As my friends will know, for my second year dissertation I'm writing about multiculturalism, and post-colonialism in Zadie Smith's best-selling novel White Teeth. This means that, as part of my research, I am forced to read Edward Said's controversial, but highly influential, text Orientalism. I won't deny that this task seemed daunting at first, but when I started to read it, I couldn't stop. It's beautifully written, and there's no hint of holding things back: he says it all. And people need to hear it. There's no way a text can be influential if it shies away from the central, though often uncomfortable, topics, such as racism.
I had a look on Youtube and there's a four part interview with Said about his Orientalism. Here's the first part, to get you thinking.
It seems astounding that such ideas were never really thought of, or at least spoken about, before Said decided to speak about what has been referred to as an 'open secret'. The fact is that racism exists and the East, no matter how much one knows about it, is always looked at through a lens which distorts the truth, a Western view of the Eastern world. This lens, he called Orientalism and it stems from colonial thinking. The Orient was seen as Orientalized, not as it truly was. Negative events in the East were focused on and generalised to the East as a whole. Those in the West saw those in the East as barbaric, uneducated, overly-spiritual and ... ultimately... all the same.
What Said says is relevant even today; TV, film, literature - all focus on negative aspects of the Orient, creating a polarisation between the East and the West, 'them' and 'us'; with the two always opposed, there is no way to eradicate racism. Tackling this 'them and us' mentality and pushing towards co-existence of different cultures is what Said wanted for the world.