Mainstreaming the “Other”

European Tour 2009 078

Prem Radhakishun, former host of PREMtime faces the camers of young people in the Netherlands

Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Prem Radhakishun is a TV celebrity in Holland. Until recently he was the host of PREMtime, a program on Dutch public televison. Being among the few non-white personalities on Dutch TV, outspoken, intelligent, sometimes brash and an immigrant from Suriname, creates a brew that is refreshing but can leave an aftertaste for some people.

 Nonetheless, young people in the Netherlands admire him.  One student wrote in a term paper that “Within the Netherlands there are smaller communities that create borders because of the fear that the Other will corrode their identity. It is these ‘smaller’ borders that PREMtime tries to make explicit, visible, and therefore a subject of discussion, hoping to diminish the fear of the Other and creating a ‘community in difference’. In contrast to many other ‘media-creators’, who put emphasis on the differences in the Netherlands, PREMtime tries to overcome these differences, wants to bring groups of people together, and in doing so make our country a horizontal imagined community.”

Prem no longer has a TV program but he still draws a crowd. He was on full display at a recent conference in Amsterdam that attracted delegates who want to see Dutch media more reflective of the cultural and racial diversity of the Netherlands of today. Many of  the delegates were young people and they mobbed Prem in impromptu scrums.

While moderating a panel discussion, Prem posed the question many minority journalists or film makers ask themselves: “Should I represent my community and our issues or should I be more mainstream”  The provocative question created quite a debate, with differing opinions in the room.

I suggest these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. As the lone minority, for example in a news room, it is tempting to leave yourself behind in order to “fit in”. Yet you are expected to have access to one particular minority community or another, even if you have no authentic connection with that community. On the other hand, certain stories will not get told unless the lone minority suggests it; and then it’s expected that he/she will be the one to tell that story. It is a dilemma many minorities often face in the media.

Of course minority reporters or film makers  should do stories that appeal to as wide an audience as possible. But they should also not be afraid to bring new perspectives and approaches to challenge outdated and false assumptions some people may have of their communities or any other minority community for that matter.

That’s what Prem Radhakishu did on his program in order to create a “horizontal imagined community” in the Netherlands despite his provocative question posed to the conference delegates.

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