There are various forms of racism, discrimination and inequality in all countries of the world. Today, though, it is often illegal, the forms become subtle and almost invisible. Earlier, South Africa’s apartheid regime institutionalised a racist system of white supremacy from 1948, but it also existed before that, as it did in all European colonies and other territories in Africa, Asia and Latin America at the time. There wasn’t much democracy and equality in those countries in those days. In Europe, too, the system was designed for limited change; poor people remained poor, and the rich stayed at the top. But then, when USA was populated by immigrants, mainly 150-200 years ago, there were opportunities for a better life and more democracy for many, except for the African-American community.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old African-American, was killed by the police in a particularly brutal incident in the city of Minneapolis in USA. It triggered immediate unrest in the city and in cities all over the country and world. It has not quite gone back to business as usual yet, and some have predicted that maybe this time, USA will have to address their racism, discrimination and inequality issues more thoroughly than before, with real improvement to happen. “A change is gonna come”, sang the black American artist Sam Cooke in 1964. Perhaps something will happen this time

I have recently written articles about racism, discrimination and inequality. I have underlined that the economic and class aspects are major aspects of the problems. Today, I shall to draw attention to the more subtle and almost invisible forms of discrimination, racism and inequality – those things that are there and are almost accept by all as part of life. They can be as cruel as the more direct and heavy-handed forms of racism, and they may be more difficult to react against.

Last week, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, was as asked by a radio reporter about structural racism in that otherwise very democratic country. She quickly denied that such racism exists, and said that in her understanding the term ‘structural’ should not be used. She said that there was ignorance and lack of exposure to people of diversity. That could lead to mistakes being made, often unwittingly, and sometimes they could have racist and discriminatory aspects. She said that the government had recently introduced a project where applicants to government posts were anonymous, i.e., there were no name, gender and other background variables disclosed. She hoped that would lead to fairer treatment of applicants and lead to greater diversity in the Norwegian civil service and lessons for all employers.

The Norwegian Minister of Culture and Sports, Abid Raja, has recently taken up with key leaders of sports organisations that there are very few representatives from the immigrant communities in those organisations; almost all are ethnic Norwegians. The President of the Norwegian Confederation of Sports (NIF), Berit Kjøll, the first woman in that post, has admitted that there is certainly need for greater diversity.

Also, it has come to light that the Norwegian judicial system needs more immigrants, including professional and lay judges, partners in law firms, and staff in other posts. Still, there is a need for more women to fill up important positions as well.

In Norway, a country with about 5.5 million inhabitants and close to one million immigrants and descendants of immigrants, there is ignorance about the newcomers, most of whom came less than fifty years ago, and the Pakistanis were among the first. Since many Pakistani-Norwegians have done very well in education, especially girls, and have managed to get into good posts, there is now a need to also focus on other immigrants who have come later, such as the Somalis, Turkish, Afghans and Syrians. But still, job applicants named Ali or Maryam, not Kari and Ola, are many times disadvantaged.

When I was young in the 1960s and 1970s, there were subtle forms of discrimination against groups of ordinary Norwegians, too, including the Sami people, who are the indigenous Norwegians, with the majority living in the far north of the country and the neighbouring countries. In the cities, there would also be discrimination against people from remote rural areas and people from the lower classes, although exercised indirectly and subtle, hence, difficult to pinpoint. As for the Sami populations in the Nordic countries, there was much discrimination till a couple of generations ago, suppressing the Sami culture and language. Children were often put in boarding schools and punished if they spoke their Sami mother tongue. Today, the Nordic Sami Council has been given power in many fields of importance to the Sami cultures and life, often thanks to their own efforts.

I still remember a teacher at my upper secondary school in the mid 1960s, who (unwittingly) expressed discriminatory opinions when he taught about the Civil Rights Movement in USA. This was in Bergen, the country’s second city with a large, conservative business community, and also a large working class community in shipbuilding and mechanical factories. The teacher said we should be for equality between whites and blacks in USA and elsewhere. Yet, he added, many in America would not be as liberal if ‘your sister came home with a black boyfriend’. He was perhaps a realist, yet, it was certainly a racist remark, which should not have been made officially in class. That time, ordinary Norwegians were shocked about the American racism—as they are today.

Today, there is gender equality in Norway and also better conditions for the LGBT community. Yet, only a couple of generations ago, women were not always treated on equal footing with men. Certain occupations were even closed for women. For example, it was not until 1963 that women were allowed to be ordained to be pastors in what was then (and till 2012) the State Church of Norway. Today, half of the church leaders (bishops) are women. In the civil service, there are now more women than men. Sometimes men complain about not being given posts, the way women used to complain about before. One would hope that women might be more aware of discrimination issues than men, although that may not automatically be the case.

The ways forward to reduce and eliminate racism, discrimination, and inequality are multipronged, depending on country and place. The main thing in countries with major structural racism problems, such as USA, is different from other countries, such as Norway and Pakistan. In USA, major work must be done fast. The government has the main responsibility for putting things right, but the private sector and civil society organisations have key roles, too.

In a few days, the American Independence Day, the 4th of July will be celebrated. I offer my congratulations and feel compassion with those who are not yet fully part of the American dream and the country’s prosperity – remembering, too, that earlier, America was leading in many fields of democracy, workers’ rights and equality. May such values and ideals be revived there and all over the world.