January 11, 2020 100

Why I keep speaking up, even when people mock my accent | Safwat Saleem

Why I keep speaking up, even when people mock my accent | Safwat Saleem

I used to have this recurring dream where I’d walk into a roomful of people, and I’d try not to make
eye contact with anyone. Until someone notices me, and I just panic. And the person walks up to me, and says, “Hi, my name is So-and-so. And what is your name?” And I’m just quiet, unable to respond. After some awkward silence, he goes, “Have you forgotten your name?” And I’m still quiet. And then, slowly, all the other people
in the room begin to turn toward me and ask, almost in unison, (Voice-over, several voices)
“Have you forgotten your name?” As the chant gets louder,
I want to respond, but I don’t. I’m a visual artist. Some of my work is humorous, and some is a bit funny but in a sad way. And one thing that I really enjoy doing is making these little animations where I get to do the voice-over
for all kinds of characters. I’ve been a bear. (Video) Bear (Safwat Saleem’s voice): Hi. (Laughter) Safwat Saleem: I’ve been a whale. (Video) Whale (SS’s voice): Hi. (Laughter) SS: I’ve been a greeting card. (Video) Greeting card (SS’s voice): Hi. (Laughter) SS: And my personal favorite
is Frankenstein’s monster. (Video) Frankenstein’s monster
(SS’s voice): (Grunts) (Laughter) SS: I just had to grunt
a lot for that one. A few years ago,
I made this educational video about the history of video games. And for that one, I got to do
the voice of Space Invader. (Video) Space Invader (SS’s voice): Hi. SS: A dream come true, really, (Laughter) And when that video was posted online, I just sat there on the computer,
hitting “refresh,” excited to see the response. The first comment comes in. (Video) Comment: Great job. SS: Yes! I hit “refresh.” (Video) Comment: Excellent video.
I look forward to the next one. SS: This was just the first
of a two-part video. I was going to work
on the second one next. I hit “refresh.” (Video) Comment: Where is part TWO?
WHEREEEEE? I need it NOWWWWW!: P (Laughter) SS: People other than my mom
were saying nice things about me, on the Internet! It felt like I had finally arrived. I hit “refresh.” (Video) Comment: His voice
is annoying. No offense. SS: OK, no offense taken. Refresh. (Video) Comment: Could you remake this
without peanut butter in your mouth? SS: OK, at least the feedback
is somewhat constructive. Hit “refresh.” (Video) Comment: Please don’t use
this narrator again u can barely understand him. SS: Refresh. (Video) Comment: Couldn’t follow
because of the Indian accent. SS: OK, OK, OK, two things. Number one, I don’t have an Indian accent, I have a Pakistani accent, OK? And number two, I clearly
have a Pakistani accent. (Laughter) But comments like that kept coming in, so I figured I should just ignore them and start working
on the second part of the video. I recorded my audio, but every time I sat down to edit, I just could not do it. Every single time, it would take me
back to my childhood, when I had a much harder time speaking. I’ve stuttered for as long
as I can remember. I was the kid in class who would never raise his hand
when he had a question — or knew the answer. Every time the phone rang, I would run to the bathroom
so I would not have to answer it. If it was for me, my parents
would say I’m not around. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. And I hated introducing myself, especially in groups. I’d always stutter on my name,
and there was usually someone who’d go, “Have you forgotten your name?” And then everybody would laugh. That joke never got old. (Laughter) I spent my childhood
feeling that if I spoke, it would become obvious
that there was something wrong with me, that I was not normal. So I mostly stayed quiet. And so you see, eventually for me to even
be able to use my voice in my work was a huge step for me. Every time I record audio, I fumble my way through saying
each sentence many, many times, and then I go back in and pick the ones
where I think I suck the least. (Voice-over) SS: Audio editing
is like Photoshop for your voice. I can slow it down, speed it up,
make it deeper, add an echo. And if I stutter along the way,
and if I stutter along the way, I just go back in and fix it. It’s magic. SS: Using my highly edited
voice in my work was a way for me
to finally sound normal to myself. But after the comments on the video, it no longer made me feel normal. And so I stopped
using my voice in my work. Since then, I’ve thought a lot
about what it means to be normal. And I’ve come to understand that “normal” has a lot to do
with expectations. Let me give you an example. I came across this story about the Ancient Greek writer, Homer. Now, Homer mentions
very few colors in his writing. And even when he does, he seems to get them quite a bit wrong. For example, the sea
is described as wine red, people’s faces are sometimes green
and sheep are purple. But it’s not just Homer. If you look at all
of the ancient literature — Ancient Chinese, Icelandic, Greek, Indian and even the original Hebrew Bible — they all mention very few colors. And the most popular theory
for why that might be the case is that cultures begin
to recognize a color only once they have the ability
to make that color. So basically, if you can make a color, only then can you see it. A color like red, which was fairly easy
for many cultures to make — they began to see that color
fairly early on. But a color like blue,
which was much harder to make — many cultures didn’t begin to learn
how to make that color until much later. They didn’t begin to see it
until much later as well. So until then, even though
a color might be all around them, they simply did not have
the ability to see it. It was invisIble. It was not a part of their normal. And that story has helped
put my own experience into context. So when I first read
the comments on the video, my initial reaction was to take it
all very personally. But the people commenting did not know how self-conscious I am about my voice. They were mostly reacting to my accent, that it is not normal
for a narrator to have an accent. But what is normal, anyway? We know that reviewers will find
more spelling errors in your writing if they think you’re black. We know that professors are less likely
to help female or minority students. And we know that resumes
with white-sounding names get more callbacks than resumes
with black-sounding names. Why is that? Because of our expectations
of what is normal. We think it is normal when a black student has spelling errors. We think it is normal when a female or minority student
does not succeed. And we think it is normal that a white employee
is a better hire than a black employee. But studies also show
that discrimination of this kind, in most cases, is simply favoritism, and it results more from wanting
to help people that you can relate to than the desire to harm people
that you can’t relate to. And not relating to people
starts at a very early age. Let me give you an example. One library that keeps track of characters in the children’s book
collection every year, found that in 2014,
only about 11 percent of the books had a character of color. And just the year before,
that number was about eight percent, even though half of American children
today come from a minority background. Half. So there are two big issues here. Number one, children are told
that they can be anything, they can do anything, and yet, most stories
that children of color consume are about people who are not like them. Number two is that majority groups
don’t get to realize the great extent to which
they are similar to minorities — our everyday experiences, our hopes, our dreams, our fears and our mutual love for hummus. It’s delicious! (Laughter) Just like the color blue
for Ancient Greeks, minorities are not a part
of what we consider normal, because normal is simply a construction
of what we’ve been exposed to, and how visible it is around us. And this is where things
get a bit difficult. I can accept the preexisting notion
of normal — that normal is good, and anything outside of that very
narrow definition of normal is bad. Or I can challenge
that preexisting notion of normal with my work and with my voice and with my accent and by standing here onstage, even though I’m scared shitless
and would rather be in the bathroom. (Laughter) (Applause) (Video) Sheep (SS’s voice):
I’m now slowly starting to use my voice in my work again. And it feels good. It does not mean I won’t have a breakdown the next time a couple dozen
people say that I talk (Mumbling) like I have peanut
butter in my mouth. (Laughter) SS: It just means I now have
a much better understanding of what’s at stake, and how giving up is not an option. The Ancient Greeks didn’t just wake up
one day and realize that the sky was blue. It took centuries, even, for humans
to realize what we had been ignoring for so long. And so we must continuously challenge
our notion of normal, because doing so is going
to allow us as a society to finally see the sky for what it is. (Video) Characters: Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Frankenstein’s monster: (Grunts) (Laughter) SS: Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “Why I keep speaking up, even when people mock my accent | Safwat Saleem”

  • selam getu says:

    This is my new favorite TED Talk

  • Lance Cruz says:

    He finessed a win right there. GREAT WORK.

  • Thefarkasfamily says:

    Loved the talk and its delivery…definitely spreading the message.

  • Stefania Woldorf says:

    Very good👏👏👏👏👏

  • nicsye12 says:

    You can't just publish content online and expect no hate comments. Just look at any video on the internet, from the beginning until now. If you take them seriously and let it deteriorate your self esteem, then you should get off the internet if you can't handle meaningless criticism from idiots. His accent is light and his English is perfect, if you can't understand him then your communication skills are absolutely dismal or you aren't a fluent English speaker yourself. Why was this a TED talk?

  • Andrew Adams-Whitehead says:

    Tbh his accent isn't that hard to understand. Who's tripping about it? The more you hear language spoken with an accent, the easier it becomes to understand it.

  • Zena dove says:

    3 days ago someone told me that i have a french accent …omg …omg.. it was a great shock for me .. it is impposible .. well .. i am syrian 🙂

  • Phii'shee the Khajiit says:

    He's really funny hahaha

  • Daxxon Jabiru says:

    i like kitties

  • Cetifiably Snuggly says:

    omg ur so brave

  • Alex Boston says:

    Tbh, I know how this guy feels because I struggled and still struggle to some extent with the fear of revealing my flaws in speech (not to the extent of this guy though) but everyone has problems and we all have to overcome them.

  • roidroid says:

    Normally if someone has an Indian (or Pakistani i guess) accent i can only understand if played at normal 1x speed.
    But with this talk of Safwat's i can listen at 1.5x speed no worries, he talks fine.

  • roidroid says:

    Heh it's funny hearing him say his accent is Pakistani and not Indian.

    My grandmother grew up in British India, and escaped with the rest of the British during the tumultuous time of the India/Pakistan national split. I remember she always had an Indian accent, but it'd be technically correct to say it's also a Pakistani accent, since she grew up in the time when they were both one single country still.
    Actually now that i think about it, the area she grew up in might now be called Pakistan, even tho it was India at the time.

    She was born in India, now Pakistan, but even tho she was born there – she was British. Right? Cultural identity is weird.

  • dbln8188 says:

    That was amazingly brave of you.

  • Amanda Goldman says:

    I'm so grateful for your talk. As a child I found it so hard to communicate with other children and preferred to stay at home drawing.
    You've given me courage to start expressing myself and communicating once again through drawing. I've waited a long time, a lifetime, and at seventy years old I shall start again. Thank you so much and by the way I love your voice it suits all the characters and you 😃

  • Vishali Srikanth says:

    his accent is good enough more like adorable

  • svampebob007 says:

    Minority aren't normal… wow how many Ph.D degrees do you get for coming to that conclusion?
    also the over 50% minority children statistic really reminds me of the South Park episode. it's not a minority if it's a majority.

  • Ale Lloveras says:

    Hey I'm not a native english speaker and I can understand every single word he speaks without any effort, so I guess maybe he is not the problem. Come on people!

  • cobinizer says:

    Mean comments "crushed him"? I thought special snowflakes were an American phenomenon.

  • G4X says:

    I like this guys voice 🙂

  • Dhrubajyoti Basu Roy says:

    keep up the good work . normal racists have started screaming here.

  • H a n i a says:

    What's The problem with having an Accent if whatever you're saying is understandable -_- ? .. I Apreciate what you do Bro ^_^ .. good Luck in whatever you'll be doing

  • Imana Ngue says:

    Only people who doesn't speak at least two languages won't understand the goal of this video. Thank you for this though, it reminds me my story in my first day in a french school with my african accent. I'm eased that other people are sharing my story and could make fun that 😊

  • Stephen Catton says:

    So one can't please everyone at the same time! So what? You put your self out there and so you must expect comments that will be good and bad

  • Raymond Baglari says:

    OMG !! I'm the same way, although he has got over it. Hope I would someday get over it too. I feel depressed when I can't even do the simple conversation. It's not just English, but the other 3 languages that I speak. I stutter in all of them.

  • MrC0MPUT3R says:

    Pakistan and India both speak Hindustani in large area of the two countries, so why is he getting so upset?

  • Sourav gautam says:

    what is pakistani accent dude? lol

  • kaminarigaston says:

    5:58 That's one of the most idiotic, implausible, half assed conjectures that I've heard in my life.

  • 123qazw says:

    Still waiting on part 2

  • Word Unheard says:

    This man looks almost identical to Daniel O'Brien, from Cracked.com. Not an insult, Mr. Saleem, as he is one of my favorite actors/creative directors from Cracked's YouTube channel. Keep on speaking up, you're doing great.

  • Isaac Kotlicky says:

    The five books of moses explicitly references the colors blue, green, purple, black, white, and multiple shades of red. There is, quite frankly, quite a lot of color mentioned in the bible. Other colors, like orange or brown may be hard to find, but how often do you explicitly reference the brownness of an object or talk about oranges?

  • southrules says:

    He is a nice guy, he shouldn't explain what we should feel about his art though, if it's sad funny to one person it might be hilarious not sad to the next. Very talented guy, glad he's gaining confidence, he'll do good things.i

  • BunnyFett says:

    I love this guy.

  • Michelle Topham says:

    Funny and interesting. And heart-breaking when you think how much people feel 'less than' because of the way they speak. But, honestly, accents (and speech impediments) are actually cool. I have a weird one — mixed British and American with a bit of Thai thrown in 🙂 Oh and Safwat, if you read this, two things a) always stay ABNORMAL. Normal is boring. It's just like everyone else. And why would you want to be like that 🙂 Normal people rarely achieve anything remarkable. It's the 'abnormal' ones that shine. and b) Ignore people on the Internet. A huge percentage are twats who would never dare say to your face what they'll say hiding behind their fake names online.

  • BariumCobaltNitrog3n says:

    I think The Joker had the same malady/disorder/annoying trait as Safwat, not a stutter, but a fear of stranger's comments to him (a nightmare) and an obsessive craving to hear strangers comments about him.
    Why hit refresh like a lab rat getting cocaine? Post the video and check it in the morning like the other 15 million people posting videos every day. Maybe someone watched it.
    I posted a video of some people dancing at Burning Man, 3 years later the only comment was "this sucks" and my reaction was…I'm a YouTuber!

  • Ciro Lopes says:

    It was pretty good!

  • Lukaaz says:

    I'm not a native speaker and could understand every word…

  • Jesse Sargent says:

    yay it turned to propaganda

  • Mason Pocklington says:

    I loved it 🙂

  • Max Do says:

    While there are fewer idiots among Ted-talk viewers, there're still idiots among Ted-talk viewers.

  • King Tangible says:

    Sometimes I couldn't understand what he said, but it's not because of his accent but my poor English skill😂

  • Empty Slot says:

    I don't get that part with the colors

  • AKASH K. DAVIS says:

    great job

  • kalani catbagan says:

    Very interesting <3 After 7:00 it gets real & deep & then inspiring at the end. Thank you for sharing & I like your accent btw!

  • Dapper Cat Pictures says:

    They should just call this "Lib Talks"

  • Donna E says:

    You sound perfectly normal to me!

  • Olivia F says:

    also, this guy's art is incredible!!!! everyone should check it out

  • 3muration says:

    Like for delicious hummus!

  • VendaSoul says:

    I can relate to the accent part, but I think he shouldn't have taken the negative comments so seriously because

    1. His accent is excellent.

    2. It's YouTube, we have very intelligent people and people with 4 working brain cells all in one platform.

  • Manoj Rijal says:

    Love from Nepal.

  • lilag10 says:

    Thank you for your courage and your words!

  • cloudy says:

    what a great guy

  • 황윤정 says:

    I think his positive thinking is so good.

  • mildlydisastrous says:

    We think that it's normal when the artist who uses his voice in his craft is able to speak properly. Learn. Train. If you can't improve yourself, hire a speech therapist. It's not that difficult. He said nothing about trying to do ANYTHING to help his situation, he just doesn't want to become better, he want everyone to accept him as he is. And his pronunciation is not even that bad, he could've easily change it. But he won't, of course. All this talking about normality and acceptance makes sense only if you talk about something, that you cannot change, or something that is a matter of taste. Bad skills are neither. We shouldn't accept laziness.

  • Bashar Al-sallakh says:

    I love his accent ♥

  • Abhilash Shetty says:


  • Sandy Nagy says:

    I have a lisp and was made fun of growing up. this spoke to me deeply. thank you.

  • HeleneSørensen says:

    If native english makes fun of your accent,ask how many languages he/she speaks.

  • jes sakura says:

    honestly, i hear myself like I'm about to cry. One of the reasons why I took Social Work. I may befriend everyone, but I can't talk in front of them altogether. We have this term "pabebe" that describes me. It a negative image, but I don't know how to be otherwise.

  • Stephen B. Smith says:

    Couldn't understand him with his Indian accent

  • qwertyuiop9060 says:

    Dude you're awesome!😄😊

  • grafika cynthia says:

    there's nothing wrong with his accent, I can understand what he's saying. and there's a lot of accent that hard to understand lol no need to worry because some accents are weird for some ppl

  • PAUL DIBIASE says:


  • The Twinternet says:

    So inspiring and beautiful. Absolutely baffled at some of these absolutely ignorant comments!

  • Freddy Martinez says:

    This sucks.

  • Nicolas De Raedt says:

    It's kinda said that there's an English subtitle available 😉

  • userdetails1 says:

    ok we get it, people with minority accents have a higher chance of being mocked in Western countries. Quit crying rivers and get over it, if you want to give a stand up talk on something there are more important things

  • indrajit bagchi says:

    there is nothing really wrong with his accent

  • Antonella says:


  • Minecraft Splatoon Kid says:

    his accent is beautiful

  • wadenkrampf0815 says:

    I like you

    and your voice.

  • yuta umetani says:

    sting – English man in new york.

  • Fern says:

    That last part lmao. "the next time a couple dozen people say ABALUAHBD B MOUF"

  • Devon Taylor says:

    I like his accent

  • Sentry616 says:

    He's just pissed he sounds like a cartoon character.

  • Rajamanickam Antonimuthu says:

    I too used to get lot of negative comments about my voice in my youtube videos. But I still continue to use my own voice instead of opting for text-to-speech software or hiring any voice-over artist, for the same reason you have specified in your speech. Giving-up is never an option.

  • eman sugulle says:

    The accent is not bad…. Its just u have kinda heavy articulating mouth

  • Adam says:

    by not being able to perceive blue, seen as the sky is blue, did he mean they could see it but just hadn't labelled it?

  • Kitanna Gooden says:

    I think Pakistani accents are hot because most girls I liked are Pakistani or Arabic

  • Kitanna Gooden says:

    Humus is delicious

  • James says:

    One of the greatest TED talks I have seen. Used it for an advanced ESL class I teach. Could not have asked for a better video for the class. Thank you Safwat Saleem

  • Cassy Trillhose says:

    Really enjoyed this talk! Sociolinguistics is an important topic often overlooked, keep speaking up!

  • Zetetik - says:

    Wha?? This guy has a nice accent, where's the problem?? :/

  • Sid Arthur says:

    the audience must be full of a load of easily impressed retards. either that or they're patronising the guy because he's foreign. they laughed at a puppet waving and a fart noise

  • Sid Arthur says:

    'a pakistani accent' what is he going on about

  • مكسرات MoKaSsarate TV says:

    for me your accent is normal

  • mrinalika singh says:

    Why do People have an issue on being empathetic and just being nice?

  • Dd Xx says:

    I'm proud of his confidence his voice is eloquent

  • Alia Haider says:

    Accents are awesome, They tell you a story about people, I used to have an accent when i first moved to Australia, and to be honest it did effect me, people did mock me. But now whenever I deliberately speak in an accent, people laugh because it's cool. It's too bad that the world isn't more accepting! AMAZING TED TALK!

  • La Corneja says:

    Nice Nine Inch Nails Shirt!

  • 陈明宇 says:

    The essential problem in his accent is the direction of his voice: rather backward. If he could change this, it'll all be good.

  • Marie Camara says:

    I like your video saftwat saleem

  • sun sulaf says:

    the audience so admire him 😻😻

  • natsou2 says:

    Thank you for this talk, it made my day. Ignorance can be quite hurtful, but challenging people's version of normal (especially narrow minded people) will always be a worthy pursuit!☺

  • Emine y says:

    That was very good

  • FemMorpheus says:

    People in groups, particularly groups that feel superior, can be incredibly mean, and apathetic. Humans are a group animal–sometimes we're a herd, sometimes we're a pack. Our actions in groups tend to be dictated by the leaders–so be careful who you chose to follow as your leader. You may not want to be a leader yourself, but you DO have a choice over who your leader is. You CHOOSE to follow them. And if you don't like your leader, find a new group with a leader you do like, and who acts in a way you approve of, rather than in a way that you have to excuse. Normalizing mean/bigoted actions and talk subconsciously reprograms your brain to accept those actions and that talk.

    So, next time someone decides to make fun of someone's accent, don't encourage them by laughing too. Realize that that person might subconciously feel threatened because an accent often means that you aren't speaking your native language…which means you speak more than 1 language, which means you are intelligent, which folks who are closed minded often had to stunt in themselves in order to fit in with the group they are a part of.

  • Patricia Obrien says:

    Love him! 💕

  • Àlan 237 says:


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