I and the Greenlanders
Why am I so happy to have been in Nuuk, Greenland for four years?
Greenland has confronted me with the question of who I am. Understanding is a journey into the other’s land. As long as I walked around in my Danish circles in Taastrup, Copenhagen, I knew my circles. We thought almost the same thoughts. We hung out.
Understanding is a journey into the other’s land. But the trip was sometimes too short, wonder too small.
Country Joe & the Fish sing a song: “Who am I to stand and wonder?”
As an official in Greenland’s self-government, I got my salary paid by people whose way of thinking I hardly understood. I was driving around in a world of misunderstandings.
Fresh from flight
The Greenlanders in Nuuk call a Dane who has just arrived “Fresh from flight”. The carnivorous Greenlanders eat vegetables that have been flown in. We are the foreign element in the diet. It’s hard to break the code. I found myself in a world of misunderstandings.They know, I didn’t really.
Misunderstanding, prejudice, stigma and abuse of power
Since I deal all the time with Greenland and Greenlanders, this is always the case. As a legal adviser for Greenlanders in Denmark, I continue to misunderstand, but I understand Greenlanders a little better than Danish society in common.
Stigmatization occurs in the mind when you unreflected see people with their own ideas about how another human being, for example a Greenlander probably is. In a societal context, we call it prejudice.
Greenlanders in Denmark are constantly exposed to the stigma that stems from our and the civil servants’ prejudices. They are claimed when they come under the spotlight of authority specialists in family life working in local government. The civil servants imagine, the inuits all should have had a terrible upbringing. Everyone, she believes, has lived with drunken and violent parents. They have moved around in Greenland more than Danes usually do in Denmark. Maybe just to go to school. In the choice between the Greenlander as a noble savage or as a victim of sexual abuse, violence, drinking, hunger and neglect, the family authority prefers to choose the last stereotypical narratives and put it into the journal. And stubbornly take it for the truth.
If you write a correction, it will be neglected, because the authority is always right. Right to repeat his prejudices. The prejudices in the stigmatizing form exercise abuse of power, where the self-critical sense is short, the mentalizing skills and empathy are low.
There are several forms of racism. But it always starts with stigma.
Categorization and the blind spot in the inner eye
In the quiet sense, we always imperceptibly categorize each other.
The expectations and images of the inner eye guide our attempts to understand the realities of everyday life.
Our images of reality are also full of blind spots. There is the special thing about the sight of the blind spots: that our brains cheat us.
The brain paints the images, so to speak, so that there is no void. We cannot see the blind spots. They are covered.
If you want to understand each other, it requires that you also reflect in the other, and thus that you get to look at yourself and your own way of thinking and understanding.
“Of Foreign Descent” and Angela Merkel
When I in my attempts to help Greenlanders in Denmark to reception classes, family wards and administrations criticize teachers and civil servants for not understanding Greenlanders well enough, I am met with the following statements:
“We are used to dealing with people of foreign origin”
-People of foreign descent? I come to think of Angela Merkel’s brave “We manage that!” Speech, because here she also said:
“They say there are refugee flows coming. No refugee flows come to us. We receive people, individuals who each come to us with the ideas, the language and the dignity that their god has given them. ”
Understanding and the exercise of power
The language and culture of the Inuit are further away from Danish than those of the Afghans, Turks and Iranians. As the representative of the colonial power, the Dane in his dealings with the Greenlander did not necessarily need to understand so much, less could do so. Those in power do not need to understand that much.
But the more one understands, the less violent one’s exercise of power becomes.
And here we land in my postcolonial Denmark. I was born there, I still live there.
If the Greenlanders who live here are all to be able to feel at home, they must be received with the language, the dignity and the identity they themselves have. They, as Danish citizens, have a right to be understood.
That’s what I’m struggling with.