Before Tuesday, pop singer Rihanna’s millions of fans probably had never heard of a Dutch fashion magazine called Jackie. But a lot changed in 24 hours.
The fashion magazine, with a circulation of about 60,000, published a 100-word feature on page 45 about the singer’s good-girl-gone-bad style. The title? “De Niggabitch.” Within hours several things happened: Rihanna’s angry response went out publicly via Twitter, the magazine editor resigned, and the world got a good look at the Netherlands’ deterioration.
The incident stirred millions to ask, “Are the Dutch that racist?” Jackie’s editor Eva Hoeke, for her part, said it was a bad joke and apologized on Facebook. “It was naïve to think that this was an acceptable form of slang,” she wrote. “You hear it all the time on TV and radio, then your idea of what is normal apparently shifts—but it was especially misguided: there was no malice behind it.”
Malice? No. Ignorance? Undoubtedly. Dutch journalism in general is in a poor state. (In addition to the slurs in the title and text, the writer also called the Barbados-born singer Jamaican.) But it is also increasingly out of touch, a bastion of white Europeans covering a multicultural country. The large cities in the Netherlands are already more than half non-native Dutch, but you’d never know it from the media.
A journalist of Turkish decent who grew up in the Netherlands, I started researching the lack of diversity among the Dutch media 20 years ago, and even today many consulting firms make lots of money telling media companies how homogenous they are.
Eventually I founded a glossy magazine for young Mediterranean women, because they went completely ignored otherwise. At the same time, there is a certain arrogance to Dutch journalists; they just write any article as they see fit, taking little care toward their representation of other cultures.
The truth is that if the staff of Jackie included just one person of color, the editor would probably still have a job. Working in a multicultural environment—the real world, in other words—would have taught her not to use, let along publish, that type of language.
When the fast-and-furious reactions came flying at the magazine through social media, Hoeke claimed to be glad to be “engaging in a dialogue.” It’s a tired phrase. She might have gotten away with it if the brouhaha had stayed within Holland’s borders, where journalists successfully wrap their ignorance in the cloak of “free speech.”
But it was Rihanna who truly made this moment into a dialogue.
While much of the news coverage has focused on the singer’s F--- YOU!!! sign off, they skipped her compelling point: “Your magazine is a poor representation of the evolution of human rights! I find you disrespectful, and rather desperate!! ….There are 1000's of Dutch girls who would love to be recognized for their contributions to your country, you could have given them an article. Instead, u paid to print one degrading an entire race!”
I find her words deeply gratifying, all the more so because, in the age of Twitter, she could broadcast them so publicly. This way the whole world can assess what has happened to the Netherlands, once a cradle of tolerance, liberty and enlightenment. Imagine what the media looks like to the ethnically non-Dutch living in the Netherlands. There are nothing but blue-eyed blonds on the covers of magazines and catalogues. Same with the cast of the popular local version of ‘Jersey Shore,’ called ‘Oh Oh Cherso’. On the game show “I Love Holland,” host Linda de Mol quizzes guests about Dutch history and cultural trivia. Meanwhile, if there were elections now, Geert Wilders’ right-wing blatantly anti-immigrant party would be the second biggest party of the Netherlands.
Aided and abetted by its TV producers and magazine editors, the nation is retreating into a bubble that is offensive and outdated. And, as Rihanna proved, destined to blow up in their face.
Şenay Özdemir is a Dutch-Turkish journalist, author, lecturer and women's rights activist. Özdemir, the first Turkish TV host and TV producer in Europe, founded the monthly woman's magazine SEN, showcasing the personal success stories of Mediterranean women in Europe. She works for The University of Texas at Austin as a visiting lecturer at the School for Journalism and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. Follow Senay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/senaytweets
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