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White privilege in Norway: Would you swap places with me?

Norway may be seen as one of the most equal countries in the world, however, there is still work to be done.

03.06.2020

This article was first published at Flyt Frem and is republished with their permission from Flyt Frem. It has been translated from Norwegian to English. Please note that some of the links in the article are to Norwegian webpages.

Author: Mildreck Salazar.

I have a master's degree in Democratization and one of the subjects wasDemocracy Assistance and Democracy Development. One of the main pillars of the subject is the book, The quality of government written by Professor Bo Rothstein, where his theory of how strongly a democracy depends on the trust society has in its state institutions.

The recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis is another example of the fact that when trust in what is supposed to "take care of us", ends up being the thing that kills us. Then we know that democracy does not have a strong foundation from Rothstein's theory.

The killing of George Floyd

It happened again. Another Black man was brutally treated by a White police officer in the United States on May 25, which resulted in death. This time it happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd clearly said he couldn't breathe when a policeman put his knee on his neck during an arrest. At the same time, there were three other policemen around him who did not respond to the harsh treatment George Floyd received from one police officer.

We know this is not the first time such events are happening in the United States. Now with social media where the news is spreading in record speed, more often than before we get these cases where White police violence against Blacks is carried out. A Google search for "police violence in the United States" gives you an overview if you are not fully updated.

"I'll call the police!"

The same week as the murder of George Floyd, another video was published showing a Black man being discriminated against because of his skin color. The man calmly asked a White American lady to put the leash on her dog. The lady responded with racist comments and pulled her dog through the collar, suggesting that the dog was being strangled. She called the police and told them her life was being threatened by the man and that they must come to rescue her. The man himself stood still and filmed the whole scene. What do the latest events of the week tell us?

To me, it clearly tells the reality we are still in 2020. I have previously written that the power of the word is only for the privileged and unfortunately this was proven once again. This is not just something I say because I am an "angry minority." These are the facts. This is happening in 2020, and we cannot pretend that the privilege that some people have in this world does not exist.

What about Norway?

It is easy to sit at home and point your finger at the United States - the Wild West with a questionable man in the driver's seat. The truth is that we are no better off here. Of course, this is not as easy to swallow as it requires a certain amount of self-insight and recognition that a large part of the majority has not experienced or seen yet.

On October 12, 1999, Sophia Baidoo was subjected to physical and verbal abuse from a police officer after triggering a robbery alarm at the bank she was working at in Heimdal. The policeman was indicted for acting improperly but was acquitted in court.

The same policeman was again involved in a fight following the summons, in which Eugene Ejike Obioras was denied unemployment benefits in 2006. Eugene Ejike Obioras initially refused to leave the area, but then resisted arrest. Obiora died during transport or on arrival in the hospital after police cars were used instead of the ambulance that never arrived. Following the incident, the charges were raised for expropriation but ended up in court. The same cop was acquitted twice, read it again: twice for the same behavior.

On June 5, 2005, Tómasz Wacko died of asphyxiation in the garden outside his house in Mysen, after police seized him after alleged house-breaking. The policeman was indicted for negligent murder but was acquitted in the district court for acting in emergency custody.

These are just a few examples of what has happened in our own country. What do these cases say about us, Norway? Are we talking about this? Do we dare to point our index finger at ourselves? Doubtless, it is easier to think that this does not concern us.

White privilege and attitudes

This attitude itself is at the core of what privilege is in my opinion: Privilege is when you think that something is not a problem just because it is not a problem for yourself personally. And this is exactly what we have in Norway, too.

An example of this is a recent article from VG where the theme is the demonstrations in Minneapolis after the Floyd murder. Let me start by making it clear that I do not believe that the journalists who wrote this article are neither racists nor that the media is trying to color the case for anything else. What I mean is that this article shows the true colors of individuals in relation to their true attitudes.

In the very preamble of the article, this becomes clear:

“Despite the curfew, the demonstrations in Minneapolis continue. They are not happy despite the fact that a policeman has been arrested and charged with murder."

the words they and despite shows a certain attitude. An attitude that the protesters, who in the majority are minorities or Black, are a separate group of people who are not me or mine, and a downsizing of the core problem. For now, the changes have come so it must be good enough.

Another example of the true attitudes of journalists is clear when they write:

On Friday, the fired police officer Derek Chauvin, who put his knee to the deceased George Floyd's neck, has now been arrested, charged with negligent homicide. Still, the demonstrations continue."

The word "still" is telling. What it portrays is that whoever wrote this, perceives the dissatisfaction of the protesters but also looks down on it. "Can't they just be happy and accept that the situation has been handled?" is what I hear from this.

It is in these nuances and subtle choice of words, conscious or unconscious, that true attitudes emerge. It is this that makes us minorities angry, because it is this that makes the distinction bigger, and we are frustrated because we see, read and hear this weekly. Whether it is through an article in VG, at work, or when my White Norwegian landlord says: "Jeez, is there still racism in Norway then?"

When you are exposed to this on a weekly basis it does something to a human being. The attitudes that one is inferior, excluded or pressured to prove themeselves this is what us minorities experience weekly.

No one says it better and shows it more clearly than teacher and anti-racist activist Jane Elliot, who during a lecture asks all Whites in the hall a question and asks them to stand up if they could happily have exchanged lives with a dark-skinned person. Changed lives with joy and with the knowledge of how dark-skinned people are treated in the United States. No one in the hall got up. This shows that Whites know what position they have and they know the truth about the treatment of darkness.

I ask you dear reader: would you gladly switch lives with a minority? Would you live in Norway like me? The answer and the feelings you get when I ask you this question should tell you something. Something needs to change.

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