipling, are “half devil, half child.”

And so I began to realize that my American roommate must have, throughout her life, seen and heard different versions of this single story, as had a professor, who once told me that my novel was not “authentically African.” Now, I was quite willing to contend that there were a number of things wrong with the novel, that it had failed in a number of places. But I had not quite imagined that it had failed at achieving something called African authenticity. In fact I did not know what African authenticity was. The professor told me that my characters were too much like him, an educated and middle-class man. My characters drove cars. They were not starving. Therefore they were not authentically African.

But I must quickly add that I too am just as guilty in the question of the single story. A few years ago, I visited Mexico from the U.S. The political climate in the U.S. at the time, was tense. And there were debates going on about immigration. And, as often happens in America, immigration became synonymous with Mexicans. There were endless stories of Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, being arrested at the border, that sort of thing.

I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara, watching the people going to work, rolling up tortillas in the marketplace, smoking, laughing. I remember first feeling slight surprise. And then I was overwhelmed with shame. I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant. I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and I could not have been more ashamed of myself. So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.

I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called “American Psycho” — and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers. Now, obviously I said this in a fit of mild irritation.

I would never have occurred to me to think that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. And now, this is not because I am a better person than that student, but, because of America’s cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America. I had read Tyler and Updike and Steinbeck and Gaitskill. I did not have a single story of America.

When I learned, some years ago, that writers were expected to have had really unhappy childhoods to be successful, I began to think about how I could invent horrible things my parents had done to me. But the truth is that I had a very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family.

But I also had grandfathers who died in refugee camps. My cousin Polle died because he could not get adequate healthcare. One of my closest friends, Okoloma, died in a plane crash because our firetrucks did not have water. I grew up under repressive military governments that devalued education, so that sometimes my parents were not paid their salaries. And so, as a child, I saw jam disappear from the breakfast table, then margarine disappeared, then bread became too expensive, then milk became rationed. And most of all, a kind of normalized political fear invaded our lives.

All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience, and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

Of course, Africa is a continent full of catastrophes. There are immense ones, such as the horrific rapes in Congo. And depressing ones, such as the fact that 5,000 people apply for one job vacancy in Nigeria. But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe. And it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them.

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

So what if before my Mexican trip I had followed the immigration debate from both sides, the U.S. and the Mexican? What if my mother had told us that Fide’s family was poor and hardworking? What if we had an African television network that broadcast diverse African stories all over the world? What the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe calls “a balance of stories.”

What if my roommate knew about my Nigerian publisher, Mukta Bakaray, a remarkable man who left his job in a bank to follow his dream and start a publishing house? Now, the conventional wisdom was that Nigerians don’t read literature. He disagreed. He felt that people who could read, would read, if you made literature affordable and available to them.

Shortly after he published my first novel I went to a TV station in Lagos to do an interview. And a woman who worked there as a messenger came up to me and said, “I really liked your novel. I didn’t like the ending. Now you must write a sequel, and this is what will happen …” And she went on to tell me what to write in the sequel. Now I was not only charmed, I was very moved. Here was a woman, part of the ordinary masses of Nigerians, who were not supposed to be readers. She had not only read the book, but she had taken ownership of it and felt justified in telling me what to write in the sequel.

Now, what if my roommate knew about my friend Fumi Onda, a fearless woman who hosts a TV show in Lagos, and is determined to tell the stories that we prefer to forget? What if my roommate knew about the heart procedure that was performed in the Lagos hospital last week? What if my roommate knew about contemporary Nigerian music? Talented people singing in English and Pidgin, and Igbo and Yoruba and Ijo, mixing influences from Jay-Z to Fela to Bob Marley to their grandfathers. What if my roommate knew about the female lawyer who recently went to court in Nigeria to challenge a ridiculous law that required women to get their husband’s consent before renewing their passports? What if my roommate knew about Nollywood, full of innovative people making films despite great technical odds? Films so popular that they really are the best example of Nigerians consuming what they produce. What if my roommate knew about my wonderfully ambitious hair braider, who has just started her own business selling hair extensions? Or about the millions of other Nigerians who start businesses and sometimes fail, but continue to nurse ambition?

Every time I am home I am confronted with the usual sources of irritation for most Nigerians: our failed infrastructure, our failed government. But also by the incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government, rather than because of it. I teach writing workshops in Lagos every summer. And it is amazing to me how many people apply, how many people are eager to write, to tell stories.

My Nigerian publisher and I have just started a non-profit called Farafina Trust. And we have big dreams of building libraries and refurbishing libraries that already exist, and providing books for state schools that don’t have anything in their libraries, and also of organizing lots and lots of workshops, in reading and writing, for all the people who are eager to tell our many stories. Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.

The American writer Alice Walker wrote this about her southern relatives who had moved to the north. She introduced them to a book about the southern life that they had left behind. “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.” I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise. Thank you.

Via Thea Lim at Racialicious.

37 Responses to “People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance.”

  1. g531 Says:

    Thank you for this.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    You’re welcome. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Restructure! Says:

    For some TED Talks now, on the TED Talk page, there is a link on the right column that says “Open interactive transcript”. You can get the transcript from there.

  4. Lili Says:

    Wonderful, insightful speech, thank you!!

  5. Of Push, Precious, Percival, and “My Pafology” | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture Says:

    […] was posed to me by Vocalo a few weeks back, I found myself instead talking about systems, and the danger of a single story, the Chimamanda Adichie TED talk Thea posted a little while back. I argued that Lee was angry, and […]

  6. White people think they know all about you from reading a book. « Restructure! Says:

    […] People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance. […]

  7. The “Single Story” of “Africa” » Sociological Images Says:

    […] Highly recommended (or read the transcript here): […]

  8. michelle Says:

    Thank you for a wonderful speech.
    I have sent this to my South African friends living in Korea and to my foreigner friends some of whom took some convincing that I’m South African (I’m white) and some who find it strange that someone from Africa can have so much in common with them (from a western country).
    One of my most recent experiences of people’s lack of knowledge about Africa came when I corrected someone who said I was from “Africa”. I told him no, I’m from South Africa. When he replied that he didn’t realise Africa wasn’t one big country, I initially thought he was joking. But then we proceeded to have a discussion about how Africa is divided into different countries (not states, as he thought) and the entire continent isn’t consumed by the fear of rampaging warlords who take over villages, like in the movie Tears of the Sun (his one story).
    Thank you for telling your stories – and for doing it so eloquently.

  9. Dave Symonds Says:

    This is the most wonderful thing I’ve read in a very very long time. I want every person in my life to read these words and understand them. Thank you!

  10. We have stories « Irene's Daughters Says:

    […] November 22, 2009 by cayce Sharing a little Sunday video action to hold y’all until tomorrow’s Derailment Monday.  For the transcript of Chimamanda Adichie’s talk, visit Restructure! here. […]

  11. eleanor Says:

    The biggest tragedy is: “We do not know that we do not know.”

  12. Thirteenth Carnival of Feminists and other links « Raising My Boychick Says:

    […] Vying with the above for my new all time biggest crush is this video (with a full transcript below) of Chimamanda Adichie, Nigerian novelist and storyteller, on the problems of the single story. […]

  13. life in meatspace « a shiny new coin Says:

    […] anyone blog?” question, I asked if anyone had any strong thoughts and Arwyn sent me a link to this fantastic Restructure post about people of colour and the danger of the single story: Power is the ability not just to tell […]

  14. 1stddevHuman Says:

    That is a very human phenomena. The ‘one story fits all’ is natural for those who aren’t exposed to the other, whatever the other is.

    I have friends that tell me they never gave too much thought to what it means to be from Texas. However, when they’ve worked in LA or NY, they become TEXAN. That is, relishing and/or playing up that identity.

    All my co-workers are foriegn-born. China and India. India, overwhelmingly. One of the things I enjoy is learning about learning about INDIA, this exotic, monolithic land full of history (to uninitiated folks). However, when I really connect with them, they’re sharing the wide variety of language, lifestyle, and culture.

    For instance, I’ll ask them about an Indian celebrity and they’ll tell me what part of the country they come from. Or that certain dishes are indigenous to one region. Or, sadly, what is the nature of a conflict that just appears as a scroll on a news show.

  15. White people do not understand PoC’s existential angst. « Restructure! Says:

    […] The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Adichie […]

  16. Andrea Says:

    Ayee! Great! I am not crazy! I have been saying this and thinking this for a year and I feel that no one will listen. It’s funny, I am African American and when I traveled to London and to China the french and the Africans thought I lived in a ghetto and owned a gun! :D I actually grew up in an upper middle class family where I went to the best schools, and have two degrees. It is frustrating as well when I see people of their own race play into the single story and stereotypes. I am also the girl who grew up in American who was told that I act white, talk white, listen to white music, want to be white because I don’t buy into the single story of African American culture. Everyone is different. how they live their lives are different, and everyone’s story should be told. I too loved to write and read when I was younger, and it is now hard for me to continue to read the books that I love because they are no reflection of me. I read books by Michael Chabon to Harry Potter series and think, “oh that’s a nice story but how come African American’s (or any other minority group) can’t have this same story?” Or I’ll pick up my other favorite, Richard Wright, or Toni Morrison, and although they are amazing writers these are not my story either. I don’t know the pain of discrimination or slavery, and I don’t want to continue to carry that pain and make that the only story that reflects me. Like you, I grew up in a happy family, and like you I have been told to be an artist is to look back and find something wrong with your childhood. I tried, I looked deep, can’t find anything. Sure my dad may have yelled at me or may have been hard on me, my mom may have gotten frustrated at times, but they are the most amazing parents that anyone could ever have. so, my stories will be completely different. You have the challenge of getting people of your country to write their stories, we have the problem of having our REAL stories heard, not just publishing the same stories of hurt, slavery, domestic abuse, drug abuse, living in the ghetto, getting out of the ghetto, etc that can be sold in the bookstores, but having the story of a young African American girl who too can find a secret world and go on travels like Alice and wonderland (that was my childhood because those were the stories that I loved). In our country we have to fight having the “African American” section of the bookstore that is so small that many walk by it, but also having the double edged sword of not being sold if intermingled with the rest of the books (and this is true for all minority stories in America, not just African-american).
    It is also sad because all I want to do is write, to tell stories, to get a group of writers of every race, gender, gender identification, and tell the stories that are in our heart. Not what’s expected of us to write, but it all comes down who will listen. Who will listen when we live in a country, in a world of power displacement? Where whoever is in power controls what stories want to be heard? Or maybe I should just give the world the benefit of a doubt?

    Anyway, thanks for the article, it was very enlightening. :D

  17. Bukaino Says:

    with people like u, I feel lso proud to be an African- a Nigerian more precisely

  18. Restructure! Says:

    Please note that I am not Chimamanda Adichie.

  19. DaisyDeadhead Says:

    Awesome reading, thank you for sharing.

  20. telling each story « Lies of a Geek Says:

    […] 19, 2010 tags: color, feminism, gender, intersectionality, queers, self-definition by Marie This was an amazing read. It put into words a lot of what I think, why language choice is so important […]

  21. Interesting things on political blogs « Panther Red Says:

    […] Via Bitch PhD, “People of color are not a story of suffering… or resistance.”  (Restructure!) […]

  22. Nita Says:

    Thank you for the post. Your story is like mine, only am Kenyan. I got the most rediculous questions and this was in 2004. I have taken some of my AA friends back to Nairobi everytime I go home just to show them the difference side of Africa from what they see in the Media they in turn have taught me about their history and taken me to places they grew up to dispell what I had seen in the media. Needless to say it has been a learning experience for me and my African American friends.

    God bless!

  23. lanoyee Says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s inspiring and it is important. I think there’s a lot of truth here, both in respect to life itself and to writing and fiction.

    I am going to link this in my livejournal, if you don’t mind.

  24. Meta-Restructure: Top Five Most “Interesting” Posts + Delurking « Restructure! Says:

    […] People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance. (October 29, 2009) […]

  25. Chicana/o Studies 180E » Blog Archive » The danger of a single story - Stanford course blog Says:

    […] Here is the TedTalks video about representation and people of color that we mentioned in class a few weeks ago, a talk by Chimamanda Adichie of Nigeria.  (Found it in my end-of-semester cleanup…..) The video and a full transcript are also here […]

  26. The danger of a single story — SJSU Women's Studies Says:

    […] Here is a wonderful talk by Chimamanda Adichie of Nigeria about the power and danger of stories. (Found it in my end-of-semester cleanup…..) The video and a full transcript are also here. Highly recommended! […]

  27. ibexstudios Says:

    Beautiful! I’m sharing this with all my writing students. Thank you.


  28. Adichie, Insight, Writing « The Ink Traveler Says:

    […] know that we do not know. In listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech, while holding the printed version in my hands, I was held speechless with her stories. Adichie developed this strong understanding in […]

  29. jewamongyou Says:

    Nicely written! I have a question: in those African children’s books, did ALL the characters have “skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails” or were there white and brown children depicted in those books as well, interspersed with the Africans? What about Asians? Are they represented in those African books as well? Are they represented in positive ways?

  30. Africa = safaris! tribal motifs! wild animals! « Irene's Daughters Says:

    […] It was kind of astounding to hear this dude who obviously doesn’t know the first darn thing about ANY part of Africa pontificate about how backwards and restrictive “African” society is.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’ve heard countless similar comments like this since I first moved to the States at 8.  Many Americans are convinced they know something about “Africa” because they’ve seen huts and starving children and wild giraffes on TV (for the record, to the best of my recollection, I have never in my life seen a wild giraffe, or a wild anything that wasn’t a dog or cat).  They assume all Africans are from rural, tribal contexts (and assume quite a bit about what it means to come from such a background); they assume we all have little or no education or real “culture.”  Because education, art, and cities are all things that Africans can’t have, at least, not without Western assistance.  As Dodai put it over at Jezebel: When using Iman as a muse for their collections, the contestants used words like “exotic,” “wild animal,” “jungle” and “tribal.” If only I were fucking kidding. Yes, she is from Somalia. But do you know what the city of . . . Mogadishu looks like? It looks like a city. The winning design was a leopard print dress, but Isaac Mizrahi made sure to point out that it won because it “celebrated her figure” and not because animal print is for black people, who are animals from Africa. Not only are these ideas about Africa and Africans woefully uninformed by any real knowledge, they’re also incredibly arrogant, and as Chimamanda Adichie points out in the talk below, dangerous (transcript). […]

  31. Seven African Females Who Shaped History | Parlour Magazine Says:

    […] These discussions are still relevant today. A significant amount of historical narrative is still being written by those with the most power. If you walk into any of the world’s most powerful institutions (government, academic or corporate) you will identify that the group that are shaping history are Euro-American men. I’m not saying that this group is intentionally shaping history for the rest of us, or that other groups aren’t contributing in large measures to what future generations will consider history. Rather, I want to highlight that the power of writing one’s own history seems to be what history making is all about. Knowing the sources of stories that shape our lives, helps to combat the danger of the single story. […]

  32. Waiting Room Reading- 2/27 « Welcome to the Doctor's Office Says:

    […] Highly recommended (or read the transcript here): […]

  33. 7 African female icons that shaped history | MsAfropolitan Says:

    […] These discussions are still relevant today. A significant amount of historical narrative is still being written by those with the most power. If you walk into any of the world’s most powerful institutions (government, academic or corporate) you will identify that the group that are shaping history are Euro-American men. I’m not saying that this group is intentionally shaping history for the rest of us, or that other groups aren’t contributing in large measures to what future generations will consider history. Rather, I want to highlight that the power of writing one’s own history seems to be what history making is all about. Knowing the sources of stories that shape our lives, helps to combat the danger of the single story. […]

  34. Sara Says:

    As a Pakistani, I could relate to so much of what she said! I remember reading how the characters in Enid Blyton books kept talking about how wonderful sunny weather was, and how miserable they felt when it rained.. Absolutely opposite here! We have sun 24/7 and the perfect beach weather is when it’s all cloudy and drizzly! Grey clouds put us in a good mood down here! :)

    I always wondered what scones would taste like! :)

    I have been asked this question many a time online, how I can speak fluent English …. shocking people with my reply of having studied all my subjects in English. Shocking them even more when I say it was a convent school, where I decorated Christmas trees, sung in the choir and painted Easter eggs!

    I have often gotten the same sese of them “feeling sorry” for me, all because of what they see in the news media. Feeling sorry for the clothes some women wear by choice! And they feel that they need to ‘save’ us!

    There is definitely ‘no connection as human equals’

    But I understand this, as I have grown up watching CNN and BBC. I see what is selectively shown about us on Fox News etc.

    One difference between us and the speaker is that majority of the educated class in Pakistan, have travelled
    the world and aren’t guilty in the question of a single story…as we have been a victim and target of the media, and seen millions of “single stories” about us….so whenever I see certain news reports of a country I
    have never visited, I always keep in my how we too are represented…i’ve realized that you can never be even
    remotely aware of a country, unless you have visited it first hand. Well, at least for laymen…

    Absolutely Brilliant what that Palestinian poet said! The news about Pakistan is constantly started with our
    shortcomings, rather than how valiantly our predecessors struggled for freedom, and how enormously difficult our initial stages of creation were, in 1947, and how we overcame them. One e.g being, offices did not have paper clips and thorns were used instead.

    Ad nauseam I have heard that men from my country, region or religion are this and that….and honestly, I too at times get annoyed and reply with examples of not very flattering stories of American men I have seen on Dr Phil or Oprah! Imagine if we were to rate all American men from only such stories stories? Or even US soldiers for that matter. How quickly the west was to condemn Abu Ghraib and blame it on a bad few. But why isn’t the same rule applied for us? Why do they generalize when it comes to us?

    I have many stories of America because of the media and because of my travels there and travels of friends and family, so I wouldn’t dream of generalizing. But I do think that it is common sense, that there is good and bad everywhere.

    If only you knew about MTV Pak and our music industry (one Pakistani band even made the OST of Spiderman 2!), like we know of U2 and Bryan Adams etc If only you knew of our fashion designers (men and women) and Pakistan Fashion Week (Pakistani designers were even chosen for Milan fashion week). If only you could see our TV series, like we ardently watch Grey’s Anatomy or Prison Break or Gilmore Girls down here! And have grown up watching Knight Rider and Airwolf! Do these stars know they have fans in Pakistan? Who put up their posters and dance to their music! If only you knew of our recent live stage shows of Moulin Rouge and Mamma Mia! with Pakistani actors and dancers and choreographers and directors! We too have cooking channels down here, with fans all over facebook!

    All these stories make up Pakistan, stories never shown in the western media. Why?
    We need a balance of stories, if we are to spread understanding and destroy hate and stereotyping.
    In the end, if only you knew of our resilience as a country, after all we have been through and continue to go
    through. Being bad mouthed and targetted by the world’s most powerful countries and people, we keep our heads high and continue to survive. Stories have been used to constantly malign us. Oh how I wish people would use their power to spread the good and not the bad.

    Oh, and just so you can see for yourself what I speak of …do check out these links of our music, fashion etc! :)





    PAKISTANI TV SERIAL (with English subtitles)


    And there’s many more where that came from! :) but i’ll control myself…even though that feeling to show stories, away from that single story, is very difficult to control! enjoy! :)

  35. Jayn Says:

    Sara, it’s kind of odd how some of that resonated with me, as a Canadian in the US. Even being right next door so to speak, it often startles me how little Canadian culture my friends here know–just yesterday I tried to make a reference to an old commercial and it flew right over my husband’s head. Bands and figures I can’t imagine not knowing of cause confusion.

    I think some of it has to do with America’s collective ego. The idea is that the USA is The Best Country In The World, and anyone different has to be inferior as a consequence. And being as big an economic power as it is (or at least, was), they’re used to spreading their culture outward, not absorbing other cultures themselves. (I’m not gong to say this doesn’t apply to my home country as well–sometimes it’s hard for me to separate the two). They’re like the cool kids in high school–they can’t wrap their heads around the idea of others not wanting to be like them.

  36. ak Says:

    Good speech, very inspirational. Just wondering- what was her main point?

  37. Sara Says:

    Hey Jayn!
    You’re spot on! (especially your last line about them being “cool kids!” :) ) We here too have similar feelings when it comes to the world’s biggest superpower. And I also feel that a lot has to do with the US citizens having absolutely no way gain access to us first hand. We over here have grown up seeing American news channels, American movies, songs and so on and so forth… yet at times when I speak to some Americans online, they’re in shock when I mention that we too have a MTV Pakistan! ….. and after coming in the limelight after 9/11 (for all the wrong reasons :( ) it was understandable that initially they would be out of touch, but now, 10 years later, majority are still as clueless as ever! And that too in the age of the internet! …but then again, its just that many wont even bother searching for the good…only the bad. How many Americans google Pakistani songs, as compared to those who google adverse stories?

    Yes, I do believe that a lot think that they have a monopoly on what is right and their way is the only way… and how sad that the rest of the world is not like them….and why wouldn’t they want to be like them!

    Sigh…its quite depressing and frustrating at times for us…waaay on this side of the globe! I really do wish the media would play a positive role in bringing people together, instead of only showing sensationalism. I mean, how cool would it be if we have a live audience in Pakistan, and one in the US, and they discuss normal, nice things….like maybe fans of Grey’s Anatomy…. the next time having an audience of teenagers from both sides talking about Hannah Montana…or whatever! Just something which shows both sides, and especially us as “normal” human beings to them! ….Wishful thinking?…anybody know somebody in the media who would be willing to brainstorm such ideas? :)

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: