RACISM IN NORWAY: Is it swept under the rug?
This year, Norway celebrates the 200th anniversary of its constitution, the all-important document which paved the way for the country’s independence. Among the things the country is hailed for throughout its history — freedom of expression, likestilling and democracy — a storm has popped up over social media exposing Norway’s dark side. Namely, periods of racism and antisemitism.
I recently watched a Norwegian humor program called Trygdekontoret (translating as the Social Security Office) where a panel tackled the issue of racism in contemporary Norway, specifically around an upcoming art project called Kongolandsbyen (The Congo Village), which aims to recreate an exhibition of the same name in 1914, where African people were stationed in a “human zoo” in Oslo’s Frognerparken.
The art project led to a hefty debate between the guests, which included the artist behind the new project Mohammed Ali Fadlabi and Afro-Norwegians Hannah Wozene Kvam and Elisabeth Norheim. Both Kvam and Norheim also talked about their own experiences with racism in Norway, with Norheim mentioning that people call offensive her things online, such as negerfitte. The show continued with Jewish author Suzanne Aabel, who described an instance where someone wrote an anti-semitic expression on her partner’s community wall.
Norway’s dark side goes frighteningly even further. Forced sterilization of the Romani people has been documented in the 1930s with the first lobotomy taking place in 1941 at Gaustad Hospital in Oslo, a practice which continued until the 1970s.* Even in Norway’s original constitution stood a section called “Paragraph 2" (also known as Jødeparagrafen) where Jesuits, Jews and Monastic Orders were prohibited from entering Norway.
Coming from the southeastern U.S., where I think racism is one of America’s biggest (if not worst) blights, I’ve always looked to Norway as a breath of fresh air. Cases that have torn into the American psyche such as Trayvon Martin’s murder or the constant, underswept “He’s one o’ dem der Muslins” rants pertaining to President Obama with are usually seen on the other side of the pond as severly unjust or downright backwards. Even when I was in Norway and was using Norwegian, people assumed that I had norske slektninger or lived in the country. Almost no one switched to English, or assumed anything based on my skin color.
But Norway’s far from perfect. As Trygdekontoret pointed out in its segments, a Norwegian comedienne performed in blackface in 2013, which sparked outrage, including from aforementioned Wozene Kvam. To make it personal, even I was the victim of racism on the Norwegian LGBT website Gaysir, where someone wrote to me “Go back to jungle man”, as seen in the photo above. This, in 2014. From a Norwegian person.
Even as I had worries about writing this, since I like to keep the blog light and airy (I guess it’s always nice to be reminded that no country, even my dear Norway, is a utopia), I reverted back to the intentions behind Norway’s constitution that was signed in a completely different era. Its framers, inspired by our own Constitution along with Spain, France and Sweden’s versions, had no context of the issues that would later stifle the country’s reputation. Nevertheless, they were bent toward a radical direction direction at the time, upholding the rights and freedoms of the “everyday” Norwegian. This has been amended over time to include the other Norwegians it left out, which include women, minority groups, LGBT people and immigrants. This is a process that’s ongoing and I find myself intrigued by how Norway has handled it recently, especially in the wake of the July 22 attacks. Let’s see what the next 200 years will bring.
Do you think racism is an issue in Norway? Feel free to leave a note below. Posts that are offensive or discriminatory in nature or attack other authors will be removed. We don’t play that here, so be respectful!
PHOTOS: NRK.no, Gaysir.no
SOURCES: NRK.no, TheForeigner.no, Sigrun Tømmerås, Wikipedia.no
*Credit to Sigrun Tømmerås for clarification.