Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Tuesday, July 15, 2003  

Bina posts today about a letter she wrote that has been printed in the current issue of Time magazine. The letter was in response to an article in the June 16 issue of Time entitled "To have & have not", subtitled "Kidnappings, bombings, assassinations, extortion, bribery—just another week in Karachi, Pakistan`s largest and most populous city". (Bina also wrote a longer rejoinder to the article at the South Asian website, Chowk.)

Similarly, the online version of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy hosted at the BBC website, ran an article some time ago (sadly, no longer available) entitled "Stuff they don't tell you about living in Barbados" which prompted a response from Titilayo at This, That & Whatever.

The articles on Karachi and Barbados are, as one can deduce from their respective titles, less than flattering; the responses from Bina and Titilayo are quite critical. Other responses to both articles have been mixed.

Of course T&T (and the Caribbean in general) is no stranger to such happenings. From way back when we’ve had intrepid foreigners coming to our shores with pen and parchment to document what goes on here, and report back up North what the natives were getting up to. Nowadays the video camera has largely replaced the pen; from BBC documentaries on corruption in the Jamaica police force to E! Entertainment Television features on Carnival in Trinidad, we continue to provide fertile material to feed the metropolitan appetite for views on life in the Islands.

Naturally, we are wary of the way we are portrayed to the metropolitan world, always considering the motives of the ones doing the portraying. We bristle at negativity, at stereotyping, at tendentiousness and condescension; whether out of pride or insecurity, or some perverse, pathological need for approval from erstwhile masters, or simply because we want Them to get the facts straight.

(Of course, just what the facts are is as contentious an issue as any. One Trinidad writer has spoken often not of facts but, approvingly, of myths, of the need for our own writers and artists here to create their own myths, for their own people; and not to have myths about themselves imposed on them by the outsider, especially the outsider who purports to be of the people. But that’s another post.)

Ideally, perhaps, the ones whose story it is should get to tell the story; it is theirs, after all. But then the outsider’s view can be of merit. A different perspective can get one to see things in a different way, perhaps more critically, and help one guard against complaisance, insularity, parochialism. What is important is the intent. If someone is unwilling to see a place in its own context, but instead judges it completely by other standards, or looks for the ugly only for the sake of it, without any counterbalancing look at the positives, or simply the reality particular to that place, then ultimately what is said can have no real merit. That said, there can be no doubting that there are certain, basic standards and principles – let’s, with as much of a straight face as we can, call them human ones – which should always be upheld and striven for.

By and large though, does it truly matter what an outsider who doesn’t know you, the real you, think? What ten, a hundred, a thousand outsiders think? What matters is what you think of what is yours, both good and bad, and what you’re doing both to preserve the former and change the latter.

posted by Jonathan | 5:04 PM 0 comments


save boissiere house
Bina Shah
Nicholas Laughlin
Caribbean Free Radio
Global Voices
Jessie Girl
Club Soda and Salt
Caribbean Cricket
Jai Arjun Singh
email me