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The pain of discrimination

The dark side of Danish society

Photograph: iStock

Text: Narcis George Matache

Even the best societies in the world have dark hidden secrets, as nothing we build in this world can be perfect. Denmark is a great place to live. Unfortunately, it is also plagued by discrimination. This can be found in many places in Denmark, where Danes and Internationals cross paths. Systemic discrimination is unfair, and it needs to be stopped for the sake of Denmark.

As a newcomer in Danish society, after the initial euphoria of being in what used to be called “the happiest country in the world”, you start to understand that your identity (skin colour, name, ethnic background, language knowledge and/or accent, faith and sexual orientation) play a role into how you are perceived by some of the Danes.

Living for a decade in Denmark, I have seen it with my own eyes. However, little did I know, just how widespread was the problem. Seconds after posting a request for discrimination stories on a large Facebook group, hundreds of messages started to pour in. From “go home” been shouted at in the streets, to “I am allergic to foreign doctors who are trying to speak Danish!” that was said to a Romanian doctor at the emergency room. The stories presented a spectacle of pain, which took me on a rollercoaster of emotions, from deep sadness to extreme anger.

We tend to associate specific markers of identity, being biased towards those with similar features and discriminate against those who are different. Unfortunately, this tribal mentality doesn’t fit the current globalised world. Our world is smaller than ever, making it difficult for tribal mentality to become legitimate in governing societal interactions. Homogenous populations are a thing of the past. Today, we are governed by the ideas of “one world, one people” and “united in diversity”.

Discrimination is not only about pain but is also about equality of treatment and meritocracy. We want to believe that if we work hard, we will obtain what we desire. However, the moment when a feature that you were born with, weighs you down, making it impossible to achieve your dream job, then that is the moment when we need to talk about systemic discrimination.

"We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have wierd names, but they all have learned to live together in the same box." - Robert Fulghum

How do we combat discrimination in Denmark? As inhabitants of an EU member state, we are protected by the European treaties. Article 2, from the Treaty of European Union, mentions “non-discrimination” as a fundamental value. Article 10 from the Treaty of Functioning of European Union, says “the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”. And in that regard, national equality bodies have been established (EQUINET). In Denmark, there are two institutions we can address as victims of discrimination: The Danish Institute of Human Rights (Institut for Menneskerettigheder) and the Board of Equal Treatment (Ligebehandlingsnævnet).

The Danish penal code states that discrimination is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years, however, that only works if you convince the judge that your pain is greater than the aggressor freedom of expression. If you are denied service because of your identity markers, it is punishable with imprisonment for up to 6 months. Unfortunately, there is no Danish law on discrimination within the labour market.

Another way to combat discrimination is to join your local Integration Council (Integrationsrådet), which is part of the Council of Ethnic Minorities. A body that gives advice to the minister of the interior/integration concerning questions regarding refugees and internationals.

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