Racism issue not black and white

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Samson Mulugheta MahariEXPATRIATE MUSINGS: Racism continues to rear its ugly head in Norway from time to time, most recently this winter when a group of young white men attacked an immigrant in the county of Nord-Trøndelag. Samson M Mahari, an immigrant himself who came to Norway from Eritrea, offers a voice of calm amidst heated debate, noting that Norway’s multi-cultural society is still in its early stages of formation and mostly needs time to mature.

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The people of Verdal, a small town in Nord-Trøndelag, held a torchlight parade last month to show support and solidarity for Jacob Kuteh, a Liberian immigrant and 10-year resident of Norway who was attacked by five local youths several days before. While this incident is widely believed to have been a racially motivated attack, the youths in question claim they followed Kuteh because they mistook him for an acquaintance, and that he merely fell during the encounter that followed.

While one would like to believe that this is nothing more than an isolated case, the reality is that it’s not as infrequent as we would like to believe. Attacks on immigrants and violence associated with anti-immigration rhetoric have indeed occurred before. The most extreme case was that perpetrated by the ultra-right-wing Norwegian terrorist behind the July 2011 anti-immigration attacks in Oslo that left 77 people dead and hundreds more injured.

While some experts are quick to point to a decline in reported cases in the past three years, others have been equally as quick to counter that this does not necessarily indicate a decline in attacks, but rather a reluctance for some victims to come forward and report these crimes. The attacks that are publicized have re-ignited a debate that has had many people, both Norwegian and non-Norwegian alike, voicing their opinions online. Since the inception of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, debate on heated topics has exploded because of the easy access and reach that these outlets offer. They provide a forum for lively debate on racism in Norway.

Last November, for example, a Norwegian student of Somali descent posted several tweets on her Twitter account with the hashtag #norskrasisme (Norwegian Racism), in which she mentioned several incidents in her upbringing where she, her family and friends experienced racist sentiment against them. The debate that followed showed they are not alone.

Immigration into Norway, as well as the rest of Europe, has increased from oppressive, war-torn and/or third-world countries, especially countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is these immigrants who have received the brunt of the antagonism in Norway, but not only them. The Roma people have also been a target of anti-foreign sentiment that has been lingering in Norway. While the statistics are sketchy at best, it’s clear that there is a considerable amount of “antiziganism” (hostility, prejudice and racism against the Roma). A study of it is now underway, under the auspices of the Oslo-based Center for Human Rights.

Yet the issue of racism itself in Norway and Scandinavia remains hard to define. There are various other social, economic and even political elements involved in it that muddy the waters in the debate over racism. Much of the alleged racism or fremmedfrykt (fear of foreigners) in Norway is subtle indeed.

For example, if a foreigner is given a job or promotion over a nordmann (native Norwegian), one can wonder if that’s because of merit alone or if it’s because of some form of affirmative action. If a taxi driver refuses to drive a foreigner, is it because of some paranoia that they’ll be the victim of some horrible assault or is it because they simply don’t want to be in the same space as them? Is an African more likely to indulge in narcotics over a Norwegian? These are questions that many have pondered over the years and while most are willing to contend that Norway is a country that respects the rights and individualism of all peoples, to simply believe that such discrimination based on purely cosmetic aspects doesn’t exist is both wrong and delusional.

Norway is still undergoing a metamorphosis into a multi-cultural society, with many different peoples coming to this country for one purpose, to make a new life for themselves. Despite any derisive opinions one may have of another ethnic group, nationality or racial group, often enough, these are just people who simply want to make a living for themselves. Ultimately, they want what we all want, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

While this is a topic that will rage on for years, if not decades to come, open dialogue is the first step towards some kind of compromise. In the meantime, all we can do is simply exercise some patience and tolerance towards one another. While there probably are at least one or two stubborn souls wondering “why,” it may be worth passing on a comment from another immigrant: “Folks like us are enriching this country in other ways, whether Norwegians want to accept that or not!”

newsinenglish.no/Samson M Mahari

Editor’s note: Samson M Mahari is a former journalist at the Eritrean Profile who arrived in Norway as a refugee and since has worked as an intern at Drangedals Posten. Mahari, a journalism graduate of the University of Asmara, has been living in Drangedal in the southern Norwegian county of Telemark while seeking employment and awaiting admission to graduate school at the University of Oslo.