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'If we can't admit that racism is a problem in Norway, we'll never move past it'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'If we can't admit that racism is a problem in Norway, we'll never move past it'
The Egyptian-Norwegian researcher Mona Abdel-Fadil was one of the three curators behind the Everyday Racism exhibition at The Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies

Mona Abdel-Fadil, one of the researchers and curators behind the Everyday Racism exhibition at Oslo's Holocaust Centre, tells The Local that everybody in Norway needs to accept that they are part of the problem.


Countless school classes, officials, executives and other decision-makers, and thousands of ordinary Norwegians have visited the exhibition In/Visible: Everyday Racism in Norway since it opened at the Holocaust Centre in Oslo two and a half years ago. 

For Abdel-Fadil, the Egyptian-Norwegian researcher who was one of the three curators, the aim has been to help people in Norway understand that racism is a problem and that everyone is a part of it.

"I think our goal with the exhibition has been to invite people to reflect on how their own prejudices could also be part of the problem, and that nobody's really free from that," she said. 

"It's important to talk about how we can all be a party to racist thoughts, worldviews, perspectives, and also acts. Even people who experience racism can have racist thoughts. Nobody's really immune from this." 

survey by Norstat for NRK recently found that 53 percent of people in Norway believed that so-called "everyday racism" was "widespread" or "extremely widespread" in Norway, compared to 39 percent who thought it was "not particularly widespread" or "not widespread at all". 

This is a significant rise from former studies, which have tended to see Norwegians dismiss racism as something that exists but is relatively unusual. 

"The good news is that only two percent of those polled think that racism isn't widespread at all," Abdel-Fadil said. "But there's still a fairly high number who still thinks that racism isn't particularly widespread. Interestingly, women appear to believe that racism is more widespread than men do." 

There has, she said, been some progress on race awareness since she came to Norway as a child, but it was limited.  


"I think today there is more acknowledgement that racism is a societal problem that affects the population unevenly. However, awareness about racism is slow-paced and gradual," she said. 

"There's this idea that there are no racists in Norway or that there might be some degree of racism in the country, but it's not widespread. I feel like that's the furthest that some people are willing to go because there's this fear of being categorised as a racist." 

The research they did for the exhibitions, she said, had clearly shown that those who try to speak up about racist encounters are often labelled as oversensitive or unable to take a joke.  

"When someone tries to speak up and tell someone that they've experienced racism, whether it was from that person that they're trying to address or from someone else, they are very often not believed or accused of having misunderstood," she said. "People who experienced racism are written off as being overly sensitive, which is itself, I think, another form of microaggression." 

Pictured is a view of the Everyday Racism exhibition A view of the exhibition. Photo provided by Mona Abdel-Fadil

The In/Visible exhibition tries to showcase the full variety of ways people in Norway are exposed to Norway, drawing on interviews with over 50 people.


"There was quite a gender difference when it came to forms of physical harassment. Women tended to experience more sexualised physical harassment, whilst men experienced people trying to hit them. Then something like spitting, that was something that could cut across genders," she said. 

"And then there were all the subtle things like being like being given suspicious gazes or people moving away if you get onto a bus or train or something, or being followed in a shop because somebody thought that you were stealing, or being stopped by the police, or at border control."  

"We tried to systematise some of the patterns that went across all types of minoritised people, so we had racial slurs, and also dehumanisation, this idea that you're not really human, coming through in the way that people were being spoken to. Being met with suspicion, and then also being defined as non-Norwegian or facing non-recognition as being Norwegian." 

She said an example of this last form of racism were the expressions andregenerasjonsinnvandrer and tredjegenerasjonsinnvadrer, which mean "second and third-generation immigrants."


"It's ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense, because they haven't migrated anywhere," she pointed out. 

One of the other things that came out of the research they did for the exhibition was the extent to which experiences of racism can build up over a lifetime, even if some of the instances in themselves do not seem very serious. 

"It's really about the accumulation of microaggressions. So, something like being spat on or being told to leave the country may seem insignificant to a person who hasn't experienced it. Some people think, 'Oh, okay, it happened once, and it was probably horrible, but you'll get over it'. But the thing is, it very rarely happens just once. So the accumulation of those experiences starts to become unbearable over the years."

Another experience the interviewees described was how they felt they had to hold back when confronted with racism to stop situations escalating, and were often on edge in public places because of a fear that they might be confronted. 

"There are some very interesting reflections about how you need to keep your calm when you're harassed so that you're not accused of being aggressive," Abdel-Fadil said. "One of the most, I guess, eerie findings is this inability to relax in public space or even private space because you never know when someone's going to say something racist or do something racist: I think that in itself is quite a massive burden. It means that you're always prepared for the worst." 


This is not to say that Norway has not made progress on racism awareness. Abdel-Fadil said that the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK had launched the show Migrapolis, which showcased the lives of immigrants as early as 1997. It was a product of its time, but since then, NRK has had presenters and news anchors with diverse backgrounds on TV for both adults and children. 

Nowadays, she said, Norway was lucky to have talented artists and writers from minority backgrounds documenting their experiences. 

"The most promising thing that I've seen in the last few years has been all of these amazingly talented authors, poets and playwrights who make very clear references to racism in their lives and how they've managed to create excellent artwork, but art that at the same time educates people," she said. 

She said the exhibition's aim was to hold space for people who have experienced racism, and to help people from the Norwegian majority better empathise with their experiences.

"I think that we all just need to be much more humble about how we need to learn and unlearn certain ways of thinking and being, and I think the unlearning part is where most people have to do the work."

Mona Abdel-Fadil no longer works for the Holocaust Centre, but the In/Visible: Everyday Racism in Norway exhibition will continue to be on display at the Holocaust Centre until early 2025.  

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Steven Johnson 2024/03/05 07:35
I have been harassed by North Africans blaming me for their situation, yet I am powerless to have any influence whatsoever on their lives. To them, I am a White Scourge and the mere presence of me somehow causes them harm.

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