What I am struggling with: Greenlanders in Denmark


Huse, Nuuk,Myggedalen, Klipper, Havet

Mosquito  Meadow NUUK


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 country. As long as I walked around my Danish circles in Taastrup, I knew them as my pocket. We thought almost the same thoughts. We hung out.

Understanding is a journey into the other’s country. 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.

The Greenlanders in Nuuk call a Dane who has just come to the city “FLYFRISK” (=newly flown in) . 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.

Since I deal with Greenland and Greenlanders all the time, this is always the case. As a legal adviser  for Greenlanders in Denmark, I continue to misunderstand, but I understand Greenlanders a  better than  the Danish authorities.

Stigmatization occurs in the mind when you uncritically see people with their own ideas  which character another human being, for example a Greenlander probably has. In a societal context, we call it prejudice.

Greenlanders in Denmark are constantly exposed to stigma, prejudice. It is  exposed to false notions when they come under the spotlight of family wards. Everyone has had a terrible upbringing. Everyone has lived with drunken and violent parents. They have moved around more than Danes usually do. In the choice between the Greenlander as a noble savage or as a victim of sexual abuse, violence, drinking, hunger and neglect, the family department always chooses the last stereotypical narratives and puts it into the decisions, also about administrative removal of children from their parents.

If you  as lawyer write a correction, it will be neglected, because the caseworker is always right. Right to repeat his prejudices prevails.

There are several forms of racism. But it always starts with stigma.

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. The resistance to this is called reflexion.

Our views are full of blind spots. There is the special thing about the sight of the blind spots that our brains cheat us. It paints the pictures, so to speak, so that there is no void. We do not see them.

If we 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. When the caseworker downplays the Greenlander, which she does not understand, she writes that the Greenlander has no “mentalizing ability”.

The funny thing is that the caseworker’s own ability to mentalize is equal to zero, while she is usually the elephant in the room behavior as a self-invited guest in her home.

When I in my attempts to help Greenlanders in Denmark to reception classes, family wards and administrations criticize teachers and caseworkers for not understanding Greenlanders well enough, I am met with the following statements:

“We are used to dealing with people of foreign descent”.-

People of foreign descent? I come to think of Angela Merkel’s brave “We  can handle this!” Speech, (“Wir schaffen das”). 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.

The language and culture of the Inuit are further away than those of the Afghans, Turks and Iranians from Danes. 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  so 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.



mikael hertig, farveportræt

Mikael Hertig

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