Slow integration

Dolphin Beta
Dolphin Beta is the ship-yard’s (Aibel) latest project. It’ll become the world’s largest converter plant for high-voltage direct current in Germany. Aibel is one of the reasons the population is growing in Haugesund.

People that have followed me and my wife on facebook can’t have failed to notice the rather confrontational communication we’ve had in recent weeks. This was a necessary fight, one that we should have had a long time ago, but we finally chose to engage. We referred to them as family initially, and when we were criticized for including the lot, we started naming the individuals we meant to persuade. We have tried for a number of years to inform them about aspects of the Norwegian society they have less knowledge about because they don’t experience it directly. I’m talking about racism. The problem with racism is that many people don’t want to believe that it is present in Norway. It’s a bit like conspiracy theories. People that stubbornly argue that something few others can see, is real, can easily be labeled as fanatical and paranoid. I call it the Fox Mulder-syndrom.

So we have told my family about our experiences through 13 years in Norway. We moved to my hometown Haugesund in 2002, where we experienced many minor episodes, but I especially remember the following year when we moved to the much larger city of Stavanger on the other side of the fjord. My wife is African-American and she was called nigger on the bus. That was the bluntest attack, and a lot of the rest was hidden racism.

We rented a cabin at a camp site the first two months in Stavanger, which was of course very expensive. We moved from Haugesund because I got a job offer in Stavanger. I went alone a few weeks before the job started to get an apartment. I looked at several ones, but didn’t see the point in continuing the search when I made an oral agreement with a farmer. We were going to rent an old house, which was next to his own. This turned out to be naive of me because when we came back later to sign the contract, he told us that he had forgotten that he had promised a relative of his the house. It seemed strange to me because first he probably concidered it for a while, then he placed an ad in the paper, and he had two more weeks before I returned together with my wife. He had my name and phone number, but apparantly found it impossible to inform me sooner.

The reason we were forced to stay at the camp site for so long was because we experienced the same thing over and over again. I spent every afternoon and evening calling and looking at apartment. I had many very positive talks to landlords on the phone, which made me hopeful, but when we met 20 minutes later, something had changed. We heard numerous very creative explanations to why the situation had changed, or why the apartment wasn’t suited to us. That’s why it’s called hidden racism. You can easily dismiss it as a coincidence, and many people do, but I’m sceptical to those kinds of explanations. There are too many well documented cases that pop up in media from time to time. I have read about several cases where an immigrant was told that the apartment was already taken, but when a Norwegian friend of this immigrant tested this the next day, he was offered a contract immediately.

The problem with hidden racism is that you can never be certain, but it often looks suspicious. I was very well qualified as en English teacher, and when I got a job in a mounain area in Telemark county, the head of the school office in the municipality was really pleased. This was an area where it was hard to get qualified people, but the enthusiasm quickly disappeared when I showed up with my family in this village with around 800 people. Teachers usually have three working days before the pupils start school after summer. These are used for workshops and preparation for the start of the school year. I was quite shocked when I was told already during these days that it might be better if I tried looking for a job elsewhere. The Americans have an expression for this, black by association.

black and white men shake hand
There are many examples of highly qualified immigrants being pushed to the back of the line, but this doesn’t happen very blatantly.
Photo: Ambro via

The social science research foundation known as Fafo sent 1800 fictitous applications to 900 real job announcements in 2012. Half the applications were signed with the typical Norwegian names Andreas Hansen and Ida Johnsen, while the rest were signed with Saera Rashid and Kamran Ahmid. They concluded that applicants with foreign names had a 25 % less chance of being called for an interview compared to Norwegians. An article in a Norwegian financial newspaper the same year confirmed this. The article is based on an interview with a man who was the head of the Norwegian and Scottish section in Progressive Global Energy, which recruits labour to the oil and natural gass-industry. They frequently hear racist comments from their customers: We want cowboys; not indians or this candidate is qualified, but he/she has the wrong skin colour. I am referring to a thesis later i this post where Idunn Brekke documents that first-generation immigrants with a degree from Norway are at the back of the line, and Africans are last. They have a 30 % chance of a job after completing a university degree in Norway.

This is some of what we wanted to convey to my family at various venues while living in Haugesund, but also when we have been back for visits. It has been quite discouraging to find that not only did my family feel that racism was something we have put behind us in Norway, but they think we are exaggerating when we want to prepare our child for a world that isn’t necessarily going to treat her the same way as their children. They also claim that Norway has done a good job integrating immigrants, or to put in another way: It’s all in our heads. One of the people claiming to have first hand knowledge of racism is a journalist in a local, independent TV-station. An article they published recently on their website seems like a good place to start. In this they referred to a governent agency stating that this particular region was among the best in the country on integration. According to a survey almost 70 % of immigrants work here.

This sounds very positive, and I agree that my municipality is doing a lot of things right, but I’m not sure this tells the whole story. Many people think that statistics doesn’t lie, but you can play around with numbers. It’s hard to analyse mumbers I don’t have access to, but I’ll try to use other sources to make a point. The overall unemployment in Norway was 2,2 % the first quarter (Q1) of 2015, and it was 7,6 % among immigrants. There are significant differences between different immigrant groups, however. The unemployment was 4,0 % among Western Europeans (3,3 % among immigrants from the Nordic countries) and 12,6 % among Africans.

43 % of everyone attending different qualification program during Q1 in 2015 were immigrants, and a large portion of them came from Africa and Asia. 8 % of all employees in Norway had temporary jobs (usually part time), and it’s 14 % among immigrants. Employees with background from Asia and Africa are especially represented in these statistics. They are also overrepresented on statistics in the group of part time-employees that want to work full time.

children holding hands arond globe
This is the official version of reality. This is how we say we want the world to be, but reality is a little different when we compete for the same benefits.
Photo: Digitalart via

The article from the TV-station doesn’t say anything about where these immigrants came from, or how many are in the different qualification programmes. These programmes are important to help as many as possible have a certain contact with the job market. It’s a part of being integrated into society, but these programmes nevertheless remove people from the statistics. People in the qualification programme are there because they are unemployed, and have been for a long time, but as long as they stay in this programme they are not registered as out of work. According to Statistics Norway (SSB) the Poles are the largest immigrant group in 16 of 19 counties and in 211 of 429 municipalities. Germans and Lithuanians are the largest group in 40 municipalities each , while African and Asian were the largest group in 74 municipalites. That was down from 200 in 1998. This reflects the development and I think these numbers are very relevant to Rogaland county,which is where I live. There is a lot of industry here and Aibel is a major employer in Haugesund. There are a lot of EU-citizens employed in the industry supplying the oil-industry.

75 800 people immigrated to Norway in 2013 and 12 % of them were Norwegians. 65 % of the rest were citizens of an EU country. On the list of the 15 largest groups of immigrants in Norway we find countries like Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Russia and Britain. People from these countries probably have a much better chance of succeeding than the other countries on the list ( Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Philippines, Iran, Thailand, Vietnam and Bosnia). Africa and Asia often appear in negative statistics.These people don’t necessarily come here just for a job. They literally have to evacuate and start over. They might be the people that need integration the most, but they also encounter the attitudes mentioned in the financial newspaper.

The Introduction programme is intended to help immigrants get a job. The government’s goal is to get 55 % of the people that complete this two year programme to go directly into education or work afterwards. The national result last year was 44 %, which was down 3 % from the year before. The statistics doesn’t say anything about the people that didn’t complete the programme, and what happened to them later. Some municipalities are doing a good job with the Introduction Programme, but it differs a lot from town to town. My wife went to this course too, but when she passed a test they told her she was ready to leave the programme. I assume that removed her from the final statstics, but she wasn’t ready to work. Most professions have words that are special to that particular profession, and if you have ambitions to study at the university you certainly need more than some municipalities offer in the Introduction programme.

Our neighbouring municipalities Karmøy is especially good at integration, according to official statistics. They refer to refugees specifically and not the generic terms immigrants. Last year 75 % were either employed or started education after the Introduction programme, but we are talking about low income jobs like store clerk or the same type of job at a plant nursery, but that doesn’t change the fact that immigrants have to deal with attitudes they didn’t have to during the programme. SSB conducted a survey on attitudes towards immigrants and immigration in 2011. The interviews were being conducted in the weeks following the terrorist attack in Oslo, and they concluded that Norwegians had more positive attitude to immigrants after the terror.

Wishful thinking. I am not not convinced it had a lasting effect. The Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDI) think that Norwegians attitudes to immigrants are stable. This is an annual survey that aims to measure trends over time, and in 2013/14 more than half answered yes to the claim that “it would be difficult for me to live in an area where the majority had a minoroty background” (incidentally, “white flight” is starting to be noticable in Oslo). Half the participants also agreed or partly agreed to the statement that “we shouldn’t let more immigrants into Norway.” The same survey also showed that 90 % of us feel that immigrants only have themselves to blame if they are not integrated.

The government initiated some measures in 2002 to combat racism in the police. A lot could have improved in 13 years of course, but we still get cases that shows there are issues. There is a pressure to be loyal even when you see colleagues commit injustice. The Organization Against Public Discrimination (OMOD) sent an open letter to the Minister of Justice and Public Security in December last year where they expressed concerns about racial profiling by the police.

We’ve heard about immigrants that were doctors and engineers in the country they had to leave, but work as cleaners in Norway. There are probably well educated Norwegians that have to take unskilled jobs as well, but not to the same extent. A report from the Norwegian Technical Calcuation Committee for Wage Settlement (TBU) shows that immirants with higher education on average earn 45 000 NOK a month, while a Norwegian with higher education on average earns 65 000 NOK. There are also many examples indicating that Africans with a degree from a Norwegian university move to the back of the line when they apply for jobs. Idunn Brekke wrote about this in a thesis at the University of Oslo (the problem with academic work is that it’s only available to other scholars). This can have many consequences Norwegians haven’t concidered. One of them is significantly reduced public services because there won’t be enough people working and paying taxes.

Many immigrants have come to the conclusion that they can’t rely on help, so they do what they need to do, and hope it’ll be easier for the next generation. We are eventually going to get into serious trouble if we only let immigrants serve us pizza, kebab, chinese food and clean our airports. That would be like shooting ourselves in the foot. There has been a tendency in Norway to assume that the problem of racism would solve itself if we just gave it enough time, but it’s not a typical feature of any human behaviour that it just disappears. We must do more to prevent discriminatory behaviour, and when it is detected in businesses and institutions such as the Police, there must be consequences.

3 thoughts on “Slow integration

  1. Racism is sin. And sin never simply “resolves itself”.

    I am truly sorry for the pain and lack of compassion your family has endured.

    1. I am going through something I truly detest right now. Another thing I detest, moving. I’ve been very busy cleaning the new apartment and moving furniture, but the change is starting to attack my mood now. I hate change, but I appreciate a bit of sympathy from another blogger. Thank you.

  2. John,

    I can relate to “detesting moving.” You have had more than your share, and so have I.
    This was a great post, though it is a shame that the people who most need to read it, probably won’t. Like Heather said, racism is sin. And like so many sins, we humans can see the sins of others so much better than our own. Nations seem to do this, too. Oh, “we” don’t have that problem….that only only happens over there…….” or “we are so much more progressive than…..”

    The Norwegian insistence that “racism doesn’t exist in Norway” reminds me of certain attitudes within a school district I taught in. This was a school district, that comparatively speaking, was a better performing school district, with a seemingly higher percentage of truly “master teachers.” We were told that our schools “hired the best, and expected the best.” It was an interesting sort of indoctrination and it became both a certain extent reality, and a certain extent of “believing ones’ own BS.” The teachers of this district prided themselves on how they were the best, and were used to praise heaped on them and the success of their students spotlighted and celebrated.

    THen one year…..another administrator, a black man, pointed out the kids who were falling between the cracks…the kids that didn’t make proficient or advanced on the exams. He wanted us to reach out to these kids, and bring them up. Of course, he didn’t seem to realize he had committed “heresy” until it was too late. This man was castigated, ridiculed, despised, criticized, scrutinized, and outright hated. The teachers who had once liked him, turned on him viciously. Just because he pointed out that our “perfect image” of our schools wasn’t so perfect, and that though we had many successes, we should not turn our backs on our failures, too.

    This story, and your family’s experiences remind me somewhat of the prophets in the Old Testament. The Israelites in some cases were prospering and seemingly “doing great,” and then the prophets came along and called it what it was………..and that didn’t go over so well. Messages that spotlight the sin, the wrongs, in both hearts and nations never seem to be that well received.That is why, of course, that the religious leaders of Israel wanted to crucify Jesus.

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