In the 2020 World Happiness Report created by a United Nations-affiliated research network, Denmark was listed as the second happiest country on earth behind Finland. The report, which was published in March 2020, is considered “a landmark survey of the state of global happiness” and Denmark has consistently made the top 5 over the years.
But despite its low level of public corruption, improved work-life balance and cosy nature – how accurate is this perception of Denmark which has often been marketed to the world? For Afro-Danish native Nicole Frederiksen, like many countries, beyond its optimistic and marketable exterior lies an element of racism embedded within it which is rarely acknowledged or confronted.
“It’s not all sweet here – especially as a Black woman in Denmark,” says Nicole. “Sure, there is welfare here compared to some other countries but systemic racism is alive and well – in fact, I could write a book series about the subtle and direct racism I have experienced since childhood here in Denmark,”says the 29-year-old.
“Everything from being called the n-word by non-blacks – even by family members – to experiencing discrimination from the school desk to the job market.”
Nicole Jacqueline Obovo Valentin Emore Frederiksen was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, and spent the majority of her upbringing in the city with her mother and brother. At the age of 5, her parents divorced and she would often spend weekends travelling to Malmo, Sweden where her father lived and worked.
As a biracial girl living in Scandinavia, Nicole was often confronted with her Blackness early on in life.
“The first time I became aware of my Blackness was when I had long box braids for the first time. My dad’s reaction was him screaming “NOOOO” in our apartment,” she recalls.
“It came as a surprise to me that he kept asking me if I really liked my hair that way – a hairstyle which to me represented who I was and was something my mom always did to her own hair.
“At a later point, he bothered me about cutting my hair off and he did it without my mom’s knowledge and she was furious. Funnily enough, my dad did not know that after 4-5 months, my hair would have grown long enough for me to braid it up all over again.”
Nicole, who is both Danish and Nigerian, grew up with an awareness of her culture and the plight that Black people face globally through her mother.
“I remember as a kid reading about Mansa Musa, Malcolm X and about the pyramids of ancient Egypt / Kemet, which my mom always emphasised were built by our ancestors. At the age of 15, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the first time and after reading half of the book within a few days, I finally ‘woke up’.”
“I began to dive deep into African history before, during and after slavery. I started reading more about Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanism, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers, apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation in the States. I remember my teenage years as incredibly important to me because due to my reading, I dared to embrace and identify myself as Black.”
This pivotal moment in Nicole’s teenage years came after struggling with the pressures of eurocentric beauty standards which dominated her early teens.
“I did everything to not get darker during the summer by always wearing long sleeves and thin jackets. I’d straighten my hair with a busted flat iron and would edit my selfies so I looked pale/more white.”
From the pressures of westernised beauty standards to dealing with racism since childhood, Nicole’s awakening as a teenager in Denmark instilled a desire in her to fight against racism and anti-Blackness in Scandinavia. This resulted in a long journey of activism which she continues till this day as a board member of the Afro Danish Collective – an organisation combating racism in Denmark.
“I’ve been on a long journey doing activism and community work in the Afro-Danish community. In Denmark, we are still at level one when it comes to having a real talk about this country’s colonial past and how to connect the dots to the systemic and institutional racism people of African descent and other minority groups experience here on an everyday basis.”
Denmark’s colonial history spanned across the Caribbean, Americas and Asia. This included The Danish West Indies in the Caribbean and The Gold Coast in Western Africa and much of Nicole’s activism aims to shed a light on this part of history that often goes ignored.
Over the years, Nicole’s activism has reached far and wide in the Nordic region. She project-coordinated Copenhagen’s first conference focusing on Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurship, was the vice-chairperson of the Afro Empowerment Centre Denmark and has written articles based around Denmark’s colonial past.
“My passion lies in community work and in improving and uplifting people of African descent and I want to do my part so that we are not so individualistic,” says Nicole.
“We need to have a group mentality and I think we can only promote that mentality by reaching out to other Black groups in and outside of Scandinavia. We need a sit down to align our expectations in relation to our common vision and mission as people of African descent.”
To find out more about Nicole, follow her Instagram: @Obovo
To find out more about the Afro Danish Collective, follow @afrodanishcollective on Instagram.