Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Simpler Life

fruit bowl in the kitchen

I was re-visiting previous posts and realized that I hadn't completely updated you with the state of affairs on Mars. Well, I mentioned in a previous post that I was moving out of my apartment on Amager and about to move in with my friend from Brooklyn, Paulette. Well, I ended up moving to Vesterbro- as also mentioned before.
Vesterbro is the neighborhood I first moved to when I moved to Copenhagen, so coming back here is a trip. Walking down its streets takes me back to the days when I Kai was just a baby. I began my journey into motherhood here - and with Kai growing up so fast, the memories are quite welcome.
Vesterbro is an interesting neighborhood to say the least. The other morning I awoke the the sound of a john arguing with a prostitute about money. Sigh. Last night as I walked down Istedgade in the rain, I passed a group of men in front of the fixing room (for the heroin users) playing music and dancing. I also passed a young lady standing on a corner, huddling under an umbrella. This is the prostitute capital of Denmark.
I moved in with my friend Bente. I first met Bente in 1998 when she came to stay with Flux in Williamsburgh. When we met, I had already met Kai's father and I was early into my pregnancy. After moving to Denmark it was great to already have a couple of friends here from beforehand.
Bente is a photographer and originally from Norway. She has a beautiful apartment and we're both getting along quite well. It's really nice being around another mother and Kai loves it here.
As for the status of my getting rid of my stuff - that has actually gone quite well. My belongings - which once filled an entire apartment have been whittled down to fit in my room. I have managed to let go of a few of my books (round of applause), lots of clothes, furniture and other items such as jewelry. My plan is to keep it simple.

Here's my latest piece from the Murmur http://murmur.dk/articles/denmark-s-real-national-treasures.290.html

the lab

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Erotic as Power

Viking Throwdown

Last Friday my son and I attended a "Nonfirmation" i.e. a Confirmation that was not tied to any religion. Confirmations tend to be huge here - but for many families who do not abide by the church - the "Nonfirmation" was invented so that there is a reason for loved ones to convene for the celebration of the child who is on her way to adulthood.

Sune and Sofie (the parents) moved to the town of Køge from Copenhagen some years ago and every time I visit I often wonder at the natural beauty that surrounds me. Denmark's countryside is amazing- especially when the sun decides to shine. As mentioned in my earlier post, the fields are ablaze with yellow.

I have known this family since first moving to Copenhagen 16 years ago - and Nikola - for whom the "confirmation" was thrown was born just a few months before my own son.

Everyone had to drink Viking beer! 

The family! 


In typical Danish style there were songs, toasts (skål!), games and great company.

Hurrah for the Vikings!


Thursday, May 14, 2015


I enjoy seasons. I enjoy being able to notice the subtle shifts in the air, changing of foliage and light that accompanies the changing of the seasons. All around Denmark right now, outside the cities, are the most spectacular fields of yellow. The landscape has now fully awakened, seemingly overnight. There is no slow changing of the seasons here - or perhaps it is the fact that it is so slow that it feels as if the change is not happening at all, when all of a sudden - viola - a new season is upon us.

In Denmark in the summertime we get an almost midnight sun, meaning that on the longest day of the year we have sunlight well after 11pm. And although I like living in a temperate country, I don't enjoy not getting sunlight in the winter here so in the summer, I along with everyone else do our best to be outside to soak up the rays.

This Monday I had the opportunity to leave Copenhagen and visit one of Denmark's 443 islands - Langeland, which means if translated literally "long country". It's a long thin island about two hours from Copenhagen.  I enjoy being on the move - whether it is in a car, a train, a plain. I especially appreciated begin able to get out of the city and visit some place new. I was happy for the opportunity as I had been wanting to go to the countryside for a while and that morning I was awakened by an argument outside my window between a john and a prostitute about payment. It was a reminder indeed that my time was near.

I spent a couple of days there visiting someone who is in the midst of building a community/vacation spot. I slept in a trailer the last couple of days and I have to admit I enjoy the simplicity and immediacy that such accommodations provide. Like a bird preparing to nest - I am seeking that spot where I can call my own, a garden to tend as I continue to unfold my many stories.

Happy Spring!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Spring Sprang

One day I walked into a library in Amager. It was under construction so I wasn't encouraged to browse the shelves as I usually do. Instead, I walked over to the section with the newspapers and magazines. I looked around, not really expecting anything and then I came across this newspaper - The Murmur. It looked good - I mean, aesthetically. I flipped through the pages and dug what I saw. I liked the quality and focus of the articles. The caption read, "Danish news internationally". What a brilliant concept, I thought, as I excitedly flipped to the masthead to see the team responsible for this gem.
Okay - if you're an English speaker in Denmark - it really narrows your options in attempting to decipher the Danish code of incomprehensible muttering. There are a few outlets out there - but nothing that really grabbed me by the collar and demanded - write for these guys!
Then some months passed. One night, it was a full moon - I slept with my intentions clear. I awoke around 6am and decided to visit Kierkagaard's grave. I mean. I live in a country where you could go see Søren Kirkegaard's grave - and you know what? I had never seen it. So I decided to that morning. I biked over there enjoying the quiet of the early weekend morning in Copenhagen. I go to the cemetery- I have been there many times before - in fact, people use it as a park and hang out topless drinking beer there. It's a beautiful cemetery with the likes of Ben Webster and Hans Christian Andersen resting in peace. Anyway, I see the grave. Check out all his relatives. Shed a tear - it was really cool to be standing there at his grave. I mean. The guy died a LONG time ago. And it's KIRKEGAARD. After hanging out a bit with him I hop on my bike and proceed to leave. On my way out of the cemetery who do I bump into? The editor of the Murmur, Peter Stanners. Like really early in the morning.
And it happened. He took me onboard. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to work with this team and proud of the work that I have managed to produce with the excellent support of Peter who is a pretty strong editor.

So if you haven't checked out the Murmur yet - I suggest you do. www.murmur.dk. And if you would like to read my most recent pieces collected on one site you can go here www.lesleyannbrownwrites.wordpress.com --

This month's cover story about Henrik Vibskov - one of my favorite designers - is mine! Peter Stanners, the editor sums up some of what you can expect in this month's issue at http://murmur.dk/articles/pervasive-technology-a-danish-design-great-and-the-worrying-epidemic-of-male-suicide.293.html

Last night was a blast. I got blanked by my son to go to the Jungle Brothers concert because he "had an exam" -- that was my Absolutely Fabulous moment with him. Of course I swelled with pride when he told me that - my baby is responsible and mature! Not that I think having a few hours of pure New York City hip hop would have hurt anybody - but I get it! And these things have reasons for happening, of course.

Ms. Paulette hanging out with her former schoolmates

there are two members of the jungle brothers in this picture.
can you find them?  trippy picture...indeed.

Like when my friend Paulette jumps in and saves the day and says, "I know those guys. I went to high school with them!" And then I called my old friend V - whom I haven't seen in ages. And we danced. And had fun. And it was a great concert! And then they pulled Paulette up on stage- and we ended up chilling.  The Jungle Brothers were all there, looking good, gave a GREAT concert and showed the sisters mad love!

The night before we ended up at Kimia's.  Well, I was supposed to read my poetry but things didn't go as planned and the lime (as we say in Trinidad) was pretty good. I adore Kimia and it's owner - who I also had the pleasure of hanging out with last night at the concert. She's one of those Persian sisters that is wide awake.

I also saw Lola Lala - my Puerto Rican friend who isn't really Puerto Rican - she's half Indian - and whenever I see her we do have a good laugh and it is like being in New York, a feeling that Viana manages to conjure as well. Viana - a Greenwich village woman- has New York sapping out of her pores.  It was great to experience that although we hadn't seen each other in years, our banter took on a familiar rhythm and humor. For example at one point, she threatened to get up on the stage. I said, "settle down Darcel." And she cracked up. Only Solid Gold viewers would know about that!

Claudius' Instagram pic from yesterday at Kødbyen

Viana just started a Jamaican food stall and I went by to offer our support. She looks so happy and with a brain like hers - she can go quite far with this idea here in Denmark. Claudius just came back from his tour in Germany and we talked about our usual topics of discussion: being an independent artist here in Denmark. Always refreshing and inspiring to catch up with these folks.

There's a lot to be thankful for. I just finished up a book translation which I greatly enjoyed and feel honored to be a part of. I have my NBC gig which I'm gearing up more content for. And then there's the work that I have produced for the Murmur and hope to continue-  the paper has definitely given me much to be proud about.

May your spring be full of blossoms - professional and personal ones for sure!

farvel. adeiu. caio.

blackgirl on mars reporting
from copenhagen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ENAR Steering Group on Afrophobia- Code Orange

On Friday April 10th about 20 people gathered in Brussels, Belgium.  We were from all over Europe: Hungary, Slovenia, Germany, Ireland, London, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Denmark and we came together to move towards a EU framework for national strategies to combat Afrophobia and promote the inclusion of people of African descent and Black Europeans.

Afrophobia  (a term that rightfully warrants a thorough discussion on the merits of using such a term in the first place) attempts to put a name to a force that many people of African descent have all too commonly had to face around the world: of living within an oppressive sometimes subliminally, sometimes more openly, racist society. The failure of many to see the direct relationship between the way in which the policy of racism privileges a certain group and disenfranchises many others is strange to me. What is startling is that anti-Black racism as a phenomenon per se is not even officially recognized in many European countries, despite the fact that this is the continent that created it. Like I have said many times before, I would like to shake the person's hand who came up with racism. But that would be to assume that it was just one person.

The steering group was coordinated by the European Network Against Racism, an organization that is behind two important publications, Recycling Hatred: Racism(s) in Europe Today in 2013 that asks the vital question, "How do older and emerging forms of racism coexist and manifest themselves in Europe today? What is the impact of the communities affected? How can we influence racist and xenophobic attitudes and discourses and develop policies to counter them? and in 2014 Invisible Visible Minority: Confronting Afrophobia and Advancing Equality for People of African Descent and Black Europeans in Europe which looks into the issues impacting the lives of Black Europeans and people of African descent in Europe?  What are their experiences, and which specific stereotypes and prejudice do they face?"

I simply do not understand how it can be allowed that a mentality that has so almost inalterably changed the world knows so little about the nuances of the effects of this,  in a larger global and human context.  It seems odd that racism towards Blacks is not officially recognized when we have been the only race in the world that has had a PR campaign against our humanity ever since Bartolemet de Las Casas suggested our use instead of the Indigenous Indians, for whose cause he so gallantly defended.  Forgive me if this is written in error here -it is something I learned in school and if you know otherwise, do correct me. But Bartolemet de Las Casas is often considered to be the world's first human rights activist. Isn't it interesting that a man who encouraged African slavery is still looked upon as a hero to many? Tell me world, since when has such hypocrisy become acceptable?

a tree showing the racial hierarchy as taught by Europe

How can it be that a continuity of control (which is still in place) and that was founded on the premise of exploitation justified by race (profit could not be made without the peculiar institution of slavery, the European Industrial Revolution could not have taken place without slave labor- of both her own people and Africans) and that required the best PR mechanism ever- the media, deny a people that was/is integral to this system's success claim of racism towards them?

Let me slow down for a moment. Human beings I believe can be beautiful and kind. We can also be quite messed up. Usually, when we're being messed up, it's because we're not feeling good. We're tired. Stressed. Afraid. When we make decisions out of these spaces, it's not usually generating more positive energy. In fact, it only joins a whirlpool of all the other shit that's happening in the world. As human beings though, we have the capacity to change that.

But it's hard to change that when we walk around believing that something is acceptable when it's actually not. There's so much stuff in that whirlpool of shit and there's a lot of external factors that's influencing what we end up believing.  Many know that war is wrong, for example. But many also believe there are justifiable reasons for going to war. Protecting your own country for example. So if you could convince a lot of people that a war was about protecting your own country, you'd get a lot of people to support your war, even if, in the end, the war is about controlling another country's resources and people.

Now this is the same logic with race. The fact of the matter is that besides the military, the U.S.'s biggest global export is Hollywood. Hollywood is worth a lot of money- no shit, right? When you look at the budgets of some of these movies, it's like holy moley! Right? And Hollywood is good at making movies - sure it might require suspending your better judgement sometimes, but it's done so well - visually it's delicious. It pulls you in and you take a break from the general whirlpool of shit. You're relaxing and watching a movie and get transported into a story and for a while you are transported smack into the middle of a superhero's life or the orange uniform of a prisoner ...

Orange is the New Black is the name of a popular American series that takes viewers into the world of the U.S. prison system where about 2 million Americans live, everyday.  Out of this 2 million, about 1 million of them are Black.  The U.S. is in actuality the country who locks up the most people in the world (25%) despite only comprising about 5% of the entire world's population. Orange was the color adopted by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 to declare a "high risk" terror attack- just one color shy from red which was of course a "severe risk."

I've traveled a lot. I have been extremely privileged to have lived in Brooklyn, Trinidad, New York, Maui and Copenhagen during the times I did. I also have been to countless other cities and countries and there is something that always manages to get my attention. And that is that no matter where I go I meet other people of African descent who express much concern over the state of affairs no matter where we find ourselves.  There is a consistent form of micro-racism that at its very best is taunting in its defiance of being called out.

in this well-intended response to a currently appalling campaign poster that equates Islam with Nazism- this person doesn't even put a person of African descent despite it being an "Anti-racism" poster. 

And the only way that this can exist is through a belief that it is not all who are worthy, it is not all who are deemed equal and it is not all who deserves to live. Otherwise how can it be that footage of killing unarmed Black men seems to have become the national pastime? Images are powerful, more powerful than words. And they travel at the speed of light.

I met a UN Official the other day, who worked in various borders around the world. He told me that many of the guards who work in many of these borders, usually have a preconceived notion of who the people they are dealing with at these borders are. He said that many didn't seem to be aware that it was their job to protect these people, not imprison them. Europe has a refugee issue and it will be interesting to follow how this will be solved. Considering the wealth that Europe has gained from the world's resources, it seems a mere pittance on what is being offered in return. But again, if we don't think there is enough then we act like there's not enough. And we get stressed. And hold on tighter to what we have. Because hey, there's not enough and I have to look out for me.

I'm also afraid to report that what we see happening within the U.S. prison system can be paralleled to the detention camps here. Many people say that you can't compare what is happening in the States to what happens in Europe but my answer is, who is comparing? We're adding another piece of the picture and the picture should be complete: We must be in a position where we better understand the forces that are behind the many migrations that continue to flow out of the motherland and the devastation politically/economically that colonialism and neocolonialism has wrought, so that we can address them and ensure that there is better protection in place for a groups of people who although are spread throughout the world, proudly claim a common ancestry to a land and a people, and are clearly under attack.  How many Africans are currently in refugee camps in Europe?

Angola still has not recovered it's pre-slavery population - to just give an idea of the extent of the Atlantic Slave trade on Africa and her people. The African holocaust is real. The wiki on Angola is interesting, because reading it reminds us that there were many cultures and people whom the European encountered in Africa. Treasure is usually buried and so is it with history as well. I learned a long time ago that the gems of history is not readily given to you. You have to search for it. And when you do history comes alive in a way that teaches you, alerts you, prepares you and most importantly truly tell about the rich diversity of human beings.

Human beings have been traveling the world forever. You don't really believe that Christopher Columbus was the first European to sail to the so-called New World, do you? If Nordic accounts are correct then we all know the Vikings did it first. Or the Chinese. Or Africans. Point is we have been traveling way before Columbus. The difference is folks didn't conquer each other on the scale he would usher in, the dawn of this age in which we are in now, the dawn of the power of the Son/sun.

But what's all this about paper anyway? Do we really believe, in the end that the truth is always written down? And if so - that they are still in existence? But if your imagination cannot stretch that far, there are accounts - balanced accounts from different perspectives that prove that imagery has always and continues to be used as a tool to dehumanize others so as to exploit them or even get them out of your way.

It's a bit of a conundrum to have to speak about human rights because the existence of such an idea is also based on the idea that for some, there are none or very few. Aide has, like everything else including water, been rendered a commodity. This means that causes, if they are to be successful, must be connected to a purse.  This in turn means that just like any other commodity - the cause itself has to make itself sexy to attract those funds. What is sexy is what is current. And the media is good at telling us the sexier causes than the ones that crack the idea of what we think the world is all about. If Europe wishes to sustain an image as a champion of human rights - it means being accountable. And part of being accountable is recognizing the unique history that many of her member nations have had with countries all over the world, and dealing with the consequences of these relationships.  One of these relationships is the one that was forged with the continent of Africa and her involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the money that has been gained from this. It would mean recognizing that although not every one of African descent did not descend from slavery, there is still a common thread of homeland that ought to be on every one of our minds, and a serious questioning of the state of things now and how they are connected to the past in order to truly understanding how we can move forward.

There was an attack on a Jewish store here the other day. It made me very sad. There seems to be a historical amnesia going on, an Alzheimer's like state where many have forgotten that it was not that long ago that Bosnia happened and before that, the Nazi concentration camps and the German occupation of Denmark. The only way concentration camps could have ever occurred was through the idea that the people in them were not worthy enough to be out of them. If that was not the case there would never have been camps to begin with. The only way a group of people could be targeted is if there is a belief that these people are less than human. This is why in the end many didn't find the Mohammed drawings all that funny - there was an anti-human element to it. It was dehumanizing. Most of all for the creator of it, I believe. However we must remember. We cannot afford to forget. The facts may be  uncomfortable but some lessons unfortunately are. We can't hide from the truth. And the only way forward includes the necessary step of Europe acknowledging her unique relationship to the continent known as Africa and her people, and that this relationship is the backbone of Europe's success and this success was dependent on one of the most successful dehumanization campaigns undertaken ever. That a institutionalized racism was enacted that although may have been erased from most books of law are allowed to thrive in dubious interpretations and faulty logic. If Europe is to fight racism then she must reckon with the mother of all racisms: and that her its relationship to people of African descent and Black Europeans.

It is only until she has done so that she can claim that she is free. And if you look back in the annals of history, there truly was a time when she was.

Thank you to all of the participants of this steering committee, ENAR and the African Empowerment Center of Denmark.

Lesley-Ann Brown

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


YAAM in Berlin

This Easter found me in Berlin - which is an approximately 6 hour train ride from Copenhagen's Central Station. Kids are free until 16 years of age - and with the Central Station a mere few blocks away from my home, Kai and I decided to take a train to another country.  It was great because the last time
I met up with Dina Krasman, a former roommate at Flux in Williamsburgh. Dina is from Portugal and Germany and she's now living in Berlin.  She was one of the many visitors we had from around the world in the old feather factory in Williamsburgh that a lot of us called home. The building on Kent and Metropolitan - 210A Kent Avenue - isn't there any more, but it will always be a part of our lives.
When I in New York last winter, I had the opportunity to stay in Williamsburgh - and to say that it has changed is an understatement.  I'm thankful to have been there the period that I was and to have spent the time spent there.  If it's one that that Flux was good at was attracting a diverse group of folks - there was no one racial majority - and this wasn't even by design. There were folks from Japan, Korea, Los Angeles, Portugal, Holland - all coming together in that place.
Anyway, the last time I saw Dina was when I was pregnant with Kai - in Brooklyn. Let's just say he grew up a lot since then. ;-)
Most of the time was spent chilling - I like Berlin. That was my 3rd time there and by the sheer size of it it will take me a while to get to know it. But there is a creative vibe there - an energy that inspires, and I like that. While there we went to a Vegan market that had amazing food and vibes where we met Marco - an Italian cyclist and we talked about the environment and having ecologically-sound products.  We also checked out YAAM - where I bumped into a Trinidadian who's making a food stall there. That's enough to get me to go back to Berlin- which I will be doing sooner than later. But first - on to Brussels. More later.
the lab

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mr. Rob Visits

Karina & Mr. Clint 
future pharmacist and engineer
One of the many things I have done during my life here in Denmark was work as a teacher at Copenhagen Euro School. It's a school in Vesterbro - and when I first walked into that school about 11 years ago - I fell in love with it. It didn't matter that the school was small, or that the building looked like it was about to fall to the ground. No. What mattered were the kids - a lively bunch of diversity and love and challenges. I had always wanted to teach there and was delighted when some years later, on the recommendation of a teacher there, I was headhunted to teach Middle School English. I taught English to 5th, 6th and 7th graders - and it was not only one of the most challenging jobs I have ever had - but the most rewarding.
I left teaching a couple of years ago, about the same time that the leader of the school at the time, Robert Barrett decided to end his 16 year tenure there. Rob is originally from Canada - and he taught 8th and 9th grade English there.

Since leaving Rob did what many other expats dream of doing - he went back to his home country.  Many wish to do so but whether it's due to children or a sense of not knowing, many decide to stay. I too dream of returning to the States, or Trinidad even. But as of this moment - like so many others with children - I know in my heart that this is the place for me to be. This doesn't mean that it's not without its challenges, but I've been blessed with a pretty cool network of folks - from Danes to other expats and not to mention my former students. Denmark has its challenges and I'm determined to be a part of the solution - my son is Danish - and I want to do all that I can to help create a stronger Denmark.
Part of creating this stronger Denmark are the students of this school. This past weekend I held an open house - Rob is in town visiting after a year and a half abroad - and it was heartwarming to see them. Some are still in High School, others studying medicine, law, sports journalism. Some are becoming politically active, while others are flexing their pens to become an even stronger, more empowered presence here in Denmark.
Lea, Kristine and Juana - all former students of mine shining their light out into the world. 
Listening attentively to Mr. Rob. 
In America if you are born there you are American. In Denmark this is not necessarily the perceived case. Many of these kids are born here - even their parents, but they are still referred to hyphenated Danes. When and if they return to the country of their or their parents' birth - they are however Danish. I have always encouraged my students to see the strength in this - of seeing both from the outside in - and using their voices and talents in hammering home the diversity that Denmark is.  I don't see these kids represented in the dominant narrative here - but it is my sincerest hope that by their sheer presence and intelligence that this begins to change.
It's akin to Black representation in the States although personally, I think there is more room for advancement in the States - for all the crippling racial issues that are present.  A comparison however is perhaps not valid here - but hopefully it gives some sort of idea of what these young adults are up against.
future doctors in the house! 

What inspires me the most are their attitudes. They are hopeful and work hard. They see themselves as being a part of this society - and having a right to pursuing a high quality of life just as many others. Many left Copenhagen Euro school to go on to  Danish schools and have expressed the cultural shock (Copenhagen Euro School was an oasis of sorts, where difference was a part of the landscape) - and for me to hear their heroic stories of how they chose to rise above these challenges is  inspiring.
Here are some pictures that will give you an idea of what the face of Denmark includes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear | The Nation

No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear | The Nation

"We may also delude ourselves into thinking that our efforts to “civilize” or “pacify” other countries are not about money. Slavery was always about money: free labor producing money for owners and industries." 

Smart Dane...Dumb Dane

Dear World. This is a picture of a Smart Dane:

He makes fashion. Music. Installation. He doesn't believe in bullying other people. 
You can read more about him in an upcoming interview. 
He makes art like this:

His name is Henrik Vibskov.

But this Guy. 

He's a member of Parliament.
His name is Thomas Danielsen.
He receives my tax kroner. 

And he makes posters like this: 

Thomas Danielsen is a GREAT example of a DUMB DANE. 
The poster reads: "If you Come to Denmark, you have to use your education".

Now, not all Danes are dumb. But I trust you will now be able to recognize the difference. 

This concludes our lesson on Smart Dane, Dumb Dane for today. 

the lab

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Re-Imaging Denmark

my old block when i first moved to Vesterbro...

I'm loving being back in Vesterbro - a vibrant, diverse neighborhood that is more of a match for where I am in life right now. It's quite inspiring and reminds me of the big city vibe that a small city like Copenhagen can sometimes have. 

I live right off of Istedgade - close to the Central Station. I usually refer to Istedgade as the crack of Copenhagen's ass - you'll find all kinds of illicit goings-on here - from prostitutes to drug users to the johns of course. But that is not all this part of Copenhagen has to offer. Luckily for me there are no shortage of greengrocers who have okra, cassava, plantain and scotch bonnet peppers for sale. This is all in the midst of a bustling street that includes young parents, hipsters and students.  Vesterbro has changed much since I lived here some years ago - but perhaps it's because it's the same neighborhood I first moved to when I first got here that I feel the closest thing to being home here.  I've managed to live in every neighborhood in Copenhagen - and enjoyed them all. 

Last night the Murmur had a a little meet & greet where we invited folks to come by for beer and a chat. The Murmur is an English language newspaper here that writes about Danish news, internationally.  Some may wonder why there is a need for such a thing - but after being here for 16 years folks need to know that although Denmark is a small country - it's been making big moves, politically, economically,creatively and socially.  Denmark's role on the world political stage is always interesting - although for the past 16 or so years one may say that Denmark is to American what Birgitte Nielsen was to Sylvester Stallone. 

I've been getting more into Danish history and there is so much fascinating stuff, I don't even know where to start.  First of all - the Black presence here - historically speaking is off the chain. Folks don't even know - for example - and I do think I've mentioned this before- but it's such a cool story that it's mentioning again, the story of Hans Jonatan. Who is ? Well, Denmark, like most other European countries had of course slave colonies (this is how Europe got her wealth).  From Wiki: 

Hans Jonatan (1784-1827) was the subject of an important test case in Danish law on slavery. Fleeing to Iceland, he became one of the first people of colour to live in Iceland. As of April 2014, a biography of Jonatan is being written by Gísli Pálsson.[1] 
Hans Jonatan was born a slave on the plantation at Constitution Hill on the island of St Croix in the Caribbean, which had become a Danish colony in 1733 when purchased by the Danish West India Company from France. His paternity is uncertain, but his father was certainly white; his mother was Emilia Regina, a black 'house slave' who is first recorded in 1773 at the St Croix plantation of La Reine, where she was presumably born. In 1788, Emilia had a daughter, Anna Maria, this time by a black man, Andreas, who at the time was a house slave too; but their fates are not recorded.[2] The details of the West African ancestry of Hans's mother are not known, though it may be revealed by ongoing genetic research.[3]
Hans Jonatan was owned by a Dane, Heinrich Ludvig Ernst von Schimmelmann.[4]
In 1789 the Schimmelmann family moved to Copenhagen as the plantation business took a downturn, bringing Emilia Regina and, later, Hans Jonatan with them.[5] Not long afterwards, Heinrich died, bequeathing Hans to his widow Henriette Catharine von Schimmelmann. In 1801, at the age of seventeen, Hans Jonatan escaped. It appears that Hans Jonatan joined the Danish Navy 'and fought in the Napoleonic War, for which he received recognition and respect among Danish aristocrats'.[6][3] Later taken by the police, he and his lawyer Algreen-Ussing argued in 1802 before a Copenhagen court under the judge Anders Sandøe Ørsted that although slavery was still legal in the Danish West Indies, as slavery was illegal in Denmark, Hans Jonatan could not be kept as a slave. However, in the case Generalmajorinde Henriette de Schimmelmann contra mulatten Hans Jonathan 1802, Ørsted sentenced him on March 31st 1802 to be returned to the West Indies.
He escaped again and for many years nothing was heard of him until he turned up in Iceland:
Hans Jonatan escaped again, however, and his fate remained unknown to the Danish administration. It was only around the 1990s that the rest of his story was pieced together and started to become generally known.[7][5] His movements immediately after 1802 are unknown, but in 1805 he arrived in Djúpivogur in Iceland. Our first record of Hans Jonatan after 1802 is in the diary of the Norwegian cartographer Hans Frisak for August 4th 1812:
The agent at the trading post here is from the West Indies, and has no surname ... but calls himself Hans Jonatan. He is very dark-skinned and has coal-black, curly hair. His father is European but his mother a negro. He was twelve years old when he came to Denmark from the West Indies along with the governor Schimmelmann, and twenty-one when he came to Iceland seven years ago.[note 1]
Frisak hired Hans Jonatan as a guide. Hans lived as a peasant farmer at Borgargarður working at the Danish trading station in Djúpivogur. He took over the running of the trading post in 1819.[5] By February 1820, Hans had married Katrín Antoníusdóttir from Háls. They had three children; two survived childhood, and their living descendants now number nearly five hundred;[3] among the most famous is one-time prime minister Davíð Oddsson.[8]
Hans Jonatan died in 1827.
In Thomas C. Holt's landmark book The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1938 (Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History and Culture), Holt goes into the very fundamental idea that if "freedom" is something that must be debated - then there can never be true "freedom" - thus the delema of the concept of "freedom" in a world where courts determine such a status. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the philosophical and social implications of "freedom" as a legal concept. 
There are many Blacks in the history of Denmark - Nella Larsen is a one such Dane. Nella Larsen was born to a Danish mother and her father was originally from the Danish West Indies. Larsen went on to play a huge role in the Harlem Renaissance with her novels Quicksand and Passing which covers the nuances of racism both in the U.S. and in Denmark. If I'm not mistaken (Wikipedia doesn't mention this), but I do believe I read once that Larsen has the distinction of not only being the first Black to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, but to be the first woman to have done so. 
Another Black writer connected with Denmark is Cecil Brown. He wrote the Lives and Loves of Mr. Jive Ass Nigger an early fictional  discourse on the conundrum of race and how it is experienced in Denmark in relation to the US. In a racially homogenous society as Denmark, many were socialized here with the good intentioned idea that race doesn't exist, and since most don't know about Denmark's colonial past many are quick to adhere to the "I don't see race" card. Unfortunately this combination of ignorance and privilege has done very little in Danes understanding the true nature of Race and racism and this has had detrimental repercussions to many of the Blacks I know living here. Many Blacks I know, including myself experience that any mention of race is like throwing cold water on a Dane's face - and the penalty for mentioning the "R" word is that it can be and will be used against you. In other words, dare to bring up the concept of race and you yourself are deemed a racist - which in itself shows the vast ignorance of this matter. We can't get anywhere - human beings - until folks stare their ancestral legacy in the eyes. Hopefully my presence and the that of others will bring some shift in this perception. 
Race is just as bound into the material of Danish society as it is in the States - it's just, as mentioned, that due to the general historical amnesia experienced here many don't understand its foundational quality to Danish culture. Hans Christian Andersen is known most today for his Fairy Tales, but as someone recently shared with me he was most known as a playwright during his lifetime. His most famous play? The one that was big theatrical hit? Took place on a French Caribbean plantation and involves two plantations: One white owned the other owned by a Free Black. The premise of the play is that the wife of the white plantation owner and her friend fall in love with this free Black man. Her husband finds out and arranges to have him enslaved. The only way out for the Black man is to marry the white woman. 
Again, as Holt so eloquently shows in his work "The Problem of Freedom" is that if freedom is up for discussion at all in any society - then it does not truly exist. 
Denmark is a fascinating place to be and these are fascinating times. There are many different people, for different reasons - many purposely seeking to live here given the news that it's the "happiest country in the world".  It is true that the quality of life is high here for most - and that there is a large, somewhat buffered middle class.  John Maynard Keynes mentioned that the most perfect state of capitalism is to have a large state - a state that ensures employment so that the wealth is distributed more evenly.  Denmark is perhaps the country that comes closest to this ideal - although in the 16 years I've been here there is definitely a pull to be more of a competitive capitalist society (influenced by the States). I'm not sure how this will work out - but if history is any indicator - and the number of homeless people which is on the rise here as well - it may not be the most comfortable bet for some. 
I met a very interesting young lady at the party last night - she's Danish and was adopted from North Korea. We talked about this - there are many adoptees here in Denmark from different countries - with Korea having been one of the biggest exports of babies during a certain time period. We talked about her experiences and in her grace she said something to me that I had never thought about. I asked her about how she felt about it and she disclosed to me that whenever she attempted to broach the subject to her parents that they would get hurt. That her parents and all those around her insisted that they did not see race - and how this insistence came from a sincere, beautiful place but the reality of course is much deeper. There is only so much she can go with this discussion with her parents - for the hurt that they express is enough to shut the conversation down. I find this interesting and very similar to how many react to race: if there is any emotion of guilt or shame the discussion tends to stop. Which is ironic because it is only through dialogue that we can truly understand each other, and so come closer together. 
She also shared with me some of her experiences as growing up as an Asian woman in this society - the stereotypes connected to that and how that has shaped her world view. We also talked about Korea - North and South - and she shared with the me the fascinating fact that in Korea - every person has their own kimchi recipe (I'm a kimchi fan). 
Victor Bennett also came out to the party last night. Victor is a brother from DC who spearheaded the African Empowerment Center here in Denmark, along with some others and whose work included having an organized response to racism here. I first met Victor during the Dan Park debacle here, and since then we have met and talked, exchanged experiences and visions.  He is inspiring and one of the few that I have met during my time here where his work does not seem to be tied up in ego. He seems genuinely committed to the issue of human rights and how that applies to people of African descent here and in Europe and the world. 
One of the observations I have made about race is the unfortunate divide that sometimes arise among people of African descent around the world.  One infamous incident of course was having a Jamaican poet visit me here in Copenhagen and have her express a deeply rooted dislike and lack of respect for African Americans. I am familiar with this dis-ease - as I myself come from a Caribbean family and have grown up hearing disparaging comments regarding African Americans.  Many from the Caribbean take on a very elite and snobbish attitude towards African Americans - believing what the media has spent so many years in cultivating- in the systematic dehumanization of Blacks. Unfortunately these people are ignorant of history, of the true contributions that African Americans have made not only politically, economically and socially but to the true import of their role in African Diaspora politics. When you look at the history of the States and that of the Caribbean - there are not many Caribbean islands where the peculiar institution looked the way that it did in the States. Blacks in the Caribbean were not disenfranchised to the degree that African Americans were and have continued to be - and many Black immigrants, rather than understand the role their migration to the States play in this choose unfortunately to embrace the white supremacist ideas that they have been fed. 
I feel very strongly about this because growing up in Brooklyn one of the women who helped raise me was an African American woman - who through her actions taught me how open and rich African American culture truly is. Through her and her family, I learned first hand how the experience of African Americans and the migration from the South imprinted their lives, how American slavery left its mark and if it didn't - how certain laws and policy effected them and in turn, us - to quite a degree. Unfortunately I have noticed the same tendencies here - with many Blacks from Africa or the Caribbean not truly understanding the important role that African Americans play in our struggle and they continue the exclusion of American Blacks. It's sad, but a strong reminder of Isaac Julien's words that you can't tell someone's politics from the way that they look.  
I met two other Americans last night - Joe and Andre. Joe is from the Bronx and is a mixed Martial artist. Andre an American footballer from Long Beach. We all sat: Bente a Norwegian, Liam from Ireland, Victor and myself and exchanged ideas and experiences.  It is indeed interesting times in Denmark and it instils hope in me whenever I am surrounded by intelligent, sharp folks. 
The fact of the matter is that Denmark is a destination for many: no matter where you come from. The city is beautiful, and many of the people too.  But is Denmark open enough for such a venture? For example I met up with Hamid the other day and he told me the fascinating story of a young couple who was recently granted a "Danish green card." Apparently, Denmark hands out a certain number of green cards to people who can potentially fill a professional gap here - for example engineers, doctors etc. In order to fulfill the requirements, however, you must prove that you can financially support yourself when you get here - and let me tell you, Denmark is not cheap and navigating the job/real estate market without having a network and/or job is next to futile.  So this young couple from Iran is here - and again, remember, they must have a certain amount of funds available just in order to get here. 
The problem is that many come here in very much the same way that folks migrate to the States. They see this as a new opportunity, a chance to get what so many of us seem to want: a way to earn money, contribute to society, create a family. You know, the regular stuff. The problem is, or shall I say the question is: Is there truly any opportunity here for immigrants? Will this young couple be able to find a job in the 3 years they have been granted to do so? Will Denmark open her doors career wise to them? Hamid and a whole host of others don't seem to think so.  Many see Denmark as a country who appears to be open but in reality she is not. 
I read in the paper yesterday that a German official remarked that no one in Germany could get away with the rhetoric that is accepted as the norm here in Denmark. Many notice the harsh tone in which politicians speak about foreigners, and the fact that the nationalist party, the Danish People's Party is the majority- a party that has a strong anti-Muslim stance.  Denmark is seriously going through an identity crisis and with so many caught up in the usual Western distraction of prime-time news, slanted editorials and political agendas - I wonder where she is going. Thankfully  many of the young people I meet are hopeful, and open, for change. 
One great example is the general response that regular Danes have had to the recent shooting at the Synagogue that happened a few weeks ago. It was an  unfortunate incident that included a young man who had recently been released from jail, and who the news reports actually asked the State for help- because he knew he was struggling and needed support. Interestingly enough he was denied. The unfortunate part of this is that he clearly was having emotional/mental issues - something common in individuals who have traumatized through war and/or displacement.  For example, Denmark has a significant Palestinian population - with many Palestinians being treated like 2nd class citizens. Remember the story that I posted written by one of my former 6th grader's, who is now in his early 20s? He talked about regular stop and frisks and continues to share stories of his being pulled over by the police despite the fact that he is not engaged in any illegal activity. Sounds familiar? Many immigrants here have been placed in ghettoes - and this was another interesting conversation that we had last night: Ghettoes are not by accident. They are created. Architecture determines behavior. 

Sergeot Uzan, Dan Uzans father (one of the victims in the recent Copenhagen shooting)
w Yahya Hassan, the Danish Palestinian poet.
photo Bente Jaeger

photo Bente Jaeger
photo Bente Jaeger
photo Bente Jaeger

This tragedy however seems to have pulled a lot of rational thinking Danes together. Last weekend I attended an event arranged by a Muslim organization to form a ring around the Synagogue - one of the scenes of the attack- and there was a heavy police presence (since the shooting Denmark has received 8 billion kroner to combat "terror") who are now brandishing machine guns. This is new for Denmark - and many, including many in the police force believe it to be an overreaction to the event. Many have also expressed dismay that so much money is being used for weapons, rather than investing the money in social programs to ensure that the many who have fallen through the social and economic cracks in the Danish system can be assisted and thus experience a higher quality of life. 
The worst thing that can be done to someone is to take away their ability to engage in an endeavor that helps them maintain their dignity. When someone's dignity is under attack it becomes a sure -fire way of cultivating hate. It's math. 
I also want to take a moment to express my respect for one of the victim's father - he came out to the demonstration and has been very open about his feelings regarding the loss of his son. Rather than spread hate he has been using this as an opportunity to bring Copenhagen and Denmark closer together. One of my favorite moments from last week was seeing a picture with him hugging Yahya Hassan - a Danish poet of Palestinian roots.  In the video, Hassan apologizes - to which  Sergeot Uzan, Dan Uzans father replied, "You have nothing to apologize for. Just continue to do what you do." It was a very powerful moment in Danish culture and politics because Hassan has had the balls and the diplomacy to speak for many here who have felt themselves abandoned by the media and social justice system. 
Yes, it is indeed interesting times to be in Denmark. 
Lesley-Ann Brown


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