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You're Still Here? | Are the Danes racists?'
Kelly Draper is a British teacher who came to Denmark four years ago for work. She has been acting informally as a critical friend to Denmark. This has not gone down particularly well with Danes, who often tell her she should like it or leave it. Her blog is at adventuresandjapes.wordpress.com.
Are the Danes racists?’ a new book by Henning Bech and Mehmet Ümit Necef asks. As with all titles that are questions, their answer is “no”. Which is just as big a generalisation as it would have been had their answer been “yes”. So how did they arrive at “no” and why are they even asking if there are no problems in Denmark?
Unfortunately for the social sciences, those interested in equality, and people of foreign backgrounds living in Denmark, they arrive at their conclusion using shoddy logic (if their publicity material is anything to go by).
One problem for young men of colour in Denmark is that they cannot be sure that they can go out for an evening like their white peers. This is because nightclubs feel it is justifiable to refuse them entry. The authors of the report excuse this and try to rebrand it as a purely economic consideration because as soon as white customers see there are ‘too many’ people of colour in a nightclub, they do not want to give their custom. So if this report had been written by nightclub owners, the answer to the book’s title would have been a resounding “Yes, our customers are racist.”
White guys also cause problems in nightclubs, but nobody ever suggests turning them away at the door due to the colour of their skin. This is because patrons apparently do not feel threatened by a nightclub full of white guys. For the kids at the back, this is what racism is. Racism is pre-judging The Others while giving your group a free pass. All the while ignoring it is a minority from both groups causing problems.
Another ‘non-racist’ thing they talk about is a father being concerned about his daughter dating a dark-skinned young man. Apparently, this is justified because certain groups are known for subjugating their women. Now, the irony of a father forbidding his daughter to date someone because he might repress women aside, just saying “This is not racist” does not make it not racist. It is, indeed, racist. It is the definition of racism. Looking at a young gentleman caller and worrying that he will mistreat your daughter because of the colour of his skin, or his religious background or his culture, is racist.
It’s only natural that parents will worry about controlling and abusive people dating their children, but I’m afraid racial profiling is not a foolproof method of catching them. White people can also be guilty of domestic violence, emotional abuse and controlling behaviour. Domestic abuse (and violence against women in particular) is widespread everywhere. Making it a crime that only The Others commit is what helps it become so ubiquitous. Some commentators in India have been recently blaming the West to avoid confronting the problems in their own culture that lead to violence against women. Danish fathers blaming “the Arabs” or “the Muslims” for the mistreatment of women are likewise sidestepping and ignoring the scale of the same problem in their own culture.
Saying “it is not racism if some of them are like that” is faulty logic. It justifies every racist action throughout history and concludes that no humans in the history of humanity have ever been racist. After all, no stereotype came out of nowhere. When stereotypes are used to decide what treatment someone gets, this is discrimination. Doing it on the grounds of race is racial discrimination. The issue with stereotypes is not that they exist, but when they are used to ruin lives.
Can’t date certain people, can’t get into a nightclub, can’t get a job, can’t drive without being stopped, can’t walk the street without getting searched. This is intolerable and unfair.
If those were the conditions of your life because the minority you belonged to had a bad reputation, you could side with your oppressors and blame The Others for ruining it for you. Or you could make them see that you are an individual and deserve a fair chance like everyone else. Trying to rebrand racial discrimination as ‘understandable concerns’ only worsens the conditions we all have to live under.