Ruskeat Tytöt - A Year of Firsts
On Nov 9th of 2016 Koko Hubara, the Editor-in-Chief of Ruskeat Tytöt which was then just her personal blog and not yet an online media and writing school, invited a group of writers, artists and other creatives to my workshop in downtown Helsinki.
It was the day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and I felt devastated. Nonetheless, the meeting was about to begin, and my studio was full of brown people of various ages, sizes and sexualities. The dress code was accidentally, uncoordinatedly black, and the visual of our collective aesthetic gave the meeting a revolutionary vibe. We were finally about to meet face-to-face for the first time.
Each of us were there because of an unheard-of pitch Ms. Hubara had: she wanted to create an online media source for people of color by people of color in Finland. This platform, while focusing on society, culture and arts (among other topics), would cater to all the people who are disproportionately represented in the Finnish media landscape. The aim was to begin the process of normalizing representations of and challenging the narratives told about people of color in the Finnish media landscape which is predominantly white and in many ways stereotypical in its approaches to our lived experiences.
According to a report published by the EU agency European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in December 2017, Finland is one of the most racially discriminating countries in all of Europe, especially towards people from sub-Saharan African countries. When discussing racism in Finland, we also tend to focus on the feelings of white people and not of the subjects of racist attitudes and social structures as reported by researcher Minja Koskela of Helsinki University’s Department of Arts in April 2018. It’s crucial to understand that regardless of the important social commentary we present, Ruskeat Tytöt’s sole purpose is not to exist as an antithesis for whiteness and racist structures. Based on the theory of intersectional feminism, we strive to normalize non-white, non-cis-male people by recognizing the various factors (eg. race, gender, sexuality and class) that intersect in people’s lives, affecting their chances to be heard and seen. Mind you, the intersectional approach is not a competition of who has it the worst. It merely suggests that we consider the multiple layers of experiences one person can have in their lives and how their privileges and disadvantages work with other people’s privileges and disadvantages.
While the public discourse of representation and racism in Finland is taking its first baby steps towards a credible, nuanced understanding of the matter, there is still much to do. The discussion culture of it is still young and Ruskeat Tytöt is devoted to cultivating and modifying it. While doing so, we’re never saying, “this isn’t for you.”, we’re simply saying that “sometimes, it’s not about you.”
When Ms. Hubara originally contacted me earlier that fall, she told me she wanted to develop her popular blog into something bigger. Most importantly, she wanted to make it more impactful and organized than just a content hub. She figured she needed to sell some merchandise to finance this idea and thus decided to contact me, as I was studying fashion and had my own accessory label. The merchandise I would create would be available in an online shop as part of RT, and not only would the items help raise funds for the organization, but they would also raise awareness for our mission. What started with just her, myself and RT’s Art Director, visual artist Caroline Suinner chatting about our dreams in a Facebook messenger group, soon grew into an assortment of thirty or so professional individuals, all eager to contribute to the media in one way or another. And on March 3rd of 2017, ruskeattytot.fi opened. It is the first ever media created and owned by people of color in all of Finland’s history, and Ms. Hubara is the first ever Editor-in-Chief of color in Finland.
During its first year, Ruskeat Tytöt published 93 articles, videos and podcasts. All precious little gems on a crown we are finally able to set on our heads. It’s funny how you don’t know how much you need something until you finally have it. Nowhere else could you find beauty and fashion stories like our tutorials for black hair , introductions of skin products meant for brown skin and our series about new and upcoming non-white models called Mallikansalaine (Model Citizen). Or how about a thought piece on the presidential elections from a non-white point of view, or what to see at Afropunk Festival London? Ready to roll up your sleeves and dig deeper? Have at it with our in-depth analyses of why we usually only see art made by white people (especially when it depicts people of color) or how people of color appear in Finnish marketing solely as racist stereotypes or as tokens of tolerance.
These and dozens of other written stories are not the only things we have done. Our first-of-its-kind podcast series focuses on the history of Afrofinns and the relationship of black culture, black people and Finland. We created everything from short documentary series of young and upcoming artists to bi-monthly Spotify playlists. We’ve arranged spoken word nights, female entrepreneur panel discussions and R&B parties, all of which also served as safe spaces for the people we aim to represent. We even arranged an event for people of color during Helsinki Pride 2017, the first ever such event in its history! With these said, perhaps our most notable accomplishment outside of published written content is RT LIT AKATEMIA, a writing school for brown girls and non-binary young people, opening in May. The school was made possible by coalition of foundations (Koneen säätiö, Suomen Kulttuurirahasto, and Jenny ja Antti Wihurin rahasto) as part of Vuosisadan rakentajat (Builders of the Century), a program financing new and unique projects during the centennial celebration year of Finland in 2017. This year, we have also begun to create content in languages other than Finnish.
I often reflect on that first meeting we had the day after the presidential election of my second home country. As emotionally crushed as I was, I found enormous strength and courage in the people who showed up that day. Never could I have guessed how many “firsts” we could fit in our first year, and I’m sure Ms. Hubara would agree. I’m grateful to be working with so many amazing individuals doing groundbreaking work in the Finnish media scene. I’m hoping that year after year we’ll have less and less “firsts” as we push our country towards a day when a media source like Ruskeat Tytöt is as widely recognized and respected as our traditional media, and all Finnish media looks like us. After all, what we represent should be the default, the standard, the norm.