A book has been written to tackle the thorny issue of racism in modern Danish society. I am given to understand that publishing a book, as opposed to publishing in a peer reviewed journal, shows the work is weak. How would I know? I have not read it. I just read the promotional material which generated the headlines “You’re not racist, after all” . I wrote this in response as part of my freelancing gig with Copenhagen Post. I only get 700 words, so I did not touch the question itself.
Obviously, and I should not have to say this but I will anyway, you cannot say “the Danes are” most anything and have a 100% hit rate. Even in a small population who puts great stock in conformity, you are not able to stereotype an entire country. Not with high confidence levels.
So, no, “the Danes” are not racist. However. There is a problem in Denmark because so much racist behaviour is condoned, institutionalised and accepted.
Not that Denmark differs from most of the rest of the world in that. As climate change and capitalist imperialism causes conflict and displacement, rich countries are finding more and more reasons to batten down the hatches. It’s because “their” culture is barbaric, it’s because “they” are like that, it’s because blah blah. People do not like to share and they fear change.
Where Denmark differs, is that people outside of Denmark think Danes are tolerant and groovy. Individual Danes tend to have that same self-image.
Then the foreigners come and say “Oh wow, that’s racist.” and all hell breaks loose.
How can that be racist, if I am not racist?
Here are some stats that prove nothing but I find interesting, nevertheless. WordPress log the search terms you use to find me. The most popular search terms are variants on “adventures and japes”, that is, most people search directly to find this website. The second most popular is any variant on “Danes are rude”. The third most popular is “Danes are racist”.
People are entering “why are Danes racist?” into google. In extraordinary numbers, considering how many come to me to find out why. (I don’t know! Are they?)
So, what? Why are people searching the internet for websites that tackle Danish racism? If you write “are — ” where — is a name of a European people, the next word that comes up in the auto-complete is usually “racist”. There is a big problem in Europe.
In Denmark, where I live and am talking about, the racism is unapologetic, unguarded, unpolished. Back home, racism is usually more sneaky and careful. In Denmark, it’s like dealing with an adolescent who has met their first black person. The sheer amount of blackface I have to deal with here is unprecedented.
Not only that but much of the racism is built into public discourse. The media, the state, a lot of what they do and say with regards to non-whites/non-danes is based on prejudice. Most of the problem stems from not realising that people with a different culture/skin tone/whathaveyou are just folks. Just not appreciating that we are real human beings too. We get put into blocs and dehumanised. From this, comes discriminatory actions. Look at DR and some of the tabloids. News stories about “foreigners” are almost always negative, stories about negative things are regularly traced back to foreigners. And thusly, the connection is secured. Not that the news is trying to brainwash the populace, brainwashed people write the news.
My favourite episode of Borgen season 3 so far was (if you absolutely must not know what happens, then see you next time, that is all I am going to talk about from now on), when a group of politicos are trying to choose a spokesperson for immigration issues.
They ask a white guy with a black wife but he says he would rather not. They decide they need an immigrant and so someone suggests a Greenlander. Then they say, no not that sort of foreigner, we need a Muslim, so an Indonesian is suggested because it is the country with the most Muslims. No, not Indonesians, they’re too close to Japanese and Chinese and the associations are “business”. Africans are dismissed out of hand. They want an “Arab”. They reject a Muslim for wearing a headscarf. Then they reject someone with a Persian neck tattoo and then they get a nice Muslim lady with hair and she turns out to be a raging racist, so they roll up their sleeves and give the job to a ginger. These guys do not get in trouble for their recruitment process but later an employer gets into real deep shit for saying someone was like a “Pakistani doomsday prophet”.
The writing is wonderful, in that they were able to capture exactly what the problem is in Denmark with some cheeky and knowing dialogue. “How about my friend from Greenland…” is very very clever, as is the reaction to the neck tattoo. And the way their preferred nice well educated “liberated” Muslim woman is not interested in immigration issues beyond “keep ‘em OUT!” that was sublime!
Well-meaning people in politics do racism because “the people” are not ready for them to do any different. People in politics are incapable of giving someone a job on their own merits. They must fit a good immigrant image exactly or be white. People do not get in trouble if they cover their tracks when they discriminate but they get in real trouble for saying the wrong words. “Real” immigrants are Muslim Arabs. Headscarves are a make-or-break issue.
Though, I worry that the people watching Borgen will not get it was a clever satire on the state of race relations in Denmark. And then I worry the writers were not writing a satire, they just wrote what actually happens without trying to point out the ridiculousness of it because they do not realise it is ridiculous. (But then, the writing would not have been so good. I am just so used to the media dumbing everything down for consumption. I do not know what to think anymore.)
My take is that the politicians and media could treat the Danes with a lot more respect. They could trust them to see a woman in a headscarf and not lose their shit, they could trust them to understand complex issues, they could trust them to vote for them without whipping up fear about immigration.
I think the media of Denmark underestimate the Danish people far too much. They may have weird ideas about race and culture but they are not beyond help! Much like everywhere else in the world, as we become more globalised, we need to work on our natural tendency to be racist. And our media and our politicians are critical to this process. It is make or break.
So, my answer, is “no, the Danes are not racist”.
But (you knew a “but” was coming, right?)
But, a lot of what passes for common knowledge and common sense is racist and it would be a great opportunity to examine that so we can move forward together as a nation.