DUMBED DOWN POLITICS AND JOURNALISM, FAKE NEWS, AND planted news have emerged within a news media that is dominated by a small number of giant global media conglomerates and public service stations and pressured by the forces of the market. These large global processes lay a foundation on which powerful agents can exert their populist pitches for power (Boot 2016). In addition, tremendous efforts are being made by political and commercial interests to intensify their activities and seize upon social media and microtargeting. A large majority of people now get their information, opinions, and emotional engagement from social media (Gottfried 2017). It is against this background that populists make claims about “elites who have betrayed the people” and thereby tap into a broader anti-elitist and anti-intellectual trend in which the supply lines to research-based information are broken. Populists are also committed to “ordinary people,” with an emphasis on “speaking the plain truth” about visible minorities, and most do so with nationalist overtones (Betz 1998; Schroeder 2018). With this background and the popularization of social media come verbal radicalism and bigotry, which deliver the kinds of drama, violence, and conflict on which the news media thrives.
In this chapter, the empirical object of interest is online extreme speech in Denmark that employs racialization as an exclusionary discourse directed at minorities with migrant, postmigrant, or refugee backgrounds and that, as such, belongs to the so-called far right. The far right embraces the idea that immigration threatens the nation’s cultural homogeneity and national security. By establishing contact and rapport with outspoken far-right activists, this study combines the examination of online behavior with ethnographic interviews in the commentators’ own homes. Before presenting interview data,* I will use a media event about blackface in Denmark, based on a discussion of a chocolate commercial, to illustrate features of the general debate.1
The analysis of the ethnographic material and the blackface event show that commentators disregard research into racialization or minority experiences of racism. In addition, these commentators reveal a lack of critical skills or insight into the use of sources; rather, I will argue, they rely on a pseudoscientific scavenging for “documentation” that fits their view of how things are and should be—one of the effects of the informal, new digital culture. Instead of showing signs of decline, the extreme and divisive use of language and the naturalization of racialized difference continue to proliferate through efforts to recruit and consolidate communities of support. Meanwhile, the commentators do not see themselves as racists but rather as doing what they do to protect a nation in danger.
In Denmark, neoracism and neonationalism are closely connected and have been evolving since the early 1990s (Hervik 2011)2—and effectively challenging the image abroad of a fairy-tale country. Denmark has nearly 5.7 million inhabitants, of which 10 percent are statistically regarded as “immigrant” and another 3.2 percent as descendants of immigrants (Danmarks Statistik 2018). The country had its most homogeneous population in a 50-year period from 1920 (reunification of southern Denmark with Denmark following World War I) until the mid-1960s. Before the reunification, the region comprised six languages, and thus the idea of Denmark as a single-language, white-only country was simply not the reality. After the late 1960s, guest workers invited by industry and, in the 2000s, refugee arrivals brought more heterogeneity to the Danish population (Hervik 2014).
Set within a context of anti-elitist nationalist populism, extreme speech and thought has grown prodigiously since the mid-1990s; it was widespread during the Muhammad cartoon affair (2012) that took place before social media burst into popular use in the mid-2000s. Rather than the more norm-based term hate speech, the term extreme speech allows for a more grounded focus that encompasses the words and tone used, the messages conveyed, and the social relations involved (Udupa and Pohjonen 2019; Hervik 2019b). Extreme speech and thought have intensified with use by new political parties, at major critical media events, and with professionalization of political communication. Anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti–non-Westerner, antileftist, antimulticulturalist, and antifeminist sentiment helps construct Danish national identity, which can best be seen as the consolidation of a hegemonic white majority. The neonational, neoracist, anti-elitist nexus is epitomized by the Facebook image posted by Minister of Integration Inger Støjberg, who recently celebrated fifty restrictive policies separating “native” Danes from minorities with refugee or migrant backgrounds with a smile and a big cake (fig. 8.1) (Bilefsky 2017). In addition, the official website of the Ministry of Immigration and Integration (2019) continues to count restrictions made by the government as an accomplishment: 114 in May 2019 (fig. 8.2). Additional restrictions can be found in other ministries, including the Ministry of Justice.
Neonationalism refers to nationalism under new conditions and set within well-established nation-states. Nationalism favors and generates an in-group and is inseparable from the production of an out-group. This is where the two isms, nationalism and racism, are two sides of the same coin (Hervik 2011; Miles 1993). The emotional language of anti-elitism, nationalist celebration, and racialization of visual others, real or imagined, becomes a formidable mobilizer of anger, anxiety, and moral outrage, which is the backdrop of extreme speech examined in this article.
In the rhetoric of anti-elitism, celebrations of “common sense,” and promotion of nationalist values, it is not only research-based information that is bypassed. Facts, more generally, do not seem to matter unless they are in sync with the ideology, “common sense,” and “gut feelings.” In political communication, fact-based information is often to be avoided or spun into something else. Spin can be seen as “an angle on truth” that aims to place you, your party, your message, or your company in the most favorable light (Press 2002). Spin is closely tied to efforts setting the agenda, priming, and using positive words for oneself and negative ones for adversaries, simple metaphors, catchy phrases, and so on (Hervik 2011).
Figure 8.1 Minister of Immigration Inger Støjberg’s Facebook photo celebrating fifty restrictive policies of the Danish government. Source: https://politiken.dk/indland/art5870543/Støjberg-forarger-Fejrer-udlændingeshystramning-nr.-50-med-lagkage (accessed July 23, 2020).
By 2019, the white hegemonic majority was driven by a strong emotional attachment to the cultural logic of a nation in danger that must be defended against both external and domestic adversaries (Hervik 2018b, 2019a). As a hegemonic force, it repeats itself constantly, and sentiments beyond explicit awareness become commonplace and “so habituated, so deeply inscribed in everyday routine, that they may no longer be seen as forms of control—or seen at all” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991). Members of this “white majority” end up feeling offended by any talk of racism, to the extent that they deny the experiences of racialization as expressed by Muslims, people of color, and certain white groups (particularly people from former Eastern European countries).3 Researchers and activists in the emerging antiracism movement are using concepts like “everyday racism,” “structural racism,” and, to a lesser extent, “banal nationalism” to capture these muted and rejected experiences of racial and racializing discrimination (Essed 2002; Hervik 2019a; Billig 1995).
Figure 8.2 The image posted on the official website of the ministry with the count of restrictive policies of the Danish government (since removed).
Racism is an ideology and a discriminatory social practice that is based on racializing certain other people. It refers to the process of assigning meaning to biological characteristics and naturalizing the culture of “others” and may be backed up by institutionalized power and hegemonic social groups. In an analytical sense, racism must first include an interpretive frame of reference that creates a division between a positively represented national “us” and a negatively represented nationalist “them.”4 Second, a hierarchy of the us–them division is established along the lines of racialization, which involves “endowing the characteristics, appearance, traditions, and lifestyles attributed to groups of different ‘others’ with negative signifiers that are deemed to be natural and insurmountable” (Lentin 2008, xv). Third, the aspect of power must be present and accounted for (see Hervik 2011).
One hideout for these online cultures of political aggression lies within the very concepts of the far right, the “extreme right,” and the “radical right.” They are spatial metaphors telling us that the problem is “out there,” away from the center and the mainstream. However, several scholars have shown, on the basis of careful and meticulous analysis, what they see as the mainstreaming of the far right (Feischmidt and Hervik 2015; Hervik and Berg 2007; Mondon 2013). But if we maintain spatial images of “out there,” then the concepts seem to lose their meaning and influence as they become mainstreamed imaginaries and practices, including policies. Perhaps we need to invent a new analytic category, mainstream extremism, to capture this seeming contradiction that otherwise seems to vanish. When extreme speech and thought enter the mainstream, extremism is naturalized—and/or the extreme is relegated to the politically motivated use of actual, physical violence. In the process, we brush aside the vital role of psychological violence, indirect violence, cultural violence, and the tacit acceptance of the everyday violence of extreme language.
When extreme is applied to speech, it refers to a combination of the words used, the (racialized) message conveyed, the tone of the language, the communicator, and the sources evoked. In my view, researchers make a huge mistake if they reduce extremism and extreme speech to the discourse and actions of members of toxic ideologies. Extreme online speech may arrive from a deontology, where the sense of ethical duty overrides the comprehension and knowledge of ideologies and propels people into extremist expression while seeing themselves as patriots or as people who fight the most obvious problems in the world, often saying, “Someone has to do it.”
In the next section, I turn to a heated debate over a media event about a chocolate commercial that used blackface. The treatment of this event, chosen from a large pool of similar events, illustrates some shared features of Danish extreme speech, including denial of racialization, lack of interest in research-based facts, ridicule of the messenger, and reliance on pseudoscientific media searches for support for the “real truth” about the arrival and lives of migrants and postmigrants in Denmark (Caglar 2016). Then, I turn to interviews and encounters with online actors to capture more profoundly the lifeworld and reference world that lies underneath some of these extreme speech postings, repostings, shares, and comments during public events. The material is organized by roughly divided and interrelated themes that were clearly identifiable across the interviews. The large pool of interviews includes a set of eight interviews with confrontational, far-right, online writers.
KiMs Chocolate Commercial or Blackface?
Chosen from our pool of media events about issues of migrants, adoptees, refugees, and Danish minorities with ethnic origins outside Nordic countries, this case is particularly useful to convey broader features of web exchanges. It includes diverse points of view, styles, and strategies within the same thread.
One of the longest running series of commercials in Denmark, going back to 1997, is for the chips and snacks company KiMs. The company is part of the global Norwegian business Orkla, which has more than thirty thousand employees across the world. The figure of “Jørgen” is known to most Danes, and over the years, he has retained the same metanarrative as he introduces new products. In the commercial, Jørgen’s face is covered by dark chocolate, and he says, “I am brown because I am going to tell you about my new chocolate buttons.” At the end of the product promotion, we hear the sound of bongo drums, and then the commercial ends (TV2 2017).
Emore’s Experience of Racialization
According to Danish news coverage, the turmoil surrounding a commercial for the company’s new chocolate product began with a 2017 Facebook post by Nicole Jacqueline Obovo Emore.5 On March 9, 2017, she explained, “I was outraged after I saw the commercial yesterday. Not only because it was a bad effort to make him look like somebody who had stuffed himself with chocolate and therefore, incidentally, had ended up with chocolate all over his face. I was also outraged because I, as an Afro-Dane, cannot avoid emphasizing the univocal exhibition. I cannot neglect the sound of Bongo drums as background noise. I cannot neglect the fact that he says, ‘I am brown because . . .’”
The post triggered immediate comments from people who shared her outrage and called for the company to apologize and withdraw the commercial. The explosion of comments was noted by KiMs; however, the company did not respond directly. Instead, KiMs Company used Jørgen, the main character in the commercial, to respond in a cordial fashion that kept the theme within an aura of fun, amusement, and lightheartedness that characterizes the commercial series and the brand of chips “for the good times.” Jørgen said, “Hi, the purpose of the commercial was to exhibit my new chocolate. That is the reason why I have painted my face brown just like chocolate. It is an old sales trick, I have learned—although I cannot remember where. It was not the intention to be perceived otherwise. I just wanted to state that it is alright to get it all over one’s face when one regales oneself with chocolate. Kind regards, Jørgen” (emphasis added).
Nevertheless, comments continued to build up. A few hours later, “Jørgen” was backpedaling but not apologizing: “Many of you write to me that I have to re-do it and guess what? I recognize what you say. I edited myself out of the film! That is all there is to it. Now, the full focus will be on my new chocolate, which is still as good as it looks. I hope this will make up for the misunderstanding. I do not like to offend anyone. Kind regards, Jørgen.”
Although these crisis communications on the part of KiMs Company acknowledge the company’s concern, they do not stop the intense posts and spread on social media, news coverage, and blogs. By speaking through the comic figure Jørgen, the company uses a nonserious strategy to respond and does not apologize.
The intense exchange of comments continues and spreads to traditional media. In the comments on Emore’s Facebook post and on newspaper commentaries, the language is extreme in content and form and threatens to grow out of control. Danes have come to know this tendency over the past few decades.
Facebook Commentaries: Dialogue, Bickering, or Double Monologue?
The following sequence6 of actual exchanges on Emore’s 2017 Facebook post is slightly edited:
MARTIN WOLHARDT: Mia Wolhardt Søndergaard did you know that it is racist to have chocolate on one’s face? It is as a matter of fact. Chocolate all over your face is no joke. It is, on the contrary, equal to genuine hate of brown people.
MICHAEL HANSEN: Martin: What part do you think the Bongo drums play? Are they also part of the chocolate?
MARTIN WOLHARDT: To sum up, it is the Bongo drums that are racists. Alright.
LYNNE RIE HANSSON: Martin, is it a little lame to speak about something that you, obviously, are neither able to understand nor aim to understand.
MARTIN WOLHARDT: You don’t really know me, in case you don’t think I either am able to or wish to understand the problems of racism.
MARTIN WOLHARDT: I just realised that my cinnamon buns [kanel-snegle in Danish, often referred to as simply snegle (snails), which is a popular Danish pastry for the morning] are racist. They are covered by chocolate icing. I am going to post a complaint to the baker saying that it is not alright.
Despite being one of the few exchanges that are direct, with several well-represented viewpoints, there is little will to enter into genuine dialogue. Instead, comments quickly become personal, agonistic, and baiting for additional applications of the argument.
Argument 1: This Is “Blackface”
Emore was far from alone in expressing her outrage. Eva Afewerki wrote, “Racism does not hurt you but US, so don’t preach to us on how we should act against racism. Think it over and Google before you write factless bullshit like this. It is repulsive to be as uninformed and ignorant (as you). ‘Know your nasty story.’ Realize that your elders were nasty and racist toward Black people.”
Others kept a more sanitized tone and tried to respond to “Jørgen’s” claim that he is using an old sales trick to sell his chocolate product and, at the same time, explain what blackface is:
ANNE BETTINA PEDERSEN: I can explain to you, Jørgen, where you have picked it up (sales trick). You have picked it up through stereotypical and evil portrayals that go back to, for instance, the pre-civil war period in the US. Such stereotypes were also basic to the so-called “minstrel shows” exposing white people dressed up as Blacks ridiculing them. You can also take a look at D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation from 1915. He portrays the Ku Klux Klan as heroes (you must see yourself as part of the proud “White Pride”!) racist hooligans in Aarhus, second largest city in Denmark. You can pick up more by reading Donald Bogles fabulous best-seller Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks. You can also find a good explanation of why Blackface is racist in Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled. . . . The commercial builds on a dehumanization of brown people that goes back to the time of slavery. Yet, it presents a fruitful opportunity to acquire more knowledge about this topic and attempt to view the circumstances from the view of the offended one.
The next commentator is supportive of this view, which comes through his self-identifying as a white male. This makes him humble to the point of making himself invisible in the service of civility and decent manners:
GERT HANSEN: You cannot find any racist allusions because you have not felt them on your own body. You do not know what it means to be marginalized and prejudiced due to your skin color, and that is the reason why you cannot understand why anyone may be offended to see a white man perform a Blackface and exhibit your background as primitive and backwards. Well, you see, I am myself a white man and privileged and do not know from personal experience what these matters mean, but I have good manners, making me quiet when people speak about something I do not know anything about.
Argument 2: Reactions—This Is Not Racism, It Is a Chocolate Commercial
The first argument, “this is blackface,” evolved from Emore’s original post and derives from her experience and insight, which she shares with a number of other people. The second argument can be seen as a reaction to the first argument, but it can also be seen as the externalization of the strong denial concerning conversations about race that has been dominant for the majority of white Danes:
HENRIK HANSEN FREDERIKSEN: People who find this commercial racist form part of a destruction of our country. What about joining forces and aim at maintaining funny words like niggerbun, zuluhead, etc. Curiously nobody reacts to the word garlic [the Danish word, hvidløg, literally “white onion”]. Only idiots can see racism in this ad.
ANDERS NIELSEN: Eva! Alone the fact that you say that I am an “aversive racist” [hygge-racist, literally “cozy racism”] is ridiculous, braindead, and underscores my point. . . . If you have such big problems with Danish humor and white people in general, what are you doing here? Because you cannot be born here if you have to explain yourself in English.
JAN HØJVANG MATTHIESEN: By all means! Do you not have anything else and more important things to do than, I dare say, simulate offendedness in relation to something as marginal as a chocolate ad.
TEDDI KLIT CHRISTENSEN: Jin, seek help. Taking a brief glance at your profile one sees that you are straight out looking for something that, if it was meant like that, might be termed xenophobic. If you do not like the heat, then get lost!
JIM NIELSEN: You perceive even the most meaningless things as serious and racist. Why do you get so offended because somebody paints himself black in the face and applies Bongo drums as background sound? Are you ashamed of your origin?
The commentators who argue the commercial is an incident of blackface base their views on personal experience and literature, whereas people arguing against this interpretation tend to shift the focus away from the argument and instead to the people arguing. People who invoke the blackface argument are approached with warlike words such as “destruction of the country” and “joining forces” and with (nationalist) attempts to represent these commentators as “foreigners” and not belonging. Eva becomes foreign through her use of English words, whereas Jin is regarded as foreign based on a look at her Facebook profile.
Following several hours of heated interventions and extreme language, the author of the original post, Emore, posted a new comment in which she reflected on what she sees happening in the commentaries. She said, “In the case of KiMs the Blackface is not intended. They do not know what Blackface is. They do not know at all, what I speak about. KiMs cannot or does not care to read about what Blackface means.”
In the beginning, Emore told the story about the TV commercial that offended and outraged her and her friend. This story made others join in and share their similar experiences and generated further sympathies and alignments. However, comments about emotional reactions and outrage were not recognized or heard by opposing commentators, who continued to pitch in and support the KiMs Company and its commercial. After hours of comments appearing, Emore realized that after sharing her experience of seeing the blackface commercial, she had to shift the register to literature and facts about the history of blackface. However, again, the response to Emore was one of overall negation. More generally, we find these two features again and again in social media debates: denial of experiences of racialization and negation of the emotions involved.
Racism as the Topic of Social Media Commentaries
The analysis of the language and thought in the pool of eight interviews could be divided into five interrelated themes that progress from talk about separate spaces, the characters of different people, the dangers of mixing, solutions, and self-understanding of racism. In this chapter, I have chosen one particular, long, illustrative interview to convey how the racialized content unfolds.
Lissy (pseudonym) is a retired millionaire, a well-educated woman with a degree from a prominent university. Lissy is an active part of a closed Facebook group of approximately one thousand members. Through her online network activities and attendance at public meetings about migrants and their religions, she posts, reposts, and receives stories from a platform of several thousand members, although she holds common core ideas and narratives with far more Danes. In these activities, commentators again and again use strong language and affective statements about the same set of powerful political leaders and ex-leaders. They use a friend–enemy scheme that stresses negative things about the enemy in order to build community and comradeship (Wodak and Reisigl 1999), following the principle forwarded by Samuel Huntington and used by Carl Schmitt, that you do not know who you are until you know who you hate (Hervik 2011). Examples from the interview with Lissy and from her postings included an enemy approach to Angela Merkel, George Soros, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Oluf Palme.
Throughout the interviews, interviewees made use of anonymous depersonalizing pronouns: “Man,” “De,” “det,” to refer to a whole group, people, or category. Nevertheless, the term is funneled again and again into “Muslims” and/or domestic adversaries (certain political parties, the “goodness industry”). The term moral judgment is used here in the empirical sense pointed out by Goodenough (1997) as an emotional judgment of what other people do, not what we do ourselves (see also Hervik 2018a). Obviously, moralizing is a reflexive process that bends back to the moralizer, since it is impossible to moralize about others without moralizing oneself.
Separate Spaces: Our Space, Their Space
The first pattern identified in the interviews is the separation of people into different geographic spaces. Such separation follows the logic of “naturally” belonging to certain spaces and the idea that you derive your identity from those spaces (Malkki 1992). In terms of neoracism, everyone is regarded (rhetorically) as of equal morality and intelligence, but if you are in the wrong place, it is only “natural” that xenophobic reactions will occur (Hervik 2011) from members of the sovereign nation. Lissy observed, “They have to stay where they belong, where they are at home, and they shall not care to expand without permission. Nobody has ever allowed them to expand. I have nothing against Muslims. If I travel to their countries, they can do whatever they like.”
Talking about refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Lissy explained: “Had they said clearly back then: ‘You keep away from Europe!’ And had they stopped those people on the highway who came to Denmark: ‘You will be shot to pieces by our warships and those who come further than this zone will go back to Libya. North Africa. We don’t want you in Europe. You cannot do anything productive, you don’t want anything good. What you want is only rape, crime, and enriching yourself.’ Then that party of immigrants would have been stopped.”
The logic of these spaces is that of “nation-making,” where “culture” is at the heart of organizing. It is the nation-state that is sovereign, with the legitimate use of power and deciding who is to be a member. But it is also necessary to emphasize that this nationalism has an inherent militaristic potential.
Moral Judgments: Civility and Intelligence
The second theme from the analysis of interviews consists of portraying the characteristics and making demands on people who are already living within “our” space:
Everyone can see that the Muslims cannot manage by themselves. How would our society turn out if our culture becomes more and more Islamic, toward becoming “good-for-nothings” (dønigte). They do not have the same work ethic as we do, and the same goes for their view of women and humanity. Neither do they have the same idea about loyalty and welfare, and they don’t even respect waste bins. They just throw their rubbish where they please.
They pee in the water. And I am sorry to say, they defecate in the water. The indoor public swimming pool. I don’t go there. I read in our local newspaper . . . that they relieve themselves in the water. That is obvious harassment. Peeing in the changing rooms. That makes you furious.
Slowly, a minority [could begin to] to transform our culture. We [would have] to put up with politicians turning our food into halal food. We [would have] to put up with . . . more and more scarves. I dare to say that we are more civilized. (Lissy, interview)
The ascribed attributes of Muslims do not come from scientific analysis or readings of research-based literature. Lissy is correct that a story in the local paper told the story about people peeing and defecating in the pool (Warming 2014). However, the story does not relate to Arab boys or Muslims or who the perpetrators are. The only sources that connect them are the extreme-right ideological sites “Den Korte Avis” and “Uriasposten,” which engage in speculation and rumors about who it could be. This is an illustration of a common trend of social media news exchanges in which accuracy of information goes unchecked and stories are not criticized but reposted endlessly. Lissy’s use of the local newspaper and the two sites becomes a pseudoscientific type of search to verify an already established “fact.”
Mixing Is the Problem
The third theme is mixing. In the dominant view of the interviewees, mixing is seen as a problem, whereas alternative but weaker views approach mixing as a necessary battle to overcome postcolonial biases in language and thought.
Interviewees often singled out one or two Muslims that they knew or worked with and were keen to allow exceptions to their general statements. These views are on par with Fredrik Barth’s (1969) seminal work on ethnic boundaries, in which he found individuals could cross ethnic boundaries, but the group as a whole was organized in opposition to an explicitly identified ethnic other. Later research has shown that this other could be the state, the nation, modernization, globalization, and more:
I do not believe we should mix up different people . . . Not a mass invasion that comes in and takes over our culture. That is what I am beginning to realize. That slowly, there is a minority that slowly begins a cultural upheaval. . . . The genuinely noble and, I think, also from a scientific point of view—apart from a few highly educated—we see it as an animal world. There is a selection, of course we have to be selective. We shall not mix with anyone. Neighbors can hardly get along. Neither can white people—if they come from different cultural backgrounds. . . . The plots of land are getting smaller. To put it bluntly: the proletariat are soon coming right into your living room, they mow the lawn all day, and do-it-yourself types, and everything that is noisy. . . . There will be a civil war if more and more of them get elected to the municipal councils. I do not think they should be allowed to vote, at all. . . . We are a homogeneous Norden in Europe, and, basically, I think it is beautiful. We, in Scandinavia, we form a distinct race (folkefærd). We are pale, light in our skin. We reason alike and we . . . we may ask when do people become genetically civilized. It is indeed a long process. (Lissy, interview)
For Lissy and the seven other far-right interviewees, mixing is regarded as outright dangerous and should be avoided. In our larger sample, Malou, a young mother who arrived as a child from Africa, represents a minority view that is concerned with this racialized view of mixing as a problem. She is particularly concerned with the conditions for bringing up children in a society with widespread structural discrimination and denial of it:
I am constantly seen as different. Or spoken to as somebody who is different. Basically, I am fed up with it. I may say I am a refugee, but what about my children? As they grow up, they will not have the opportunity to pull out the race card. Would they be named second generation immigrants? When does it stop?
There is not much of an African in me, regarding culture. Nothing at all in my children. If one keeps saying that I am an African just because I am dark, then I will never get the opportunity to be myself and Danish on equal footing with everybody else.
We are Danes, we are brown. We are brown Danes. (Malou, interview)
These statements on mixing as a problem build on the nationalist ideology that people belong, by history and destiny, to certain spaces. “Our space” versus “their space” relies on this idea and that those within these spaces share not only the same history and “civility” but also a physical sameness. Such a view racializes people like Malou. For her part, she stands up and insists on not being “mixed.” While Lissy divides people according to belonging, civility, and intelligence and sees such mixing as a threat to Nordic homogeneity, Malou refuses to let her children be regarded as mixed.
Solutions: What Should Be Done?
The fourth theme that appears in the interviews derives from normative statements about what should be done, as the host population, to solve the issue of mixing with people regarded as less civilized and deserving. Lissy told us that she had found herself at home and active within a new political party. Promoting the party and attending events is a form of activism that she sees as a helpful contribution to the defense of the Danish nation and to solving the problem of mixing:
[The party leader] wants a full stop for asylum. They shall be repatriated. Parallel communities have to go. They should declare a state of emergency and kick in the doors and scrutinize their computers. And if there is the smallest discrepancy in relation to our democracy and society . . . then they are out. Now, they talk about prisoner camps in Africa. I don’t care where they are sent, the door must be hermetically closed. And not like Merkel with an open Schengen door.
They want to provoke a civil war. That’s what I fear. That would be with the moderate people, which is us Danes in three to five generations, who speak Danish, read Danish, and think Danish and understand our culture and the Nordic world. (Lissy, interview)
Lissy’s talk about a civil war is not a new idea in social media but can be traced back to the late 1990s, when a tabloid newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, ran a unique antimigrant, neonationalist campaign (Hervik 2011). Part of the campaign included visiting people who had written concerned letters to the editor and using their stories as separate news stories.
Racism in Self-Understanding of Racism
The fifth theme identified in the interviews comes from racist statements and from addressing racism directly. The underlying racist thought is present in all five themes.
When Lissy talks about her son being married, and later divorced, to a woman from the Middle East and about having her son’s future partner in mind, she states:
I prefer to have a European without the African man. Indeed, I would prefer to be free from Africans. . . . This has nothing to do with racism. . . . I would not like if my son brought home an African girl. Even though she might be well educated. She might be nice, cultivated, and loving. But I would feel unpleasant . . . that he would marry, and I should get mullato grandchildren. It would not please me, since he carries with him another cultural background from home. . . . More relentlessness, giving tit for tat. Close the Qur’an, cleansing, throwing people out of the country if they show the least sympathy for radicalized types. Protect our country and civilization. It is treason.
As far as self-understanding, Lissy does not see herself as racist. She said, “It is not my nature to be a racist. I get furious if anybody calls me a racist, Nazi, fascist, or whatever they can come up with. Regrettably, I often hear such terms. I am a patriot, I love my mother country. . . . We are neither racists, fascists, or Nazis because we like to have the good, old order in our mother country and we like to have a homogeneous population.” Another interviewee, Linda, noted, “I have observed that the concept of racism is used as soon as you present a critical argument—without using vitriolic language. . . . Many people from the other political wing think I am a racist because I have a negative view on Islam. I am in no sense a racist.” Lissy added, “You ought to realize that if the level of intelligence drops in Europe because we marry members of a group who are far less gifted and have more disabilities.”
The statements presented in the first four themes are at odds with the self-understanding of interviewees, who do not perceive themselves to be racists. On one hand, racism conceptualized as “cultural racism,” “cultural fundamentalism,” and “neoracism” has aptly captured the notion of racism without racists. This is clear in the case of Lissy, who makes racist statements about the cultures of people who are more civilized, more intelligent, or more primitive than others and unreflectively uses the case of defecation in public pools as part of her dehumanizing, extreme vocabulary. Again, this view is similar to Lissy’s perspective on herself and her group and is similar to the views of other interviewees. They emphasized that they are simply telling the truth about the numbers and characters of migrants coming and those already here. This truth is, they argue, not understood by their opponents, who instead rely on fake accusations of racism.
The pattern found in the chocolate commercial controversy and the themes identified in the interviews for this chapter echo public debate on social media and debate programs on television more generally in Denmark. With some variation, Danish social media platforms as well as national politics operate with a strong, spatially divided nationalist we-the-Danes and a racialized other; a classic us-them division, where the “we” form an ethnocentric as well as Eurocentric norm against which all others are evaluated. Whether these others are people approaching Denmark in search of a better life, fleeing from experiences of paralyzing economic and other inequalities, escaping from regimes with draconian surveillance routines, running from the horrors of war and other disasters, or Danish citizens with an ethnic family background, they are talked about in an extreme language that sees them as belonging to a different, non-Danish space. The nationalist idea of belonging “naturally” to certain spaces, and that one should stay in those spaces, is an important neoracism philosophy. According to this idea, people from the non-European world seem to be regarded as of equal moral and intellectual worth, but if they are in the “wrong” (unnatural) space, xenophobic reactions and extreme language will occur as a “natural” reaction. However, when people in “our space” and “their space” are portrayed, they are still represented as being less civilized in a variety of ways, including where they pee and defecate. This is obviously particularly strong in Lissy’s reasoning.
Few people in Denmark have studied racism historically or in the contemporary society in which they live. Everyday perceptions of racism evoke dark forces that should be avoided and for good reasons. The understanding is that racism should be relegated to the historical past in Central Europe, the American South, and South Africa. Racism is denied, explained away in different ways, while facts are ignored. The statements about mixing bear witness to a practice of scavenging and evoking gut-level feelings and extreme speech with reference to anger in order to counter anyone who brings up expressions claimed to be racist. The implication is that online extreme speech appears as viable and resistant to the most important criticism of being factless, affectively driven, and ignoring minority experiences that do not fit the ideology.
1. These events are some of the most talked about events on Danish social media, capturing the attention of thousands of people who were commenting, posting, or reposting through their networks or having informal conversations with friends, family, coworkers, and others. Usually, the events were debated for 2–3 days, with 150–200 commentaries, and then died out (Hervik 2019a).
2. In this work, I build this finding on team research projects that took place precisely when three historic media events happened that are well documented in Danish language books: the birth and explosive growth of the far-right Danish People’s Party along with an antimigrant campaign by a nationally circulated tabloid paper in 1997 (Hervik 1999); moral panic created in summer 2001 around the framing of young Danish Muslims with Pakistani heritage as “infiltrating” Danish politics and representing people consubstantial with the “Taliban” (Hervik 2002); and the Muhammad cartoon story of 2005–2006.
3. The term “white” is used because the research project “Structuring Diversity” documented how the Danish became “racially” aware of themselves as white in the late 1990s (Hervik 2011).
4. In a European context, the enforcement of the nation-state’s borders and internal boundaries has been indicative of the reoccurrence of racism, or rather neoracism, reflecting the rhetorical shift of emphasis from “race” to “culture,” among other features (see Hervik 2011).
5. The following commentary is from Emore’s Facebook post, which we printed when it came out in March 2017 and was part of the public debate. At the time, there were 378 likes, 91 shares, and 189 comments, and it was broadly covered by the Danish news media outlets.
6. The editing is for clarity and includes some second commentators repeating the previous commentator’s message.
Barth, Fredrik, ed. 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Oslo: Universitetesforlaget.
Betz, Hans-Georg. 1998. “Introduction.” In The New Politics of the Right: Neopopulist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies, edited by H-G. Betz and S. Immerfall, 1–10. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Bilefsky, D. 2017. “In Denmark, Passage of Rules on Immigraiton Called for Cake.” New York Times, March 15.
Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.
Boot, Max. 2016. “How the ‘Stupid Party’ Created Donald Trump.” New York Times, July 31, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/01/opinion/how-the-stupid-party-created-donald-trump.html.
Caglar, Ayse. 2016. “Still ‘Migrants’ after All Those Years: Foundational Mobilities, Temporal Frames, and Emplacement of Migrants.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42 (6): 952–969.
Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff. 1991. Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Danmarks Statistik. 2018. Indvandrere i Danmark 2018. https://www.dst.dk/Site/Dst/Udgivelser/GetPubFile.aspx?id=29445&sid=indv2018.
Essed, Philomena. 2002. “Everyday Racism.” In Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, edited by John Hartwell Moore. Vol. 1, 447–449. Detroit: Macmillan.
Feischmidt, Margit, and Peter Hervik. 2015. “Mainstreaming the Extreme: Intersecting Challenges from the Far Right in Europe.” Intersections 1:3–17.
Goodenough, Ward H. 1997. “Moral Outrage: Territoriality in Human Guise.” Zygon, 32:5–27.
Gottfried, Jeffrey. 2017. “Most Americans Get Their Science News from General Outlets, but Many Doubt Their Accuracy.” Pew Research Center, September 21, 2017. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/21/most-americans-get-their-science-news-from-general-outlets-but-many-doubt-their-accuracy.
Hervik, Peter, ed. 1999. Den generende forskellighed. Danske svar på den stigende multikulturalisme. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag.
———. 2002. Mediernes muslimer. En antropologisk undersøgelse af mediernes dækning af religioner i Danmark. Copenhagen: Board for Ethnic Equality.
———. 2011. The Annoying Difference: The Emergence of Danish Neonationalism, Neoracism, and Populism in the Post-1989 World. New York: Berghahn.
———. 2112. The Danish Muhammad Cartoon Conflict. Current Themes in IMER Research 13, Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM), Malmö University.
———. 2014. “Cultural War of Values: The Proliferation of Moral Identities in the Danish Public Sphere.” In Becoming Minority: How Discourses and Policies Produce Minorities in Europe and India, edited by Jyotirmaya Tripathy and Sudarsan Padmanabhan, 154–173. New Delhi: Sage.
———. 2018a. “Afterword.” Conflict and Society 4 (1): 85–93.
———. 2018b. “Refiguring the Public, Political and Personal in Current Danish Exclusionary Reasoning.” In “Political Sentiments and Social Movements: The Person in Politics and Culture, edited by Claudia Strauss and Jack Friedman, 91–117. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
———. 2019a. “Denmark’s Blond Vision and the Fractal Logic of the Nation in danger.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. (electronic version, ahead of print). DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1587905
———. 2019b. “Ritualized Opposition in Danish Online Practices of Extremist Language and thought.” International Journal of Communication 13: 3104–3121.
Hervik, Peter, and Clarissa Berg. 2007. “Denmark: A Political Struggle in Danish Journalism.” In Reading the Mohammed Cartoons Controversy: An International Analysis of Press Discourses on Free Speech and Political Spin, edited by Risto Kunelius, Elisabeth Eide, Oliver Hahn, and Roland Schroeder, 25–39. Working Papers in International Journalism. Bochum/Freiberg: Projekt Verlag.
Lentin, Alana. 2008. Racism: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld.
Malkki, Liisa. 1992. “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees.” Cultural Anthropology 7 (1): 24–44.
Miles, R. 1993. Racism after “Race Relations.” London: Routledge.
Ministry of Immigration and Integration. 2019. “Regeringen har gennemført  stramninger på udlændingeområdet.” http://uim.dk.
Mondon, Aurélien. 2013. The Mainstreaming of the Extreme Right in France and Australia: A Populist Hegemony? Farnham: Ashgate.
Press, Bill. 2002. Spin This! All the Ways We Don’t Tell the Truth. New York: Pocket.
Schroeder, Ralph. 2018. Social Theory after the Internet. London: University College Press.
TV2. 2017. “Kims beskyldes for racism: Nu fjerner de ‘brunt ansigt’ fra reklame.” http://nyheder.tv2.dk/samfund/2017-03-17-kims-beskyldes-for-racisme-nu-fjerner-de-brunt-ansigt-fra-reklame.
Udupa, Sahana, and Matti Pohjonen. 2019. “Introduction: Extreme Speech and Global Digital Cultures.” International Journal of Communication 13:3049–3067.
Warming, Martin. 2014. “Svømmehal plages af bæ-terror: Hvem gør det i vandet?” http://www.lokalavisen.dk/112/2014-02-08/Svømmehal-plages-af-bæ-terror-Hvem-gør-det-i-vandet-1337674.html.
Wodak, Ruth, and M. Reisigl. 1999. “Discourse and Racism: European Perspectives.” Annual Review of Anthropology 28:175–200.
* All translations from Danish were done by author.