‘Ruskeat Tytöt’ as an alternative / minority media
Processes of globalization and individualization increasingly “challenge old (citizenship) boundaries and produce new frameworks within which identities are shaped in relation to constant flows of information, diaspora and transnationalism” (Verkuyten, 2018, p. 268). As a result, people are being left behind with a feeling of uncertainty (ibid.) – particularly in relation to their own identity.
That is one of the reasons why alternative media such as the Finnish media company Ruskeat Tytöt (=Brown Girls) gain in social importance. The self-proclaimed “institutionally nonaligned, politically and religiously independent, non-profit organization for Brown People by Brown People” (Ruskeat Tytöt, 2017) grew from a blog and essay collection run by Koko Hubara to a multimedia company in 2017. Currently, it “represents one of the most important channels for racialized minority feminists in Finland” (Keskinen, 2018, p. 159). The organization can be seen as a great example of how ethnicity structures relationships on “national and local levels, in institutions and in everyday interactions, and it has become important to many people’s sense of themselves” (Verkuyten, 2018, p. 268).
From an analytical point of view, in this short essay I will therefore examine and discuss the company’s role for minority members sense of identity and belonging as well as its increased popularity within minority communities. Not only in the context of this course, but particularly with regard to societal concerns about “the meanings, experiences and politics surrounding ethnic and related (national, religious, racial) identities” (Verkuyten, 2018, p. 268), this is a highly relevant analysis. However, the essay does not aim for general validity, but for clarification in the case of Ruskeat Tytöt.
In the following, I will shortly define key notions and present theoretical approaches and perspectives needed to underline my reflections. For this purpose, I will rely on Social Identity Theory as well as the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Based on that, a further discussion of the case will constitute the main part of this essay. A short summary of the main points as well as the underlying grounds of my reflection will conclude this argumentation.
2. Key notions and theoretical approaches
Before analyzing the reasons behind the company’s importance for minority communities as well as its increased popularity within these groups, it is necessary to both define key notions and present theoretical approaches and perspectives as a starting point for further discussions. To understand why Ruskeat Tytöt plays an important role for minority members’ sense of belonging, I will – from a social psychological point of view –primarily focus on the concept of Social Identity. According to Henri Tajfel (1981, p. 255) social identity is defined as “that part of the individuals’ self-concept which derives from their knowledge of their membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance of that membership”. Gender, age and ethnic background for instance can serve as categories, which are able to form such groups (Verkuyten, 2018, p. 79). It is assumed, that members of a group share certain attributes (Hogg, Abrams and Brewer, 2017, p. 571), which differentiate them from other people.
As Tajfel (1982, p. 2) further claims, identification derives from three different components, which can be described as cognitive, evaluative and emotional. The first component includes an awareness of membership (=knowledge), the second refers to value connotations which are connected to the membership and the last component “consists of an emotional investment in the awareness and evaluations” (ibid.). The importance of belonging to a certain group can be explained with needs for inclusion and distinctiveness at the same time – two conflicting motives, which drive human beings by nature (Hogg, Abrams and Brewer, 2017, p. 573). Hence, “in conditions of salient intergroup categorization, groups will tend to work harder at establishing their distinctiveness from […] outgroups” (Tajfel, 1982, p. 25), which brings us to the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations.
This research field is highly related to the Theory of Social Identity as the tendency towards ingroup favoring behavior is “determined by the need to preserve or achieve a ‘positive group distinctiveness’ which in turn serves to protect, enhance, preserve, or achieve a positive social identity” (Tajfel, 1982, p. 24). In order to obtain their social identity, people consciously look for reliable and trustworthy information about the group’s identity (Hogg, Abrams and Brewer, 2017, p. 573). If one follows Hogg, Abrams and Brewer’s (2017, p. 573) argumentation, this information is typically provided by so-called “prototypical leaders”, whose actions – in the eyes of other group members – are considered as trustworthy and in the best interests of the community. The authors further note that in consequence, “members turn to them as reliable and legitimate sources of information about the group’s identity and attributes of membership” (ibid.).
Throughout this essay, I will hypothesize that media – and particularly alternative (minority) media like Ruskeat Tytöt – can function as “prototypical leaders”. Bailey, Cammaert and Carpentier (2008, p. 18) highlight the importance of alternative media for minority members’ sense of identity and belonging as they proceed to describe them as mostly “small-scale and oriented towards specific communities, possibly disadvantaged groups”. Those groups might easily feel neglected, as “national identity [in Finland] […] [is] built on welfare state, gender equality and white Western-ness” (Keskinen, 2018, p. 157). Furthermore, the centrality and power of traditional public service broadcasters – like Yle – are typical features of the Finnish media landscape, which is why alternative spaces are gaining in importance (Bailey, Cammaert and Carpentier, 2018, xi). This is especially applicable to minorities, which – according to Gross (1998, p. 78) – “share a common media fate of relative invisibility and demeaning stereotypes”.
3. Ruskeat Tytöt’s importance for minorities’ sense of belonging
In the following, I will examine and discuss the company’s role for minority members sense of identity and belonging as well as its increased popularity within minority communities. In a first step, I will analyze whether and to which extent Ruskeat Tytöt can protect, enhance, preserve, or achieve a positive social identity for its target group(s), relying on the Theory of Social Identity by Henri Tajel (1982). Further, it is necessary to discuss the media company’s impact on intragroup cohesion and intergroup relations, again using Tajfel’s (1982) Theory of Social Identity and the Social Psychology of Intergroup relations.
According to Hogg, Abrams and Brewer (2017, p. 571) members of a social ingroup share certain attributes, which indicate their belonging and differentiate them from outgroups. In the case of Ruskeat Tytöt this is applicable to all people who are being racialized. As the organization remarks, in the Finnish context this includes all “people who are viewed […] as non-white and/or non-Finnish eg. the Same, the Roma and people of African, Arab, Asian descent, who are considered brown or people of colour” (Ruskeat Tytöt, 2017) as well as Estonian and Russian people. Even though people’s ethnical backgrounds vary widely within the company’s target group, they are deemed one social category due to their minority status within Finnish society. As Ruskeat Tytöt points out, minorities’ inadequate representation within media reports primarily is related to the concept of intersectionality. Hence, the organization strives to “increase and broaden the historically narrow representation of brown people in Finnish media [and to] normalize narratives about people of color” (Ruskeat Tytöt, 2017). In doing so, the organization contributes to a “more inclusive and norm-critical culture” (ibid.), which serves for the empowerment of people who are being racialized in the Finnish context by giving them a voice. Provided that an individual acknowledges his or her belonging to one of the minority groups Ruskeat Tytöt is addressing, the provided content might have a positive impact on value connotations and emotions regarding the individual’s self-conception.
As Suvi Keskinen (2018, p. 158) further claims, in Finland “racial identities are not used in official categorisations, as the state policies are based on colourblind universalism”, which creates needs for both inclusion and distinctiveness at the same time. On its website, Ruskeat Tytöt states that the organization therefore aims to “report and analyze what it means to be Finnish and of color in the 21st century” (Ruskeat Tytöt, 2017). In doing so, the company conveys minority-specific attributes like not being white and/or not being Finnish as well as minority members’ cultural diversity. It is questionable if this is always successful, especially when keeping the variety of ethnical backgrounds within the company’s target group in mind. Nevertheless, Ruskeat Tytöt allows minorities to not only identify with the content provided but also to strengthen their social identity.
Moreover, the company serves as some kind of “prototypical leader” as members perceive it “as [a] reliable and legitimate source[s] of information about the group’s identity and attributes of membership” (Hogg, Abrams and Brewer, 2017, p. 573). This effect is even reinforced by the company’s terms of employment. On its website, Ruskeat Tytöt refers to oneself as an “organization for Brown People by Brown people” (Ruskeat Tytöt, 2017). As Finnish journalists of color have the opportunity to realize their own projects and share their experiences of what it means to belong to a minority community in the Finnish context (ibid.), the organization assumes the function of an empowering platform for marginalized professionals. It can be assumed that the company’s media reports – at least in the eyes of minority groups – thus are considered as trustworthy and in the best interests of the community, as the editors share the same attributes and therefore belong to the same social category as their audience.
Eventually, both the emergence and expansion of Ruskeat Tytöt from a personal blog to a multimedia company underline its significant role for minority members sense of identity and belonging as well as its increased popularity within minority communities – especially when keeping in mind that demand determines supply. According to the company’s own information, since 2017 it has “produced and published pioneering media and shared […] learnings through diverse collaborations and […] [its] own writing school” (Ruskeat Tytöt, 2017).
In this context, the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations plays an important role in assessing the extent to which Ruskeat Tytöt can protect, enhance, preserve, or achieve a positive social identity. As mentioned in the theoretical part of this essay, “in conditions of salient intergroup categorization, groups will tend to work harder at establishing their distinctiveness from […] outgroups” (Tajfel, 1982, p. 25). In the case of Ruskeat Tytöt, ethnical terms of employment as well as reports “addressing structural aspects or racial hierarchies and their entwinement with gender and sexuality” (Keskinen, 2018, p. 162) suggest an unambiguous demarcation from both other media companies and the mainstream audience. This very likely creates a tendency towards ingroup favoring, which stems from a “positive group distinctiveness” (Tajfel, 1982, p. 24). In so doing, Ruskeat Tytöt makes an important contribution to minority members’ social identity. As Finland is a country with a relatively low share of minority groups (Keskinen, 2018, p. 157), the company takes up a significant position not only within the media landscape, but also within society as a whole.
In conclusion, Ruskeat Tytöt plays a significant role in relation to minority members’ sense of identity and belonging. With an increasing popularity among people who are being racialized in the Finnish context, the blog and essay collection successfully expanded to a multimedia company in 2017. Relying on both the Theory of Social Identity and the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, this short essay suggests a probable positive effect of the company’s content provided and its overall mission statement on minority members’ social identity as well as processes of ingroup favoring behavior and positive group distinctiveness.
In the course of this essay, the Theory of Social Identity and the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations proved to be useful for examining the organization’s societal importance. However, it has to be noted that identity formation and consolidation processes are much more complex than they are presented in this analysis and contain more promoting factors. Hence, further research in this scientific field should for instance also take the “diversity of social comparison” (Verkuyten, 2018, p. 272) into account, which includes “flexible definitions of in-groups and out-groups, important within-group differences, and the central role of members of one’s own ethnic group or co-ethnics” (ibid.).
Jana Erthel is a student of media and communication studies, with a minor in political science, at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. As a prospective journalist she is delighted by the variety of blogs run by several research groups and academics at the University of Helsinki. For Jana, examining Ruskeat Tytöt’s importance for minority member’s sense of identity and belonging was an eye-opening experience, especially in relation to her career aspirations and the responsibilities linked to the representation of minority groups.
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