Iceland Culture: Race Relations

We depart for Iceland tomorrow night (10/29)! Here’s a teaser of a cultural story Bryce is pursuing. Follow Columbia students’ journey, which begins October 30, on the Iceland Airwaves 2013 blog.

In February of 2012, a young man named Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman. The incident caused a stir in the United States that still spans today. Debates ranging from this incident inlcudes: gun laws, self defense and the Stand Your Ground law, and racism. The United States in its short history has many accounts that spotlight racism, but what about other countries?

In September of 2010, the Reykjavík Grapevine, a newspaper in Iceland, reported that a Cuban family permanently left Iceland because of racism a young woman experienced at a secondary school. The family reportedly received numerous violent threats and the daughter, father and brother decided to leave. The mother and oldest brother stayed in the country.

In that same year Baldur Kristjánsson wrote an article summing up reasons for racism in Iceland as well as countering measures in place and residents in Iceland that fight against racism. One of the reasons he finds for racism within Iceland is that there is no specific institution in place to counter racism, there are many groups for human rights and cultural diversity, but not for racism in itself.

Kristjánsson also said the Icelandic government doesn’t have any authority or bodies of power in place to counter racism either, which the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has strongly recommended. The ECRI also encouraged strengthening the protection provided by the Icelandic constitution.

Two specific people mentioned by Baldur Kristjánsson that counter racism in Iceland are Akeem Cujo Oppong and Toshiki Toma. Oppong is an African man that lives in Iceland, he is involved with a couple of organizations against racism. He is also a journalist that writes about race in the paper and is a frequent guest on television shows.

Toma is a minister for immigrants in Iceland as well as a teacher for one of the Icelandic schools. Toma was also interviewed by the Reykjavík Grapevine about the Cuban family leaving to which he said it was not the first time. Toma said that there have been other families that have moved out of the country due to racism, a more common action though is for someone to leave their place of work and move or for a child to transfer to another school. Toma also said that the racism in Iceland has been decreasing.

The article and incident happened in 2010. It is now 2013 and it will be interesting to examine race relations in Iceland. How do immigrants feel in the country? Are immigrants leaving less likely to happen? Are there countermeasures? Where is Iceland in race relations in 2013 and how does it compare to our own race issues?

Toma, along with immigrant members of his church will speak to WCRX and discuss race relations within Iceland along with some of their experiences within the Island country.

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