visbility 3 – underexposure

So what do you do when your community is only made visible in the media as a problem, and when the realities of your everyday life – the good and the not so good  – are sorely underexposed?

For two different groups of youth in Copenhagen the answer was to become the media.

Ethniqa Magizine is a online lifestyle publication that started in the living room of one of the editors, and has grown into a network of women writing in their own voices about the experience of living in Denmark.  Articles range from discussions of homelessness, and youth navigating the difficult terrain of sexuality, culture and religion, to lighter fashion and beauty articles.

The editors are proud that the articles in Ethniqa are tied together by writing that always endevours to simply speak in the author’s own voice, without feeling obligated to play any of the roles they see women of colour are often asked to play in the Danish media – for example, representative of their community, hero, or victim.

Ethniqa also features a range of fashion photo shoots, which the editors see as the other great success of the magazine. These are photos featuring Danish women (and some men) with various styles, tastes and ethnic backgrounds, and as the editors describe it “These are photos that could be in any Danish magazine, but they are not.” The editors of Ethinqa want to change that, and in the process change the image that pops into someone’s mind when they think of a Danish woman.

While magasinet Mjølnerparken is a very different project, its goals are not dissimilar to Ethniqa’s. Mjølnerparken is a social housing neighbourhood in the north end of Copenhagen, which the media, and some politicians, have made synonymous with crime and disorder in the city, and more specifically with “immigrant” crime and disorder. The magazine presents a very different view, and one that comes straight from a group of youth who call Mjølnerparken home.

The magazine started as part of a community development project in the neighbourhood, and features … well it features pretty much whatever the youth editorial board what it to. This usually includes updates on events in the neighbourhood, and more general arts and politics updates. When I visited they were working on an issue based on a recent whirlwind trip to Palestine.

The Mjølnerparkens in the general media, and in this magazine are two very different places, and as the youth describe they don’t really recognize the mainstream media version. There are challenges in their community, they know that, but they still feel these are misrepresented. Plus, as we joked what would the news look like if someone filed a report every time a kid did drugs in the tony Østerbro neighbourhood?

For the most part Mjølnerparken is a safe home for these youth, and a space where they feel free to create their own version of Danishness, by combining the best of the many cultures in which they are immersed.

visbility 3 – underexposure

visibility 2 – overexposure

Immigration continues to be described as a problem in need of solution, and people identified as immigrants are in many ways the key problem. But who exactly are these immigrants? The obvious answer might seem to be people that moved from another country, but in both popular and official discussions immigrant is an increasingly raced and classed term used synonymously with ideas of disorder, radicalization, lack of achievement and criminalization.

But the flip-side is that international migration is also a part of economic globalization, and attracting economic elites to your cities is an important part of selling them to international capital. So there is a need for a whole other set of words and stories to describe this group of people who might have immigrated, but are certainly not immigrants. The idea of ex-pats, or immigrants from Western countries are the terms I’ve seen in Denmark. And in Canada there is an increasing differentiation between entrepreneurial or economic class immigrants as opposed to say family reunion or refugee classes.

As is so often the case, these more abstract and structural questions come together to impact the everyday lives of real people. The disproportionate amount of attention given to the supposed immigrant problem leads to a situation where everyone who fits the image of an immigrant gets treated as though they are part of a problem.

We see this in the Toronto police disproportionately stopping Black and Brown youth for questioning. We see this when majority residents decide to avoid moving into certain neighbourhoods. We see it in the difficulties of ethnic minority residents in gaining employment. And we even see it in the murder of a woman in her own home. Artist and sociologist Nabaz Anwars articulates this challenge in his own job seeking campaign including posters plastered over the city asking potential employers “Tør du … ansætte mig?” –  “Do you dare … hire me?”

While this kind of othering  – creating us-them categories with real social, political and economic consequences – is certainly not new, there is a lot of energy being expended right now to make access to receiving societies more difficult, while simultaneously promoting and publicizing the notion that immigrants are simply unwilling to join in.

visibility 2 – overexposure

visibility 1 – the state

Pop quiz. Who can draw the logo of their city, province/state/canton etc, or country off the top of their heads? Your answer will depend in large part on where you are and how visible governments make themselves in your everyday life.

In Denmark no matter who you are you’d be hard pressed to go through a day without some interaction with the state, even if it’s just seeing your Kommunes (city government’s) logo on a couple of buildings. Esping-Andersen argued that the visibility and active nature of governments tied Danes together with middle class residents as invested in the welfare state as working class or poor residents.

On the other hand Suzanne Mettler refers to the US situation as that of a submerged state, particularly with reference to the reliance on providing benefits and services through tax expenditures and various private organizations. She makes the argument that the invisibility of the state in many people’s lives weakens American democracy, because it weakens people’s connection and commitment to the welfare state.

As I plug along with dissertation research I’m starting see that commitment to the welfare state and membership strategies are defined as much by variety in visibility as by average levels.

For example, in Canada, the visibility of the state in ones life is dependent on both where you are, and who you are. In Winnipeg the province is everywhere, reminding you to get a flu shot or take some exercise, and letting you know that it’s supporting the construction of new hospitals, apartment buildings and food coops. While in Toronto all eyes are on the mayor’s recent proposals to slash services. But many of these services were, until recently, provincial responsibilities downloaded to cities in a larger retreat of the state in the late 90s and early 00s. Additionally, where programs remain they are increasingly segmented, moving away from a comprehensive focus on social and political centeration, and towards limited projects built around state-defined notions of difference.

In many ways multiple states are emerging in Canada, and each resident is left to their own devises, competing to be governed by the most generous. This has the potential to create, simultaneously clientelism, and competition between groups of residents. Tensions, for example, between New Canadian and Urban Aboriginal residents in Winnipeg are at least partially fueled by the ways in which these communities increasingly interact with segregated states, distinctly different in their levels of paternalism, support and visibility.

visibility 1 – the state