13th of august 2020

Why you aren’t an activist: from an Icelandic woman who „doesn’t look like’’ an Icelandic woman. 

As a woman of colour, who was born and raised in a predominantly white country, growing up and living in Iceland for 20 years of my life was interesting to say the least. Iceland’s positive reputation for gender equality has led many to believe that it is an entirely equal society, inasmuch that racism is ‘non-existent’ and many claim ‘to not see colour’.
I mean sure, I guess Iceland is rather far ahead in the feminist movement than most countries, but how inclusive is the movement to our local minority women?

How has the movement, more specifically white feminism, benefitted people like me in this country? The answer is that it hasn’t, and it will not until Iceland as a country faces up to the racism that is extant here, both systemically and in the community.

What is racism exactly? Do white or Icelandic people experience racism?
Racism is a belief that a certain race upholds superiority over another race, typically over a marginalized or minority ethnic group. Acts of racism includes but not limited to discrimination, prejudice and antagonism- not to mention that racism as an ideology and racist acts are different from one another. 
While white/Icelandic white people in particular may in some ways experience discrimination or prejudice in their lifetime, they do not experience it to the same extent as other marginalized groups do. Their experiences do not lead to a structural, systemic and long-lasting disadvantages solely because of the colour of their skins but instead they benefit from what we know as white privilege or white supremacy, where they also sit on the pedestal with the oppressors. This is why ’reverse racism’ is a myth. 

As mentioned earlier, I am a woman of colour who was born and raised in Iceland, so I can confidently say that I have encountered a number of experiences of racism throughout my life here. From friends to strangers, from micro-aggressions to hate speech. I had to learn to brush a lot of it off as if it never happened, in fear of having no one to back me up but instead be called ‘dramatic’or ‘taking it too seriously’. Instead of standing up for myself I’d stay silent for the sake of not discomforting my white peers.

I’ve somehow suppressed my traumatic experiences with it from a young age, which I can’t say is a healthy coping mechanism, but the resentment is still there. The hurt, the anger, the devastation. All of it is still there. 
Healing from it sounds a lot easier said than done.

When I realized that by staying silent and not telling my friends off, I may have been the source of enabling my friend’s racist behaviours to others. It took me a long time to learn how to stand up for myself but I knew I couldn’t endorse that kind of behaviour, so I had to start putting a stop to it. I couldn’t just sit there and let them carry on with saying racial slurs or make racist jokes to me or to other people of colour anymore. It has never been just a word or just a joke. Most of it, if not all of it, runs a lot deeper than that. 

This does not, however, mean that my experiences of racist encounters have ceased. Nearly every single time I step out of my house I am faced with at least one subtle act from strangers; I guess it is sort of inevitable.

In the recent murder of George Floyd which has awaken a global awareness and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, I unfortunately have witnessed a lot of performative acts by my white Icelandic peers. I have personally seen two sides of this;

Type one is the ‘hop on the trend and forget about it the next week’. For instance, they may have shared the black box but didn’t really know what it was for, saw and maybe even read all the anti-racist posts on Instagram but continue to sing or say the n-word (which all non-Black people should know, by now, NOT to say). 
Type two is ‘I’m sharing all of this, so I’ve done my bit’ where they expect a reward or a pat on the back for reposting something on their Facebook or Instagram pages to ‘look good’ but remain silent in person. This is called performative allyship and doesn’t work in reality, but instead is counterproductive and can cause harm to those it supposedly is trying to support.

While it’s great that Icelandic society has become more aware of the injustice that our fellow Black people go through in America, it doesn’t exactly reciprocate to our dear Black brothers and sisters in Iceland, where they are held to a higher standard due to the unconscious bias many local people have.

As my friend Jonathan said, ’how can you be an activist for international issues if you can’t see the ones in your own backyard?’

With all that being said, where do we take it from here? What else is there to do? 
The answer to that is endless. There’s so much more to learn and so many more issues to solve. One of the many ways we can fight anti-racism is by starting from within; we have to continuously check ourselves and our unconscious bias, to hold ourselves accountable for our past behaviours and actions, to unlearn and relearn from them and speak up against the injustices marginalized groups continue to face. 

Dismantling white supremacy does not take overnight, but by using your white privilege to help local Black and people of colour, by helping us raise our voices, we may just be one step closer to a better society. If not in our lifetime, at least for the lifetime of our future generations.

Stand by our sides, fight with us but not for us, listen to what we have to say over your white counterparts when it comes to issues that touch us

“We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
– James Baldwin

— — —

Do you support Vía?

Vía counts on your support. By subscribing to Vía you contribute to the future of a medium that specializes in, and puts emphasis on equality and diversity.

Vía, formerly known as Flóra, was founded 4 years ago for critical readers that want to dive underneath the superficial layer of social discussion and see it from an equality, inclusion, and diversity perspective.

From the beginning, Vía has covered urgent societal topics and published issues and articles that have shone a light on inequality, prejudice, and violence that exist in all layers of society.

We emphasize publishing stories from people with lived experiences of marginalization.

Every contribution, big and small, enables us to continually produce content aimed to educate and shine a light on hidden inequalities in society, and is essential for our continuing work.

Support Vía

** Shop at Uppskera, our artmarket **

previous article
Donna Cruz: A Letter to 16 year old Me

Most read
My Right to Exist


Next article
How Does One Become Vulnerable? The Multiple Vulnerabilities and Types of Abuse Women of Multi-Ethnic Origins Experience in Iceland

Read more about...

White feminism – Why You Aren’t an Activist: From an Icelandic Woman who “Doesn’t Look Like” an Icelandic Woman