Rihanna, Race, Globalization and Media or “Hey Netherlands! Who you calling ‘De n—–b—-‘?!”

December 21, 2011 — 10 Comments

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.

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10 responses to Rihanna, Race, Globalization and Media or “Hey Netherlands! Who you calling ‘De n—–b—-‘?!”

  1. 

    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?

    I don’t get this sort of mentality at all especially from black people. To me, this is another way in which people of colour have internalised white supremacist thought. Why does the fact that some African Americans or Rihanna use the n-word and say bitch in their music justify a white person using those words against a woman of African descent? As we’d say in Nigeria, if you see someone jumping into a fire, would you follow the person? People who make that type of illogical arguments just don’t make a lick of sense.

    The n-word was not invented by black people! This was a word that was used to dehumanise people of African descent by white Europeans. I wish some people would open their eyes and see that even if black Americans stopped using the n-word, racists are still going to keep on using it! Sure these racists and their supporters would no longer be able to blame black people for their racism but it would not stop them from viewing African descended people as less than human beings.

    Seriously.

    Is questioning Rihanna’s lyrics amounting to “blaming the victim?”

    IMHO, yes it is. And if a black person does this, they may be having issues with self-hate.

    I don’t understand how any person of colour would try to justify a white person using the n-word.

    • 

      Right on!

      Yes, a few black friends and comments on blogs I’ve seen had said “we need to stop the hypocrisy” when getting upset about non-black folks using the N word. I disagree and thing the word should be challenged on all fronts, especially when you think about the fact that a lot of hip-hop artists are managed by mostly white record execs who market this music for middle class white Americans.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people are justifying the use of the word in this context, but it definitely diminishes the gravity of the offense that was committed.

  2. 

    Karen, I have so very much appreciated your voice and assistance on Twitter and on my Revelations Blog. I didn’t know your rant traveled to Global Grind and Amy DuBois Barnett! I love it! I knew it got to her but I may have overlooked how. I am VERY happy to have been the one to give Rihanna the gun from which she should fire on Twitter because we MUST let the world know, we are not going to tolerate this disrespect externally OR internally, but they are two different battles. The Dutch can’t possibly by that naive, as their immigration laws clearly reflect, so I think there’ this historical disconnect happening. Let’s make some future plans to address this. Thanks again for your voice and wisdom!

  3. 

    “I wish some people would open their eyes and see that even if black Americans stopped using the n-word, racists are still going to keep on using it! ”

    Let us contemplate this:

    If Black Americans stopped using the n-word because of its history and very damaging effect when used by non-Black Americans, racists would still use it.

    If so, then the word would be maintaining its origin and all of the subtext associated with it – subtext that Black Americans have struggled and fought to overthrow for quite some time.

    Is that such a bad thing? IMHO, NO.

    This opinion shared by a Black American…

    • 

      I’m sorry but I don’t understand your comment.

      Is that such a bad thing? IMHO, NO.
      So are you saying that it is not a bad thing for Black Americans to use the n-word? Or not to use the n-word??

      I did not suggest that Black Americans stop using the n-word, as far as I am concerned they have the right to. My issue is with people who are not Black American using this word.

      I personally believe that when white racists use the n-word they are using it in the context of its origin and all that is associated with the word.

  4. 

    Like I said on another blog, had Jackie printed the same words in Dutch instead of English – “Rihanna is een nikker hoer met een Bijlmer reet” – you can rest assured the article would have been frowned upon, had it even been published. I can assure you the Dutch word “nikker” is frowned upon and unacceptable in everyday use. From what I have seen and heard, black kids in Amsterdam who are into street-culture call eachother “brodder”, a combitation of the Dutch “broeder” and the English “brother”; they do not call each other “nikker”. The only time I’ve ever heard someone use that term in Amsterdam was a moroccan guy, who looked like Ali G with braces, talking to his friend.

    Jackie exploited foreign slang terms to print something they would have never gotten away with had they printed it in their own tongue. The appropriation of foreign words was a convenient way for the Jackie crew to put themselves at a distance from what they are saying. To give you another example of this mechanism at work, I’ve had Dutch people tell me they cannot watch porn in their own language and prefer to watch American porn because Dutch porn is just “too close to home” for them.

    That said, I do not like Rihanna, or her crass commercial music and style, and I wholeheartedly support black and white feminist women’s right to criticize Rihanna for capitulating to what are debilitating sexist and racist stereotypes of black women as sexually insatiable for the sake of her career. I definitely do NOT support white people in the Netherlands using racial slurs – that they would not be able to get away with had they printed those exact same words in their own language – supposedly as terms of endearment. I hope Eva sits down with a copy of _Malibu’s Most Wanted_ over the weekend. (I would have suggested bell hooks, I just don’t think it’s up her alley.)

  5. 

    [please delete the previous comment, that was the wrong account! Someone used this computer before me without logging out.]

    Like I said on another blog, had Jackie printed the same words in Dutch instead of English- “Rihanna is een nikker hoer met een Bijlmer reet” – you can rest assured the article would have been frowned upon, had it even been published. I can assure you the Dutch word “nikker” is frowned upon and unacceptable in everyday use. From what I have seen and heard, black kids in Amsterdam who are into street-culture call eachother “brodder”, a combitation of the Dutch “broeder” and the English “brother”; they do not call each other “nikker”. The only time I’ve ever heard someone use that term in Amsterdam was a Moroccan guy, who looked like Ali G with braces, talking to his friend.

    Jackie exploited foreign slang terms to print something they would have never gotten away with had they printed it in their own tongue. The appropriation of foreign words was a convenient way for the Jackie crew to put themselves at a distance from what they are saying. To give you another example of this mechanism at work, I’ve had Dutch people tell me they cannot watch porn in their own language and prefer to watch American porn because Dutch porn is just “too close to home” for them.

    That said, I do not like Rihanna, or her crass commercial music and style, and I wholeheartedly support black and white feminist women’s right to criticize Rihanna for capitulating to what are debilitating sexist and racist stereotypes of black women as sexually insatiable for the sake of her career. I definitely do NOT support white people in the Netherlands using racial slurs – that they would not be able to get away with had they printed those exact same words in their own language – supposedly as terms of endearment. I hope Eva sits down with a copy of _Malibu’s Most Wanted_ over the weekend. (I would have suggested bell hooks, I just don’t think it’s up her alley.)

    • 

      I think I read your comments on another site, Mtex and I find it interesting. The use of American terms and imagery to convey ideas that the Dutch would not otherwise express in their own language is fascinating and again, something that perhaps non- Dutch people would not understand. Though the circumstances are a little extreme, I think this is a “teachable moment” for both Americans and those in the Netherlands to examine the use of language, race and representations in both of our countries and talk it out.

      I read on another blog that the words were used to describe a provocative style of dress. Again, I have never heard “niggabitch” ever used in that way before here in the States. Here we would just say, (excuse my language) “ho”, “hooker” or just say, “Oh, shes dressed like a hooker”. But to combine two American words to describe a style of dress, doesnt that make it Dutch slang?

      And again, some Dutch commenters I’ve seen cry foul because the words were used to describe a style. They seem to miss the point that the words equate blackness with being sexually revealing. If the words only mean a style of dress, would they have called a scantily clad white person as a “niggabitch”? #Hmmmm

  6. 

    “And again, some Dutch commenters I’ve seen cry foul because the words were used to describe a style.”

    I don’t buy this argument from Dutch people at all. My generation (20-30) grew up with imported Jerry Springer and Rickie Lake shows on Dutch commercial TV (interesting trivia: the imported Springer shows we got here in the Netherlands were unbleepped, but Dutch audiences overwhelmingly preferred the bleeped versions because the bleeps made Jerry Springer more “authentically American” to Dutch audiences.).

    I would guess that almost everyone my age here in the Netherlands knows what the American slang term “hoochie mama” means; we learned this term through Springer and Lake. I wonder whether Rihanna would have taken less offense had Jackie used that term to “describe a style”, as they put it, instead of racial slurs. I think Rihanna would have been equally offended at being described as a “hoochie moma” by a Dutch magazine.

    That just goes to show how fallacious that “oh, it’s just a term to describe a style of dress” argument really is.

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