Freedom of Speech (unless we don’t want to hear it)

Tendai Tagarira, a poet who was granted political asylum in Denmark after criticising Robert Mugabe, settled in Aarhus. Before leaving Zimbabwe, he had a bad collision on his motorcycle, after the brakes were tampered with. He was made a sort of poet in residence as part of being a refugee and then the money ran out and then he became a refugee under the usual rules. His case has been mishandled a lot, mistakes have been made A LOT. He has suffered because of these mistakes, like the month where he had no money at all because his caseworker made a mistake.

He writes bits for the Copenhagen Post, gives talks and so on. This is, in the Danish system, a “B income”. He also runs an excellent website called “Aarhus Culture“, which he started as a reaction to being refused entry to a bar because he is black.

This website has all sorts of different articles about Aarhus and has a wide readership. It is growing but it is in a very early stage of development. The Integration Department for Aarhus said that he could run this website as part of his integration contract, after support from the mayor.

He writes one article critical of the Integration Department and THE NEXT DAY, they contact him to say that he can no longer run the website while he is on kontanthjælp. They say it is because kontanthjælp is for getting people to be self sufficient as soon as possible and that he cannot support himself with the income from the website right now.

He had an hour long meeting with Lene Brink of the Integration Department. She interrupts him a lot, she repeats herself and never lets him finish his points. She takes advantage of technical difficulties at the start to push the agenda from a presentation about his project to an attack. She responds to him before the interpreter is finished, almost as if she does not need an interpreter. She speaks in English at some points before she remembers herself, she works through an interpreter the rest of the time. She speaks in long paragraphs, so the interpreter must simultaneously translate, the effect is very confusing. It is supposed to be. She uses the Danish language as a weapon, in this way. She can interrupt in stereo. She often says “You should be listening to what I say,” and “Can I finish,” and “If I can just say,” as if he is interrupting her. She talks to him like a child about “respect” when he interrupts her towards the end.

She feels superior to him. You simply do not interrupt people you feel equal (or inferior), to. Why on earth does she feel superior to a famous poet, published author with a background in law and finance who is running a much more successful website about integration than her department is able to make?

She accuses him of making threats when he makes the reasonable point that the way Denmark treats African refugees will come back to haunt them, when they want to do trade with African countries. Denmark needs people like Tendai, not just because he contributes to Denmark’s culture but because Denmark will need help understanding how to do business in African nations. Interpreting “if you treat me with disrespect, I will not stay in your country and you need people like me,” as a threat, is indicative of her attitude towards Tendai in particular (and African men in general, probably, since she cannot know Tendai individually all that well).

His choice, as she tells it, is that he can either run the website without kontanthjælp (which will make him homeless) or he can stop running the website and receive kontanthjælp. He makes it clear that her threats to cut him off do not scare him. She tries to make out that it is “his” decision not to receive kontanthjælp by continuing to work on the the website.

His reading of the law is that as part of his integration contract, Aarhus should be helping him run this website.

Her reading of the law is that he should not be running websites for integration into Danish society when he could be applying for jobs in supermarkets.

He would do manual labour if he could. He can’t. He was badly injured when his brakes were cut in Zimbabwe. He is trying to create a business that will support him financially, using the skill set he has developed over many years. He is close to being self-sustaining, working on this projects. The Integration Department of Aarhus would prefer he be close to being self-sustaining, by doing nothing but apply for jobs.

This is the reality of “integration” of refugees in Denmark. You can come for political asylum for criticising your own country, as long as you don’t get uppity and use free speech to criticise Denmark. You can live here, as long as you work stacking shelves and not as a professional or equal. You must exist as supplicant. Grateful. Humble. But above all. Silent.

There is a petition you can sign, if you feel the same as I do.

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.

If it ain’t about you…

My boyfriend bought a tv and arranged for cable to be hooked up to it. So, now I have tv and cable. One of the new features is a bit like iplayer but for DR, where you can watch popular Danish tv programmes whenever you want. Imagine the possibilities!

One series you can watch is called Verdens Bedste (The World’s Best) and is about the culture of Denmark, seen through outsiders’ eyes. It is introduced thusly (I may be paraphrasing, I didn’t transcribe and I caught it a few days ago):

“Welcome to Verdens Bedste where we talk to people living in the world’s best country.”

The episode I caught was about how well Danes take criticism.

They had a Hungarian who had been in Denmark for a million years and a Norwegian who spoke Norwegian but I don’t know if that means he was fresh off the boat or just bloody minded. He got subtitles but the people he was talking to didn’t seem to need them.

Anyway. The Hungarian said “Danes are great at taking criticism as part of a community debate. You can argue and criticise as much as you like in situations such as elections but as soon as they are removed from others, they cannot take it. You cannot as much as say ‘I think your interior decorating could be improved in the following ways’ without causing a major international incident.” (alright, I’m REALLY paraphrasing now)

The Norwegian said “I think also they can’t take it when it comes from a foreigner….for reasons that will be forgotten by the blogger reporting on this episode.”

And then even though it was interesting, I stopped watching it because the Dane interviewing them looked more and more uncomfortable like he was going to explode and I couldn’t watch anymore. It was awkward-funny like in The Office. I know I will return to the episode another time. I know I will.

I know it is true, what they are saying. There are plenty of Danes who will listen calmly and reasonably to any level of constructive criticism and even to baseless whining. They will listen, they may agree, they may disagree. But there is a school of thought that goes

“Shut up shut up shut up. Lalalala. I’m not listening!”

Obviously, I am used to fielding such responses from these mindless gonks. I now have the “pleasure” of watching the same conversations play out on repeat on other sites, not least the Copenhagen Post. (An opinion piece that went viral about a study showing a pedagogue being racist to children under the cover of “healthy eating” advice has been attacked by dandroidic numbnuts.)

There are maybe a dozen main thrusts of “argument” in the case where the mothership has been insulted.

1) You are biased (when you express an opinion. I am objective when I do the same.)

2) You should be grateful. (For all that DK has given you)

3) It is worse in any number of countries

4) Other things, unmentioned by you, are worse in YOUR country. HA!

5) You don’t know all the facts, you are selectively reporting the facts you do know

6) You are anonymous, this invalidates what you have to say/I know something about you which invalidates what you have to say

7) No one is forcing you to stay in the country. Leave

8) You have got the intentions of the person/people you are talking about wrong, I, without any extra knowledge of the situation (e.g. being that actual person), have got the intentions of the person right

9) It has to be that way because of reasons. Oh you want to KNOW what the reasons are? Um. Well they just exist.

Ok, I can’t make it to a dozen. I am sure I am missing some classics.

What is the worst thing about Denmark, and bear in mind I have been poisoned with mercury, shouted at by a sarcastic doctor during a medical emergency and it is PISSING it down and has been all day and is going to all week, the worst thing about living here are these depressing arguments.

What is more depressing, so this is building up like some sort of layer cake now, is that the people who use these arguments are upset. If someone says something like “A study showed a pedagogue was racist all year,” you do NOT (note the capitals, those are for emphasis), take it personally. Unless  you are the racist pedagogue, obvs. If someone says, “I don’t like it when people imply I am retarded because I speak Danish with an accent,” you must NOT get all riled up and tell them to move countries. If someone says, “It is distressing that Denmark deports children without their parents,” it’s NOT the time to point fingers because your face is starting to get hot and you want the other person to feel defensive too.

Fuck ME, dandroids. Get some better material, you losers! Seriously. It’s like these people had their brains wiped and replaced with some bullshit generator. And CALM DOWN, no one is saying YOU are a penis. They are saying someone in your country is a penis. No one is saying that YOU are racist. They are saying your system is racist.

Yes, I know, there are some fucking idiots in my country and they are derivative and unoriginal. But at least they’re not in positions of responsibility. That sort are nicely siphoned off into areas where they can cause the least amount of harm, like message boards. But in Denmark, for every five wankers I “meet” online, I meet one in real life and when it happens seems to be totally at random. It could be a friend of a friend. It could be a colleague. It could be … no, wait, those are pretty much the only Danes I meet who fit this bill. So. They’re from one of those two areas.

The reason I am with my boyfriend, even though he forced me to get a tv, is that when he is wrong he is also original and/or he has thought about what he is going to say. We rarely agree on anything when we have a debate but I value that he has a brain and he uses it. He is also respectful of difference and does not go for any cheap shots.

That is all we are asking, Dandroids, that you listen, have a think and then respond with respect even if it hurt your iddy biddy feelings that someone did not like every single thing about your countwy.

Racism in the Danish Press

A new report has highlighted racism in Danish society. One of the problems they point out is that the media promotes racism.

With the report stating that “some media have continued to portray minority groups, in particular Muslims and Roma in a negative light,” Jacob Machangama from libertarian think-tank Cepos, argued that the reports findings are biased.

“It’s a deeply biased view that Danish media promotes racial discrimination,” Machangama told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “There is no justification for it. If you spoke to the chairman of [the journalists’ union] Dansk Journalistforbundyou would probably get a different point of view.”

Taken from the Copenhagen Post (by Peter Stanners)

Report finds immigrants suffer discrimination

Let’s take that point slowly, shall we, because it’s a good one. Cepos say if you ASK the chairman of the Danish journalist union “Is some of the Danish media racist”,  you would get the answer ‘no’.

The report compiled by an international group from the Council of Europe found the answer ‘yes’ by taking reports from at least two independent sources. As we all know, the answer between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is ‘sometimes’, so the “right” “unbiased” answer should be ‘sometimes’.

You have got to be fucking kidding me. What on EARTH aren’t they teaching them at schools these days?

Halfway between a lie and the truth isn’t also the truth. If at least two independent sources are saying that some of the Danish media is racist, polling the Danish media yourself isn’t going to get the bottom of the matter.

Well, just for comparison’s sake, here’s what a Danish newspaper (Jyllands Posten) allowed an extreme-right politician write in their online paper.

What the hell are 16 943 Somalians even doing in Denmark?

by Søren Espersen

It suddenly hit me this morning when I read a story about some systematic tax evasion by a group of Somalians: in Jyllands-Posten: What the Hell are 16 943 Somalians even doing in Denmark…?

It wasn’t so much that a group of them had cheated their taxes, that’s something that even Danes excel in, nah, it was more about what are 16 943 Somalians doing in Denmark instead of being home in Somalia because of the Jyllands Posten’s side story next to the big story on tax.

In the article: “Somalians are the least well integrated in Denmark” it was reported that the Somali community in Denmark is a total parallel society, made up of people who are completely isolated from the surrounding country and where families and clans rule. An expert from Roskilde University Shahamak Rezael said to the paper that it is basically about how migrant families place their loyalty in as much as “it looks like they think more about me-and-mine and in that way live in a parallel existence”.

The paper reveals that Somalians are completely divorced from other immigrant groups by having a large systematic money collection universe from which millions of kroner every year, via Dubai, are sent to clans in Somalia. The expert from Roskilde said in this connection that this trade is to underline that the Somalian’s loyalty is limited to their network back home.

Jyllands-Posten tells us further that the Somalians do extremely poorly in the labour market and they isolate themselves in ghettos, where they can continue their Somalian life, completely without connection to us others.

For me, who has read Aayan Hirsi-Ali’s books and has interviewed the strong and brave women, amongst other things about this peculiar Somalian world, the Jyllands-Posten article with this shocking information makes me wonder.

  • I wonder why we even have Somalian residents in this country, when they don’t have the least interest in Denmark or in the Danish people.
  • I am surprised that Denmark entertains and supports a giant group of people who only have contempt for us and our way of life.
  • I wonder why the Somalians don’t just go home when all their life, journeys, thoughts, language -and work in general – is in Somalia.
  • Yes, I wonder what the hell 16 943 Somalians are even doing in Denmark.
Yours Faithfully

Søren Espersen