Farah Nasser is an award-winning journalist. She is one of Toronto’s most recognizable faces in the news, bringing her extensive experience to her role as anchor on Global News. She has been praised for her thought-provoking reporting. She created buzz on social media with #FirstTimeIWasCalled and #LivingInColour, two digital series exploring the experiences of marginalized peoples. Her TEDx talk “The Power of Intellectual Humility” has been widely acclaimed.
Farah: I wish we could say that we have evolved quite a bit. It’s still very challenging. I still do really believe that race bleeds into almost every story that we cover. We live in a time of such division and fear of the other and we are not really listening to each other. We are also not asking each other questions because we are scared of offending. I think that’s a really dangerous combination coupled with the social media echo chamber. I think because of that fear we are really seeing each other on opposite sides which I think is crazy. Why are we not celebrating compassion over competition? Why can’t we look at each other as who we are and not where we have come from?
In the United States, we have seen the rise of populism for example. It’s hurtful. It’s difficult but it’s also an opportunity. I don’t think it’s too late for us. We have to learn to really listen to each other because there are people who feel disenfranchised in the world. And there are people that we may not agree with but we won’t move forward as a society if we don’t really listen to understand, instead of listening to respond with the next bullet point. There is really an opportunity here to look back at how far we have come and what kind of future we want.Elle: You’ve always been focused on stories that change perspectives and help people understand different narratives. What kind of stories do you want to share this year?
Farah: For one, the real interesting thing in this city (Toronto) or any big city is seeing a real income divide; seeing people live at the very top or the very bottom. I think people have a responsibility to help one another. The other is intersectionality, and there’s people who will say that you are playing the race card. I think it’s just a weird term because it’s not a card it’s who you are and every fiber of your being and how you step out in to the world, how you wake up.
Because of all that there are a lot of stories to be told and a lot of stories not being told. I’ve been very lucky where I am now to really push boundaries and show different perspectives. I think perspective is what is key here. I am a strong believer that there are not two sides of the story; there are many sides and nuances that exist. We live in a time of “cancel culture” for example and we really have to dig deep and look at what somebody’s perspective is. We do a show called Living in Color where we talk about that intersectionality, for example what’s it like to be queer but also black. This is not a race card, it’s not something people are using to get ahead. It’s theirs lives and the challenges that they face which are very unique and sometimes you don’t see that and sometimes you don’t understand that.
I think we need to have compassion for one another. I did a TED talk on something called Intellectual Humility. It’s the idea of being okay with “I don’t know it all.” You don’t have to know everything and that’s okay. That’s how we operate as journalists. We go to a story and we don’t know everything and we ask questions. We listen to understand and I think that’s just so key right now.Elle: You were offered a high-profile anchor job in the U.S. a decade ago which you turned down because happiness for you meant staying in Toronto. Clearly you have a deep understanding of yourself and what success means for you. It takes courage and you have done well for yourself. What did you learn most from making that decision?
Farah: I learnt what was important. I started in TV when I was 18 and I had a real path I wanted to go on. I wrote it down and I said that by this age I am going to do this, that and that. When push came to shove, and it came time to go to the States I looked around and I just thought what life would be like without my family, without my good friends and raising a child without grandparents around.
It really forced me to think about what was important to me and I realized it wasn’t money. It wasn’t fame. It was waking up every day with purpose and feeling happy. I didn’t think that I could do that in a different city. I also love Toronto and being Canadian. There is something so special about having a family here, having kids here and that was a big part of it for me. I’m glad I made this decision.
Farah: I think for me the measure of success is really getting out of bed, being excited to go to work, and starting your day. That is success to me. That’s what really shapes what I do. The other measure of success is changing people’s perspectives and I think that’s big. I did a piece called “What if the fighting in Aleppo was happening in Toronto?” a few years ago and it went viral. It really showed people what was going on in Syria. Yes, Syria seems far away but these are still people who by no fault of their own are going through something and losing loved ones and we should care about that. When you get to shape perspectives and when you get to have somebody say “wow, I never really thought about it like that”, that to me is everything.
I remember when Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip died. There was one line written in a script that said “who hasn’t sat on the dock of their cottage listening to Gord Downie?” and I remembered saying in a meeting that I haven’t. Most immigrant kids haven’t. This is not part of the consciousness. We have to see that everybody doesn’t have one perspective or one way they grew up. There is not one way to be a Canadian. There are so many different ways to be a Canadian. I think what makes this country so wonderful is that we appreciate that. That we see that Little India is just as Canadian as downtown Toronto or Northern Ontario. It’s the same.Elle: What one word do you most identify with?
Farah: The word that I identify with by far is authenticity. I can’t be anyone else. It’s actually really hard for me to be anyone else and I did it for a long time. I kind of hid my culture or didn’t talk about it or when people laughed at something I would laugh along with them just to be polite and not make them feel uncomfortable.
I’ve changed that about myself. I am who I am. I am the proud daughter of immigrants, I’m a Muslim woman, I am a journalist, I am a mother. If people don’t appreciate me for who I am then that’s okay. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay but I am never going to apologize for who I am anymore. I am going to be me and it’s a liberating, freeing feeling.
When you start out you feel like you have to fit in a mould and be in a box. It’s only very recently I realized that I am who I am and that also has led to success in some part for me. I think people in the audience see that. They know that I am not putting anything on.Elle: What does Walk How You Want mean to you?
Zvelle shoes: Anais Ankle Boots Black.