Talk delivered at “Fostering Mutual Understanding in Diverse Societies: The Importance of Inclusive Media in Preventing Conflicts”

Good afternoon

My name is Marvin Hokstam. I am the editor/publisher of AFRO Magazine.

I started this platform five years ago, to tell the stories of the black community. I hate it and I love it at the same time. I love it because I get to write beautiful stories. I hate it because these are beautiful stories about a marginalized community, that the mainstream media often ignores.

But I started it because not telling these stories, contributes to why people are being marginalized. I believe strongly that when you know someone, when you know his stories and his background, you will not be able to discriminate against him.

I live in a pretty progressive country where people’s opinions only seem to matter as long as they do not go against the opinions of the majority. Free speech is yours when you say what the masses believe.

Take the whole zwarte piet debate for instance. Does everybody know what this is? Every year in December white people play a blackfaced character that is part of “Dutch tradition” (quotation marks). And every year in December, there is this debate about whether black people should feel offended when white people do this offensive thing. We don’t mean to hurt you so you should not feel pain when we hurt you unintentionally … That thing you’re feeling is not pain, because I tell you it isn’t.

This of course has led to racial tensions and violent conflicts, with mass demonstrations and arrests every year. And mainstream journalism, in my opinion has not remained impartial in this.

I know this pales in comparison to major conflicts that have erupted over the years in other countries, but make no mistake: the media has an important role to play in preventing every conflict. Big and small. But often we notice that the media has a blind spot when it concerns minorities.

Which is why I am happy with this event today. I am thrilled that I have been asked to moderate, which is not really my forte, but I plough on because I believe this to be an important topic.

As a black journalist, I could tell you at least five stories right now about my own experience with exclusion in Dutch journalism. Where it has led to misrepresentation. But I want to leave it at this for now, to give way for the presentations by our panelists.

As I indicated before, we’re here to discuss how to Foster Mutual Understanding in Diverse Societies. I find it interesting, because while we’re seeing a rise of right-wing ideologies, research has predicted for the Netherlands for instance that by 2030 people with a migrant background will account for 56 percent of the population of Amsterdam. 35 percent of the children in large city will be of non western background. I just thought I’d leave this here, because it’s a reality the Dutch media should be more aware of … are they prepared for an inevitable future? Which is what we will be talking about.

The OSCE drafted the Tallin guideline on National Minorities and the Media in the Digital Age.

Before I moved here in 2012 I worked in the Caribbean, as a journalist for regional and international papers. We never concerned ourselves with inclusivity. Because when nobody is dominant, everybody is included.

I found that things work differently over here. It was almost like my people didn’t exist. Black people’s stories and stories of other minorities only seemed to matter when they concerned celebrities or criminals.

When I tell this story, it always baffles me that people tell me that I’m exaggerating. Just in case you also thought that doesn’t happen, I got a story for you:

Two years ago a friend of mine was getting this major position with a big organisation, to deal with inclusivity in the Netherlands. She was gonna be the first black woman to have that position, so the organisation hired me to write a press release. She wanted a black journalist, because she rightfully felt that a black journalist could tell her story best.

So I sent the press release to one of the mainstream newspapers and the Editor in Chief responded: ‘we’re not gonna publish it because you’re too close to the subject matter”.

OOOHHHH I was furious!

So I wrote him back.

“if as a black journalist, I am considered too close to the subject because it concerns a black woman who will deal with black issues, then you should fire all your white journalists because every other subject they write about daily is a white subject.”

Then he offered me a job

I could go on and tell you at least five of these types of stories. But I will stick to this one, because it perfectly illustrates why we are here today.

This editor realized his blind spot and offered me a position to help shine some light on it. He knew he could do better and he did.

I am a huge fan of Game of Thrones. I was watching the series finale last night and smiled when I heard Tyrion Lannister say “What unites people? Stories!” I think we can all agree that allowing everybody’s stories to be told will be a huge step forward. More media inclusivity and less exclusivity.