“You have not documented your knowledge and understanding of Danish society, culture and history,” I was told in a letter from the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration. I received this letter nearly two years after I had applied for Danish citizenship.
I was dumbfounded. I have gone to school in Denmark since the age of seven, taken two degrees (in teaching and Social Science) in Denmark and have worked in Denmark as a teacher, journalist and academic.
I applied for ‘dispensation’ for the citizenship test and the language test, believing (and having checked) that I fulfilled the criteria for this. I also thought it would be ludicrous for me to have to go through such tests to prove my eligibility, as I have a Danish Master’s Degree, am a journalist in the country and more.
I therefore believed that I was both well-suited and entitled to make my mark as a full member of Danish society.
Apparently, that is not considered to be the case.
But if I am not even eligible for Danish citizenship, as I apparently haven’t proven my Danishness, what does it take to become a Dane both formally, culturally and spiritually?
One of the reasons that I applied for Danish citizenship in the first place was that Brexit will make me a non-EU citizen living in the EU soon. Another reason was that it recently became possible to become a Danish citizen whilst retaining my British passport. But the main reason is that I feel that I belong here.
I had become British almost by accident. I was born in Copenhagen in 1972 to a Danish mother and a British father, but at the time children of British fathers automatically became British citizens, my mother has told me.
Perspective from pluralism
In Denmark and the UK (and elsewhere), nationalism is on the rise and is increasingly becoming the yardstick for measuring who we are. Many of the Right in the UK argue that Brexit would enable them to “win back our country” for “true” (white?) Brits like me. Many people in Denmark argue and vote along the same lines.
I see myself as both English and Danish, but mostly as a person who would rather not be defined by others. In Denmark today, the trend nevertheless seems to be to categorise people and focus on our differences and divisions instead of what unites us.
I have lived in two countries (and travelled in many more), and my family have lived for decades in China and South Africa. This gives me a sense of perspective that enables me to better comprehend the society and cultural setting that I live in.
I believe that the world would be a far better place if more people had a similar sense of perspective, while at the same time following their own voice and not that of an increasingly closed group or nation.
Cultures are dynamic
Otherwise, we seem to end up mentally bound to our respective nations, whilst cutting the umbilical cord to our humanity by believing ourselves to be better than people with a different nationality (or colour or creed), simply because they were born somewhere else.
Cultures are dynamic, multi-layered and absorbent. What is British or Danish today will change tomorrow according to circumstances and according to those who define it.
A hundred years ago it was part of both British and Danish culture that women were not equal to men and did not even have the vote. Today this seems ludicrous, although a sense of inequality and discrimination seems to be creeping back into our cultures as our nations build mental walls around themselves.
So what does being Danish really mean and how do I become a Dane, culturally? And how do I ensure that I and other “new” Danes can help keep Danish culture vibrant and relevant?
One way is to demand the right to be part of defining and forming the culture of the society that I live in and to demand that Danish culture is not cast in stone.
Here I can look to the many other Danes with foreign names and upbringing who have helped define Danish culture:
Oehlenschläger the poet, Reventlow, Monrad and Khader the politicians, Pio the unionist, Schmeichel and Nadim the footballers, Wozniacki the tennis player, Björkstrand the ice hockey player, and Mahmoud and Krasnik the journalists.
Sociologist and journalist Peter Kenworthy is a contributing author to “African Awakening: The emerging revolutions”. He has worked for several Danish NGOs in Africa, as a communications officer for a municipality, as a journalist for Danish newspapers and as a freelance journalist for Danish and international magazines and newspapers. He also has a teaching degree and has worked at several schools.