We remember a time when the murder of people of African descent was not documented nearly as much as it is today. There was a time when the killings of Black people in the States was not televised, and often it was only when the news media decided for us to know about it. Now, we take matters into our own hands pulling up our smartphones to record or livestream the harassments or killings of Black people to then share it on social media like wildfire. We all heard about the murder of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and this year George Floyd, Ahnaud Marquez Arbery and Breonna Taylor. The problem is not just police brutalities however - it’s also about White people who implicitly decide to kill Black people because they feel entitled or justified to do so, and in many cases they can get away with it with little to no punishment.
When we talk about structural discrimination and anti-Black racism in Denmark, we experience a pattern of denial, delusion and defensiveness. What we think should be an educational opportunity to free the Majority’s mind from the assumption that Denmark is ethnically homogeneous; from the notion that anti-Black racism not only originated outside Denmark but also exists there; and from the assumption that Denmark is so progressive that even the concept of race is deemed irrelevant or indifferent to our society is too often being converted into an unfactual “taste panel” in the news or on social media on e.g. whether or not the n-word is a racist term. This is just one example out of many we can think of where the symptoms of Denmark not fully articulating and understanding its colonial past, and its consequences for the White majority’s self-perception but also for people of African descent born or raised here is showing its ugly face.
We live in a society that still lacks the vocabulary to acknowledge racism and discrimination against people of African descent. At the same time, Denmark suffers from selective amnesia when it comes to their uncomfortable legacy of White supremacy and anti-Black racism. As a result, the remnants of Denmark’s colonial past are making people of African descent suffer on multiple levels. Structurally, some of our Danish politicians are enforcing and implementing certain policies and practices with the aim to control or diminish the lives of people of African descent residing in Denmark. The Danish “ghetto pakken” makes itself particularly noticeable as an example of structural racism due to its economic and political plan to target vulnerable areas with non-white residents. On an institutional level, laws and practices help to reinforce racist standards. As examples, statistics from EU-MIDIS II 2019 show that 30% of people of African descent in Denmark have been treated disrespectfully by the police within a five year range before 2018; that a large proportion of women of African descent in Denmark have lower levels of education compared to their African counterparts in other European countries; and that people of African descent working in Denmark receive less pay for basic job positions compared to their African counterparts in other European countries (EU-MIDIS II, 2019).
These percentages are just some of the quantitative evidence we can find for how racism permeates the institutional level against people of African descent in Denmark. Although these statistics do exist (when looking hard enough after them), they are rarely mentioned or included in the overall debate about everyday racism. Interpersonally, laws and practices from the institutional level are reinforcing racist acts and microaggressions, which are typically allowed to run free whether they are being addressed by people of African descent experiencing them or observed by its White bystanders. Internally, because the subtle and direct actions and messages reinforce the racist undertones (i.e. invisible racism or “everyday racism”), they create negative beliefs as well as self-hatred among minority groups and especially among people of African descent whether born or raised in Denmark.
There is no doubt that in order for us to dismantle and “decolonize”, it is important that Denmark's colonial "adventures" do not remain hidden, and that the self-perception of Denmark being a campaigner for values such as equality and tolerance is being challenged with facts, studies and statistics about the experiences of people of African descent residing here. Only then, we can begin to build a foundation to combat structural discrimination and anti-Black racism.
After having lived in Denmark in the region of Jutland, which is a kin to the American heartland, as an expat, (though in brown skin), for just under 11 years, I'd have to say the Danish society seems to function more like a salad bowl where the ingredients are readily visible though maintaining their separateness and where it is clear that there is a central element that dominates the mix of ingredients. In this case, I view the White majority population functioning very much in that dominant context, and their dominance I feel takes on some disturbing anti democratic, even anti human rights like characteristics. When I'd first arrived in the Billund Airport, I immediately had this sense of being perceived as an ''other'' status of human being though the looks could easily be comparable to seeing someone from another planet. I'm a Black man, I'd honestly never experienced anything quite like it before. As I familiarized myself with the surroundings, I can still vividly recall my initial alarm at what appeared to be the normalized functioning of a de-facto segregation of the White society from the Black and Brown bodies moving and living around them. While this is not to be considered as in all cases, it is a tangible context worth mentioning. I was even more dismayed to realize that this social dynamic also had allowed for the presumption of criminality and sexual deviance to attach itself to my being with only having to be present and in too close proximity for a noticeable number of White people in the public spaces.
This was in sad contrast to being part of a vibrant and naturally interacting diversity that is my hometown, Washington D.C. The actuality of de-facto segregation which allowed for the demonization of men of color as criminals and rapists among other outdated stereotypes led me to draw some comparisons of the norms of modern Danish society to the socio-political norms of the American South of the 1950's. While one might assume that me being American bears some predetermined benefit, It's hard not to believe that my skin color, racial classification etc. both officially and unofficially in some ways count as negative factors in my value set and contributions. Consequently, Denmark touts itself as the ''Happiest Country on Earth'' and a pioneer in the promotion of democracies accepting the fluidity of gender and sexual identities. It's clear that in this country you can be happy and racist, and you can be visible and vocally support all sorts of rights and still somehow think that Black people are the Danish society's biggest problem. So even though the Danes have never officially codified a period of segregation or racial oppression as a rule in their society, it is clear however that Danes do not generally view ethnic minorities in a wholly equal, tolerant or welcoming context. To the contrary, far too many Danes somehow find a way to infer a mainly negative social value to the lives of minorities living here in spite of the positive effort most minorities exert, and there seems little effort to either provide a well rounded picture of the lives of minorities here or to begin to address root causes of distressing social consequences and conflicts so often and regularly spread across the various media platforms.
Interestingly, I don't feel I have to worry over falling victim to violent police brutality in Denmark since I observe that the theory of policing remains starkly more civilized than what we know is the sometimes fatal overreach of police authority which we understand as a common systemic threat in the United States. Instead, I'm confronted daily with the most harmfully negative perceptions of Black men in the form of microaggressions (little cuts), which seem the only option for too many in the majority White population, and which seem to be based on outdated stereotypes, which have been precipitated by right wing political discourses, which on the surface seem to be reacting to a rise in the numbers of non-western (read: Black and Brown: African and Arab) immigrants to the country. This 2 approximately 15 years of diatribing or ''othering'' has fostered a justifiably nationalistic racial bias where some Danes are concerned, and it has invited a string of microaggressive behaviors from the majority society directed at minorites, and which is a daily negative social component affecting the lives of most Black and Brown people in Denmark in at least one significant context or another.
What is even more distressing is how attempts by Black and Brown minorities to engage the democratic framework as a way to address or even to dialogue on the themes of racism and structural inequality, which shed light both on its existence and the consequences of it allowing to breathe seem to fall on the closed or deaf ears of the relevant institutions, and generally passes by the interest or influence of media. Too often do I see the outcries and criticisms as being quickly dismissed as errant opinion of an individual or misguided group. Not only does this seem in some way to be a contradiction of the socially democratioc ideal that have built Denmark into a model society, it also exposes the Danish society's cultural and political hypocrisy and a failure to resolve their historical mistakes with regards to the people of the African Diaspora, which address the asymmetry of power and social positioning and the degrading racial classifications and social roles attributed to the former Slaves and the colonial subjects on their former Carribean properties. I'm certain that I've never worried that my individual voice or the collective voice of Black people would not be recognized in the United States because there were powerful interests that wanted to reform outdated ideas and make them new. Not even in the case of Trumpism and their attempts to do just that did I feel concerned. In Denmark, however, I feel that Blacks and Brown ethnicities are forced to live out our lives with almost no social agency or more reasonable representation in the social spectrum, which could resemble sincere equality of opportunity and a shared fellowship of Danish ideals.
Conversely, I observe how the mainstream media in Denmark had recently concluded after a poll was conducted that the society made clear that racism did not exist and that there are no problems to speak of. It was, in reality, a short sighted conclusion and without the support of qualified data since officially the Danish institutions seem hesitant to conduct extensive or ongoing research into the issue just as they appear resistant to show accountability for their crimes against Black people during the Colonial periods as well as Transatlantic slave trade. The Danes do boast however of being one of the first countries to opt out of the slave trade, so it’s odd that not even an apology has yet been offered in spite of the precedent. It was only recently that the Queen Mary statue was erected to commemorate the Danish involvement in the Slave trade and today remains the only physical symbol of a shameful past and sends a confusing message to the descendants of the slaves of the Danish terrotories to have to interpret and resolve.
It feels like such an oddly displacing phenomena to experience as it seems as though I am now living in a very different reality with no foreseeable progressive changes forthcoming. While I could admit that there are nuances to my own experience as an American expat and as someone married to a Dane, I could not ignore the many ways in which a large portion of Danes in their private capacities, the national government itself, as well as the highly influential branches of the mainstream media fail to reflect their otherwise model principles on the lived experiences of Black and Brown people here. Clearly though, the most important aspect of my time spent here will have been learning how to navigate a deeply passive aggressive social landscape and maintaining my wellbeing. There really are not too many options to choose from, and here again we can see the disproportionate focus on groups in clear view. Instead, it seems to me that the majority white society is intent on maintaining asymmetrical relations of power and calcifying structural inequalities where Black and Brown people are concerned as if it were the natural order of things.
Afro Danish Collective wants to lead the way to put an end to structural discrimination and anti-Black racism in Denmark. The approach we want is not just grassroots work. We want an activism and professionalism in which we objectively and profesionally participate in debates, protests, continuing education and knowledge work where the nuances and curious dialogue must have a place. We want to focus on the research and evidence we have in Denmark regarding racism and discrimination against people of African descent, and we also want to promote the representation of Danes and citizens with an African minority background in the public debate and future research. Finally, we want to shed light on the work with anti-Blackracism, visibility and empowerment of the Afro-Danish citizen.
Afro-Nordic Landscapes, Equality and Race in Northern Europe, Edited By Michael McEachrane, Copyright Year 2014
The four dimensions of racism, Inspired by Race Forward Trainings, by Slow Factory Foundation
Being Black in the EU, Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, EU-MIDIS II, 2019