A Month in Denmark: Identity Introspection

Posted: September 22, 2010 in Categorized
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As of Friday, I will have been in Denmark for a month. Time is definitely flying by really fast. I think my first month has been all about transitioning or finding my place within Danish society. Studying abroad two years ago gave me a good idea of the matrix of Danish culture. However, that insight has definitely made me set high standards for myself, in my desire to actually exist within Danish society and to not just be knowledgeable of the Danish society. It’s like I have insight on how the Danish society works, but I still feel like I exist outside of Danish culture. So I’m essentially an outsider with insider insight looking in, waiting for my turn to be incorporated into Danish society. It is so ironic that my research project involves identity and this whole month I have introspected on my identity within the framework of Danish culture. What W. E. B. Du Bois describes as a “double consciousness”, I am experiencing a triple consciousness as I seek to incorporate American, Black/African, and Danishness as parts of my identity.

For those of you who don’t know, “The concept of Du Boisian “double consciousness” has three manifestations. First, the power of white stereotypes on black life and thought (being forced into a context of misrepresentation of one’s own people while also having the knowledge of reflexive truth). Second, the racism that excluded black Americans from the mainstream of society, being American or not American. Finally, and most significantly, the internal conflict between being African and American simultaneously. Double consciousness is an awareness of one’s self as well as an awareness of how others perceive that person. The danger of double consciousness resides in conforming and/or changing one’s identity to that of how others perceive the person. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_consciousness)”

Another issue that I have faced is explaining the breadth of “U.S. culture”. Many of the Danes that I have spoken with find it rather difficult to fully understand the diversity of “U.S. culture” or just the way that the U.S. constructs its society. Well for starters, culture is not static but fluid.  I have noticed that most of their views about U.S. culture is through television shows or visiting the coastal cities of the states (which the Danes that I have talked to seem to view as the epicenters of “U.S. culture, I.e.-New York or California), all of which seem to predispose them to favorable or negative stereotypes about Americans. In the U.S., we have many different types of American identities, where race and ethnicity play a major role in the division of those identities. However, in Danish society, immigrants born in Denmark are automatically Danish and not Muslim Danish or any other variations of the Danish identity. This functions as a leveling mechanism to “preserve” the Danish identity. Upon applying this insight, I can understand why variations of the American identity such as African American or Chinese American presents conceptual problems for many Danes. However, this all really makes me reflect on who is really being represented in the televisions shows that the Danes are watching and formulating their views about U.S. culture. Of course I can only suspect that it’s most likely a mainstream view of “U.S. culture”.

I can definitely tell that this will be a very enlightening year because as I try to integrate myself into Danish society, I am learning that cultural integration is not a one way process. I realize that just as I am opening myself to Danish culture, I still have something to contribute to Danish culture from African American culture because that is true cultural exchange.


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