The young Kenyan-Norwegian woman who won last weekend’s run-up to the Eurovision Song Contest has been the target of what many are calling blatant racism, with even a local politician caught in the scandal. Singer Stella Mwangi herself, however, doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I would rather talk about me and my music,” Mwangi told popular Scandinavian talk show host Fredrik Skavlan on his show taped for Friday night airing. She claimed she hadn’t followed the last week of racist comments made on Internet forums and in social media since she won Norway’s version of Eurovision, called Melodi Grand Prix.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was forced to shut down the comments section of its website www.nrk.no (external link) after a string of offensive items were submitted by viewers who clearly don’t think Mwangi is “Norwegian enough” to represent Norway at the Eurovision finals in Germany later this spring. Mwangi was four years old when she arrived in Norway with her family 20 years ago. She grew up in Eidsvoll, northeast of Oslo, where she reportedly was a victim of bullying because she was “different” than the other children, and found refuge in music.
Mwangi had also refused to answer questions about her run-ins with racism in Norway over the years when interviewed on NRK’s nightly news shortly after her victory, saying she preferred “to look ahead, not backwards.”
Conservative politician’s ‘joke’
The most serious racist incident this past week involved a politician from Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre), who wrote a sarcastic reaction to Mwangi’s victory in the song contest in heavy local dialect on her Facebook page. Roughly translated, Rita Ormbostad, deputy mayor of Aure County on Norway’s west coast, wrote that she would rather have “Sami, polar bears and muskox” as winners and that “that’s what we should sell, not that we are open to asylum seekers!”
Ormbostad later added that she had “sharpened a spear and bought bongo drums” in anticipation of the Eurovision finals where Mwangi will represent Norway. “Maybe I’ll travel to Africa and watch from there, where I can eat wildebeest!”
Ormbostad tried to brush off her comments as merely a joke, but also told local newspaper Tidens Krav that “I believe something originally Norwegian sells more and is more suitable for the Norwegian Grand Prix than a song that has African tendencies.”
She ultimately had to apologize for her “unfortunate statements” after a barrage of criticism from fellow politicians and public officials. Sunniva Ørstavik, for example, Norway’s civil ombudsman for equality and discrimination issues, told NRK that politicians have “a special responsibility” for fighting stereotypes and racism. Other members of the Conservatives tries to distance themselves from Ormbostad’s offensive remarks.
‘Norway behind me’
Mwangi herself seemed to simply try to ignore them, telling Skavlan she thought the past week had been “fantastic” and that she was simply glad she won. Pressed by Skavlan to respond to the racist attacks, she replied, “What is racist? Let’s talk about something completely different, like the jacket I’m wearing,” to which she received applause from the studio audience.
Mwangi clearly wasn’t going to let Ormbostad or other prejudiced Norwegians spoil her victory, or let them hurt her, possibly drawing on her experience as a child growing up in Eidsvoll. “I feel I have all of Norway behind me when I represent us in Dusseldorf,” Mwangi told Skavlan.