A conversation about racism in Denmark is still an uphill battle. The severe lack of nuance in our media’s coverage of racism leads many Danes to still believe that bringing up race is the cause of racism; that racism is about intention rather than action, that identity politics is a larger threat to public order than right-winged extremism and that structural and institutionalized racism is only a problem in the United States.
Yes, we’re a bit behind here in Denmark. This beautiful socialist Scandinavian country, sold as a happy utopia to the world, is creating proudly “colorblind” individuals, who, mostly unaware of their conditioning, reproduce the imperialistic, capitalistic, and racist systems that are the foundation of our pool of abundance.
HOW DANISH MEDIA SHOWED THEIR RACISM
It started in Copenhagen, during a June 2020 Black Lives Matter Denmark (BLMDK) demonstration following the brutal murder of George Floyd. It was an otherwise innocent request from the Woman in charge of BLMDK, Bwalya Sørensen. She requested that all of the Black people at the event come to the front.
The remark quickly became referred to as “segregationist” and “racist” towards white people. Bwalya’s words were even compared to apartheid South Africa in Danish media, reshaping the conversation about race in the press for months. And the coverage of the organizations and individuals speaking out against racism since then—and particularly that of the BLMDK chair, depicted with racist, misogynoir, minstrel caricatures from the Jim Crow era, feeding into the “angry Black Woman” narrative—has clearly revealed the media’s ingrained racism.
The final straw that banded together several civil society organizations, and Denmark’s Intersectional Folk High School (DIH), of which I am a Board Chairperson, was a publication in one of the largest right-wing media outlets in Denmark on January 12, 2021. “It is antiliberal,” an editor wrote about identity politics, “it is anti-democratic, it is dangerous, and it must be fought with all means.”
We were floored by the rhetoric used, less than a week after right-wing extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, and we demanded that the Danish media take accountability for their racism. Together an online petition was created to speak up and create awareness on the issue, leading to a nationwide conversation about why the media’s coverage is a problem—and how they can be held accountable in the future.
Danish media’s highlighting of identify politics is deeply ironic since it’s a concept first coined by Black Queer Women in The Combahee River Collective statement. The white male publishers and editors clearly fear identity politics infringing on their privileges and will fight it with all of their might. Even the Nobel Prize nomination of Black Lives Matter, a symbolic yet meaningful nomination, barely received mention in mainstream media, as this would be a direct contradiction to the image portrayed of BLMDK in the Danish press.
THE HATE THEY’D LIKE US TO FORGET
Disregard of non-white citizens is nothing new. The newspaper that started off 2021 with a racist depiction of a Black Woman activist combined with an encouragement to fight identity politics with “all means necessary,” is the exact same one that days after Kristallnacht in November 1938, justified the Germans rounding up and exterminating Jews. It is clear that they are blind and selective when it comes to their own history (or they know exactly what they are doing).
What they would no doubt like us to forget is that Denmark was the 7th largest contributor of enslaved people to the transatlantic slave trade.
What they would no doubt like for us to forget is that the prosperity and wealth that founded the Danish welfare society is due to our trafficking and trade of enslaved people.
As with the other European nations, the Danish history and contribution to the transatlantic slave trade has been whitewashed. We have been educated to believe that Danes are benevolent and just; progressive and libertarian. What they’d like us to forget is that the exact same imperialistic and capitalistic ideology that caused all the European nations to enslave and colonize for several hundreds of years still upholds our society today.
TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION
“We were the first to abolish slavery,” it’s a common myth here—of course a lie because Haiti abolished slavery first. We’ve been educated to believe that the former colony “Danish West Indies,” now the U.S. Virgin Islands, was our tropical paradise and that we should have never sold it to the United States. Yet, we are fully ignorant of the fact that the decedents of the people on those islands, sold to the United States on March 31, 1917 for $25 million in gold, still do not have the right to vote in United States’ elections, yet are being taxed and policed by U.S. laws.
The reality of our own history has been altered to fit the desired narrative: small, libertarian, socialist country – famed for being Oprah Winfrey’s “happiest country in the world.” Such a guarded image is exactly why last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstration really struck a nerve in “utopian” Denmark.
The public uproar of the “segregationist” tendencies being based on a Black Woman asking Black people to come to the front of a Black Lives Matter demonstration was fueled by the Danish media. When it comes to the actual segregationist laws, however, the media and the public are silent. Laws that increase police presence in predominantly non-white areas and in prison camps where they detain our refused asylum seekers, are ignored. The latest law proposal to increase the forced removal and adoption of kids from non-white families at birth is a crime against humanity—yet there is no public discourse, and the law may come to pass.
This criminalization of Black and Brown bodies in Denmark is a direct result of our imperialistic and capitalistic foundation, of the not-so hidden ingrained racism in our system, politics, media, and our people. If the promised changes of the media’s coverage of racism continues, we have been successful with our petition. But we will only truly know the effects of our work, once the next Black Woman decides to stand up to the establishment and say, “Take your knees off our necks.”
Until then, please keep watching what happens in this “joyful Scandinavian utopia” of ours. For only the world’s shaming of Denmark can serve as motivator for the Danish media and government to do the right thing and treat all people with basic human dignity.
Asta Selloane SekamaneAsta Selloane Sekamane is a Sotho Dane and the Board Chairperson of Denmark’s Intersectional Folk High School (DIH), an innovative and norm-critical institute centered around intersectionality. Behind the scenes Asta is a Masters Geology student, and a single mother of three boys. She is an unequivocal supporter of anything Black!