The politics of skin

The Danish People's Party got plenty of free publicity thanks to a poster campaign depicting white people – and a photoshopped dog

Søren Espersen, foreign affairs spokesperson for the Danish People’s Party (DF) found himself in deep, and arguably quite dirty, water last month when he was accused of calling US President Obama a ‘n*****’.

It all started when DF launched its new poster campaign, portraying a supposedly typical Danish family along with the caption, “Our Denmark – there is so much that we need to protect”.

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Aside from the mirth resulting from the inclusion of a sloppily-photoshopped retriever, the backlash to the poster was immediate. Many people interpreted the posters as an insinuation that white Danes need to be protected from the terrible, scary-coloured ‘Other’. Competing posters were made in response, one of which featured Danes who were diverse not only ethnically, but also in their sexual orientation, hairstyle and religion.

In an attempt to defend the advertisement and his party’s campaign, Espersen told TV2 News, “I myself am colour-blind, I do not see skin colour….[but] we could easily have put a negro in”.

It was a poor choice of words, and he was subsequently called on to apologise.

“Why should I apologise? And to whom should I apologise? Barack Obama?”

The day after his statement, he tweeted an apology, explaining that it was not his intention to offend anyone with his use of the word negro. He deflected further criticism, describing people’s obsession with Obama’s race as “sick”.

But this was far from the end of the story. MP Jeppe Kofod from the Social Democrats took to Twitter, outraged.

“DF Chair of Danish Parliament Foreign Policy Committee calls @BarackObama first n***** President. Scandal!”

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Espersen indeed heads the parliamentary committee that oversees foreign policy, so it would be ill-advised for him to call Obama the n-word. So grave was the allegation that Espersen decided to cancel his trip to the United States this autumn because of his comment and Jeppe Kofod’s widely-shared subsequent translation.

But many were quick to point out the difference between the two words. While acknowledging the discrepancy in meaning, Kofod defended his translation, stating that while ‘negro’ is also a degrading and racist expression, n***** was a proper reflection of Espersen’s intent with his words.

He later apologised and issued a correction. “Chair call @BarackObama “negro” NOT other N-word. Still hurtful,” he wrote on Twitter.

The incident was soon forgotten when public attention was diverted to the publication of a book about the taboo of menstruation, which started a lively discussion about whether we need to talk more openly about our bodily functions.

Danish public debate is indeed alive and well. M


By Natasha Jessen-Petersen

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