The Words of Öz | Thoughts of ‘us’ and ‘them’ have changed with time

Ten years ago, when I was 15 years old, I often considered myself as a problem of society, and for that I blame the news.

Today, ten years later, I sometimes stop watching the news altogether because all too often the headlines give me a headache. Especially when they include a person’s ethnicity, as if that had something to do with their actions.

When I was 15, I was walking around paranoid, thinking that ‘they’ all hate ‘us’. I often read negative stories about immigrants and foreigners, and because I matched the foreigner/immigrant description, I felt ‘they’ did not want ‘us’ to be a part of society, since ‘they’ were always talking so badly about ‘us’.

Back then, the ‘they’ I referred to meant all of Denmark. Because for me, the media was Denmark. And that made my teenage mind produce very anti-society thoughts because, well, ‘they’ all hated ‘us’ anyway.

Today, ten years later, I have a different perspective. ‘They’ do not hate ‘us’. Well, some do, but you can’t avoid people that hate, so it doesn’t bother me anymore. I know better. The headlines and negative stories don’t represent Denmark having a problem with ‘us’, but rather highlight the news media’s problem.

Although my perspective has matured, I still see the younger version of myself in kids today. And I understand it – been there, done that. If you are bombarded with news reports describing troublemakers and criminals, as people you identify yourself with, then you think that this is how the Danish population sees you.

You get the impression that if your grandparents aren’t Danish, and your last name doesn’t sound like Rasmussen, then you belong to a dangerous group, alternately known as immigrants, ‘new Danes’ and other descriptions that help to draw a line between ‘them’ and ‘us’.

The news works as a reminder that you are a problem of society. Assumptions are created by the media, especially in the small cities that are isolated from inhabitants with backgrounds other than Danish. In those communities, they only hear about ‘those people’; they don’t have the chance to get to know ‘them’. And of course you create an image in your head that combines all of the negative stories you have heard in the news about ‘dangerous’ immigrants who have come to Denmark ‘to steal’, and so on.

When the news media continues to present statistics that purport to show that immigrants commit more crime, are more often unemployed and less educated, it creates a negative and untruthful image of the immigrants in Denmark. It sets up a mindset that if someone has dark skin, they are a criminal. If they are white, they are not. Because, guess what, usually they’re not talking about the Swedish, German or American immigrants when they present these statistics.

Of course, it is not that immigrants are not committing crimes. But criminal behaviour is not culturally conditioned. According to the numbers, immigrants commit more crime than native Danes, but if you analyse and dig deeper into the stats to find the social layer from which the criminals come, it becomes clear that crimes are more closely linked to social standing than ethnicity or culture.

So why aren’t the newspapers full of headlines that tell the public that most crimes are committed by those from the lowest social class, instead of spreading poison with headlines that indicate that crimes are mostly committed by immigrants? Why mention cultural background at all, when most of these young adults have been born and raised here in Denmark? The social standards are more relevant to discuss than the background of one’s parents. If it is just a cultural thing, then why didn’t the parents of the young adults commit crimes?

To make my message clear, I am not saying that there aren’t criminals among the immigrant population. But I am saying they are not criminals simply because they are immigrants. If one lives in socially-deprived areas, the road to crime starts right in front of your door, and your skin colour and cultural background don’t matter.

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