Poster Boy – a poem

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Poster Boy – a poem

Ahmar Mahboob, University of Sydney

I wrote this poem when I accepted who I had become over time: a Poster Boy.

Playing the game of the colonizers, I had learned to climb up the ladder of “success”, as defined by the colonials and internalized by us.

This ladder being one that many of us learn to climb from childhood. “Success” is: to learn English (at the cost of mother tongue and other local languages), study in English medium schools, go abroad (preferably to the US or another western country), get a job abroad (preferably in a western country), and make money by working for our colonizers.

By following this path, we are expected to achieve material and social success. Once we have succeeded, we are allowed to help our immediate families, and perhaps some other close relatives and friends. We contribute to the remittance economies of our countries – remittance economies that make us slaves to those who hire us. Losing our language, our community, our self-respect in trying to achieve “success”.

We are led to forget that we are not just individuals or parts of families, but part of larger communities of people who we lived with every day until we “succeeded”.

I realized that I was a poster boy whose job was to advertise to others what “success” could look like– if only they also followed the path of poster girls and boys.

I wrote this poem to highlight how we are still colonized. If colonization can be defined as exploitation of one community by another, then, in addition to being exploited for our material resources (like we were a 100 years ago), we are now also harvested for human resources.

We and our communities have become human farms for the colonials. They harvest physical labor from the mountainous areas of Pakistan; they harvest IT from across South Asia, they harvest nurses from the Philippines…

And as they harvest us, they continue to blame us for our weaknesses, our poverty, our lack of culture and civilization.

If we don’t stop being poster boys and girls; and if we don’t start recognizing and rejecting the very sly advertisement used by the colonials, then we will continue to lose our most precious resources to them: our families and our people.

Without them, there is no wealth and there is no success.


Stop, Ahmar, stop!

What are you doing?

What have you become?

Remember your roots;

Remember your people;

Remember your goals.


Yes, some applaud you as a success.

They consider you a model:

Someone they look up to,

And, sometimes, want to become.

They are fooled by illusions

Endowed upon a poster boy.


A poster celebrating

How colonial subjects shine

When they play white man’s games

In a white man’s world.

A technicolored advertisement

Empowering hegemonic discourse[i].


Stop, Ahmar, stop!

Reflect, rethink, redirect.

Remember your people;

Remember your goals.

Success doesn’t come

Until your people succeed.


[i] Hegemonic discourses are discourses that make us believe that we are gaining things; when, in reality, we are losing. It’s a form of linguistic warfare that brainwashes and blinds us (the targets) to our own suffering. Hegemonic discourses enable the powerful to maintain their power; and the weak to accept their position. For example, we may explain injustice to us by saying things like: Oh, my English is not very good; or, Oh, I wish I had studied in a ‘good’ English medium school; or, Oh, I wish I could go abroad to study in the US (or another western country). These statements reflect that we have internalised believes that English, or English medium education, or going abroad are the requirements of “success” that we crave. Once we form these beliefs, we try our best to try to achieve “success” – at any cost. Our desire for this elusive and tantalising “success” leads us to abandon our own ways of being, doing, and knowing. Once we have abandoned these, we become poor indeed. And, there is no way left for us but to continue to serve and support the system that suppresses us.

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