How is it for a foreigner to live in Oslo? While we read about worrying rise in hate-related crimes in London over the last year, how tolerant is Oslo, our home city? Does racism exist in Oslo?
«Norwegians believe in God, Allah, All and Nothing… Norwegians have immigrated from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Poland, Sweden, Somalia and Syria…», said His Majesty King Harald V of Norway in one of His most famous speeches in occasion of the summer party at the king’s garden in 2016. Norway is a multicultural country. 33% of Oslo citizens are immigrants or are born in Norway from parents having foreign background.
According to the most recent official data of Oslo Politi, 347 reports of hate crimes were filed in 2015, marking a sharp increase respect to the 223 reports one year before. In 90% of cases the reports were referring to crimes having racial, ethnic and religious background. However the reports are far from being complete, as many of the cases are never registered due to the fear of reactions from perpetrators or from the environment, lack of trust in the police, fear of not being taken seriously. Some also do not see themselves as victims of hate crime.
The most striking example was given few months ago by the article in Universitas revealing persisting racist attitudes towards some of the foreign employees of the Real Estate Department at the University of Oslo. «I feel I am almost in apartheid system», said one of persons, Christian, who have been exposed to racism at work, in an interview to the Universitas, claiming that he and his colleagues were repeatedly called Negroes, Blacks, Black Monkeys, Black stupid man, etc. Christian said that the last 10 years were very hard for him. He filed several complaints and, in the end, the Organization Against Public Discrimination took action last year, but he believes that the management has not followed up the notifications at all. Several meetings have been arranged to overcome problems but the only result, according to the article, was more isolation for Christian.
Being a foreigner in any place of the world influences our perception of all that surrounds us, makes us fill the attitudes, actions, words with different meanings that they would have for locals. Thomas Isak Michael Prestø, a 34-years old dancer, choreographer, artistic director, youth worker, lobbyist and activist with Norwegian-Afro-Caribbean background, in his article to Aftenposten writes about differences between discrimination, differential treatment and everyday racism.
«If I apply for a job, writes Thomas, and do not get it because of my last name and because of my last name people assume I’m black, or they see that I’m black and hence do not hire me, this is not racism but discrimination. If I get the job but get treated badly in the workplace because I’m black, this is not racism and not discrimination, but differential treatment. If I have to withstand racist jokes during the lunch, for example, about the look or size of my black penis, or curly hair because it is compared to velcro, then this is not racism. Not is it discrimination, and not differential treatment – but everyday racism».
For every day racism to occur one does not need to do or say something bad or inappropriate, it is enough to be different. It was everyday racism when a colleague of Christian at the UiO was imitating monkey sounds in front of Christian’s window. It was everyday racism when a beer bottle hit Thomas Prestø in his shoulder in a bar. It was everyday racism when Safiyo few days ago was attacked by a man with knife in one of the parks in Grunerløkka, in Oslo. The only explanation these people received from their offenders were words like black monkey, niger, damn Muslim black mother.
Safiyo tells that she has been living in Oslo for 20 years and has not experienced racial discrimination or xenophobia before, no one has ever said a bad word to her. In 2001, after Benjamin Hermansen, a 15-years old Norwegian-Ghanaian boy was stabbed to death by members of Neo-Nazi group, 40 000 people participated in a giant demonstration against racism and violence in Oslo, showing solidarity in what was the most numerous manifestation in Norway ever after the war.
In 2017, Oslo is the only municipality in Norway having a dedicated action plan against racism and xenophobia among those that answered the inquiry of Norsk Folkehjelp Solidaritetsungdoms. At the same time, according to the Police statistics, the number of cases of hate crimes increased sharply in recent years. The reason might be that people have less fear to speak out and more knowledge about their rights, so more victims decide to report the violence. Or, maybe, the perception of the other, different, having different color of skin or having different traditions, is getting filled with more fear, that turns to become hatred with time?
Norwegians have immigrated from different countries, – says King Harald. – It’s not always easy to say where we are from, which nationality we belong. His Majesty reminds that also His family immigrated from Denmark and England. In a country where the Royal House has no political power, these words have a strong political character. They teach all of us, authentic and less authentic but Norwegians, or just people who call Oslo home, how we should look at our own country and each other.