Boy, oh boy!
Now that finals are over, maybe time for a little less international-development- grad-school-angst ridden posts and more “normal” posts.
Two days ago, the Twitterverse was aflame with reports about Jackie, a Dutch fashion magazine deciding to print an article that called U.S. hip-hop star Rihanna “The Ultimate Niggabitch” :
I don’t speak Dutch, but FashionBombDaily adds that the article goes on to call Barbados-born Rihanna “Jamaican” and that she displays her “ghetto ass” gladly, and for her that means, “whats on can come off”.
A Twitter friend of mine @DrGoddess, caught on to the article, and tweeted the name of Jackie’s editor Eva Hoeke, @Evajackie to Miss Rihanna herself. Ms. Fenty was none too pleased, and went off the top rope on the editor from her personal Twitter account with 10 million followers:
Yours truly also went on a Twitter rant on this nonsense that was picked up by the editor of Ebony, @amydbarnett among other sites such as GlobalGrind and Hollywood Reporter. Many others were upset by further by @EvaJackie’s attitude on Twitter, referring to the whole incident as “just a joke” , and loosely translated (Thank you Google Translate) as saying: “Learned two things yesterday: Dont put bad jokes on the cover page…sorry guys, my bad”.
Gee. If that isn’t a sincere apology, I don’t know what is.
Yesterday, the Jackie Magazine Facebook page issued this:
And lo and behold, today, Eva Hoeke announced her resignation from Jackie Magazine due to social media backlash. The statement says,
“Throughout the various social media there has been an emotional response to this choice of words, as published in Jackie..Through social media Hoeke was taunted and threatened in various ways.Following these events she consulted with publisher Yves Gijrath of GMG. Together they came to the following conclusion: In the interest of Jackie Magazine and all involved she will quit her job as editor-in-chief effective immediately. Hoeke states: ‘I realize that my first reaction through Twitter, in which I indicated that it was a joke, has been an incomplete misrepresentation what me, and also the author of the article, meant. The term ‘niggabitch’ came from America and all we did was describing a style of dress. Because of the enormous pressure through social media I was enticed to promise amendment regarding the linguistic usage in future issues of Jackie.( You can read the full statement and comments here).
Whew! So there is a lot to unpack in all of this.
First of all, this is an excellent case study in the field of media, globalization, and racial representation. While many people are angry, (and rightly so, I might add), plenty of comments I have seen from both Dutch users and African American users alike blame Rihanna and hip-hop music in general for this happening. They say (in a nutshell), “Well, black people use the n-word and the word “bitch” in hip hop music! So what do they expect when other people start to use it? From @DrGodess ‘s site:
In a global age where music and culture flow back and forth between time zones, languages, and continents via social media platforms and international record companies, it is naive to think that American content and culture will be received in the same way every where. Through my travels, I’ve come to question before if Americans at home realize the way that rap music (in particular) affects the way black women are seen around the world, as nameless sexual jezebels who “shake their Netherlands” for any Johnny Come Lately who’s got a couple of dollars (or Euros) in his pockets. Is questioning Rihanna’s lyrics amounting to “blaming the victim?” Or does this incident call for another domestic referendum on the “N-word” in hip hop? Shall I get my shovel and crusade for reburying the N word, NAACP-style?
On the other side, to many American onlookers, the Dutch response to the Jackie/Rihanna incident, as well their response US criticism of the “blackface” holiday tradition of Zwarte Piet (literally ‘Black Pete’) has been quite telling. Many responses to both incidents from users from the Netherlands has been to quickly deny that there is any hint of racism in their culture, and anyone hinting at such is ignorant of Dutch culture, or trying to impose the American context of racism onto them. (Look at the comments on the Zwarte Piet piece…many Dutch commenters are crying hypocrisy, telling the US users to go and get rid of Thanksgiving before we can say anything about Sinterklaas and his helper, Zwarte Piet). It does not appear that there is a willingness to have a healthy discussion on race in these threads from our friends i the Netherlands.
I know the typical trajectory of these stories. 1) Person/media outlet/company says/does perceived as really racist. 2) Black folk react via social media and call for action. 3) Action taken by person/media outlet/company to rectify 4) Black folk accused of “herd mentality” and being “emotional” and “overreacting”.
Here is the deal. Yes, the editor of Jackie Magazine was basically on the receiving end of an lighting-fast Twitter take-down of epic proportions. But does that mean that all black people wanted was for heads to roll? No, it is way more than that.
This is about black women using their voices via blogs and social social media to say, “This is not how we are to be represented in 2011!” And we have every right to do so. There was a time when black women could not challenge demeaning, insensitive and oppressive characterizations.
This is not about individual bigotry. Individual bigotry is often a symptom of socially learned symbols, histories, and systems. Let’s be real. That article with the words “Niggabitch” was read through, copy edited, and checked by multiple people at Jackie Magazine. The fact that this was passed through many hands at a magazine then sent to publication says a lot about the institution and the acceptability of such language.
This is about “Clash of Civilizations”-meets-Twitter-meets Pop Culture. There is s sense of defensiveness against among many Dutch commenters I see on the sites responding to these issues. One maybe could note a reluctance to discuss race and racism publicly, in favor of a kneejerk reaction to say, “We don’t see race in Dutch culture”. We know about the Dutch’s brutal history with slavery in Africa and the Caribbean. We all know about the issues Europe is having as a whole with immigration and the failed notion of multiculturalism.
I would say, perhaps this is a good time for our friends in Netherlands to think about how they approach race in their culture. Just a suggestion. We Americans, and black Americans at that, know we have our issues too. At least we admit it, for the most part. While the rise of global media flows carries many possibilities it does not mean that we necessarily have a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures, histories, symbols and traditions. Let’s talk it out, even if it is painful!
Without the use of the word n*ggabitch, preferably.