Orientalism

I wrote this poem based off one of the poems from Nationwide. Their poem is called Labels but my poem gets its title from the book Orientalism (1978) by Edward Said (pronounced sy-eed). Said was a writer, intellectual and the founder of the part of academia known as postcolonial studies.

Edward Said coined orientalism. At the time it basically meant a representation of Asia in a stereotyped manner that is regarded as epitomising a colonialist ideology (White Power). The colonial attitude is in a sense a form of white supremacy and that looks past the group of “attacking former-colonies”.

So, any person who derives from a non-western nation could in fact be stereotyped in the way. However, Ireland (former-British colony) were under the same scrutiny as the West Indies was in the 70s and 80s. “No Irish – No Blacks – No Dogs”. So this opens up another line of questioning doesn’t it?

In a nutshell, orientalism is how the West looks at people of colour or what we define as “foreign” (past and present). Whether we’re looking at people today or the lives of our ancestors, orientalism is here to stay. And it’s been perpetuated through popular culture (the greatest propaganda tool there is), the media and day-to-day events.

You only need look at any James Bond film made before the turn of the millennium or films made in the Golden Age of Hollywood like The Jazz Singer (1927), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Gone with the Wind (1939), Giant (1956) or The Imitation of Life (1934 / 1959). That’s just a few.

Many of these are cornerstones of cinema (and great films) but when applied to Said’s theory, eyebrows are raised for sure. Don’t even talk to me about those westerns with John Wayne.


Brands are for corporations to
market a label. Put stamps on
them and you still wouldn’t be

able to know anything more than
what cable news gave you – which
brings me to the West’s race problem.

Humanity fights diversity as society
seamlessly sanctions laws in its name
(sometimes). Brexit means

Brexit – what does that even mean?
We shouldn’t make guesses based
on Lawrence’s dreams of the Orient

Despite being a fun Bond film, this one and others always gives me trouble (are racist)
(Live and Let Die, MGM)

or Bond films’ views of the Black.
Tactless in their clueless cracks
at cultures across the world.

Don’t split us into ‘us or them’, let
them in based on character, not
the hue of their melanin.

No hurdles, no walls, just fairness
and equal rights. Don’t put them
on a pedestal or bind them in

“Oh my” says Mr Sulu “is that Alec Guinness in face paint trying to “look” Muslim?” 
(Lawrence of Arabia, Columbia Pictures)

rainbow-tinted lies. Concede to
their existence and give them the
same opportunities as us.

And when you see this different
fellow, don’t turn up your nose.
Shake their hand and say hello.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *