Are the Danes racist?

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.

11 thoughts on “Are the Danes racist?

  1. Thanks fro the very accurate articulation of racism in Denmark. In 1996, I wrote a book in Danish for educational institutions. It was titled: I am not a racist but—. In this book, I tried to explain to the Danish audiences that what they understand with the word Racism is very outdated and the time has come to look at common day discrimination based on ethnicity, race, culture and religion. Even more dangerous was the institutionalized racism or structural racism.
    It should betaken into consideration that toady, Danish and western racism has moved from colour, ethnicity or race to culture and religion.
    As far as the recent book on Danes not being racist, one of the authors, Memet Umit Necef is well known for demonizing the ethnic minorities for years to promote his own academic career. He is what I describe an Uncle Tom. The book is not a researched one but hearsay document.
    I wish to add, what American Comic star Chris Rock said for people like Memet in his show;” Killing the messenger” in London 2008.
    “ Racism is every where in the world. The only thing which makes me angrier than racism is Black people that are shocked at racism I can not believe that some black person can say that. I wish to scream at such ignorant person and ask him/her, which planet do you live”.

    Bashy Quraishy
    Secretary General – EMISCO -European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion – Strasbourg
    Member – Advisory Board – Migration Research Centre – Hacettepe University – Ankara.Turkey
    Chair-Advisory Council-ENAR – Brussels
    Chair-Jewish Muslim Platform – Brussels
    Mobile; 0045 40 15 47 71
    Phone; 0045 38 88 19 77
    http://www.bashy.dk

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  2. I think the only thing we can do about it is to call people out on it, when we see it. (and of course avoid acting or thinking this way ourselves). At least that’s what I try to do. I try to call people out on it, if they’re expressing racist or homophobic or sexist beliefs. Prejudice is an ugly thing, no matter who it’s against.

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      1. I don’t know. Usually I tell them that it’s not a joke for the people who are targeted. And luckily, I can out-argue most people who insist that racism is common sense. But I think it’s probably easier for me, since I’m danish, so they don’t dismiss me quite so soon, or tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

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      2. Yeah. I do the same. Yay for us, right? Man. I really want to see some structural changes but I just don’t know how they’re going to happen unless I roll up my sleeves. :( I’m so tired and grumpy, excuse me.

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  3. I agree with Astrid on the practical ways to confront the racists. One of the most important tool one has is the gentle confrontation. Whenever, I see, hear or read racist remarks, I right away act by reminding the person saying silly things that it does not become a decent person to be racist. Then I write and refute racist reamrks in the media with logic and argument. I think, most people react in a tame fashion or just look the other way. That is the worst thing, we can do. Be firm, non-violent and calm in confronting the racists.
    Bashy Quraishy

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  4. If you are on the receiving end of it, then surely it’s your assessment that is valid, the way that it has affected you. It is so lame and so usual that the defence is that it’s all a joke and that you have misunderstood the whole thing, deflecting the responsibility for their actions, and passing the buck on to you. I have found that it’s make or break very often, questioning them often results in them being insulted, or at least behaving as though they were. ‘
    I don’t know what the solution is, but I think it’s vital that their often foregone conclusions about us should be confronted, many just don’t think, and just because it’s become acceptable, they follow the crowd.

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    1. I’ve been thinking about that as well. Most Danes really hate to be called out on anything. I was wondering if we appealed to their national pride about themselves by saying things like “It’s so hard for me to understand X, because I know that Denmark is a very enlightened and well-educated country, but…” Think that would work?

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      1. How much time have you got? lol! It would grieve me having to arsehole scrape with compliments in the attempt, think I’d try and diffuse it be asking them what they meant, they don’t like the third degree, what they say, they think – goes…not!

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      2. Yes, that would probably work. i usually say that I’m ashamed of them, because thay give a bad impression and I dont want to be included in the stereotype they are creating about danes. Soemtimes it helps, sometimes they just write me off as a left wing softie. I don’t care. I am one, so I suppose that’s fair enough ;-)

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