It’s been way too long – 10th of August 2020

Like everyone else I started the COVID-19 period full of fire and then it kind of died down, and with my fire dying down I stopped writing posts on this page. 

But since last time everything here in Iceland went pretty much back to normal, just minus the tourists. Since then we have gone through a period where there were no active COVID cases here in Iceland, then to partly opening up the country again. Today we have over hundred active cases and over nine-hundred people in lockdown.

The country is still partially open but we are being more careful now than we have been over the past few weeks, we are maintaining the 2m distance again, and where it is not possible to keep that distance we are using masks. We have also reduced the gathering ban back down to 100 people, from 500 people like it was for most of June and July.

Black Lives Matter in Iceland

Since the last post a lot has happened in the world, and in Iceland, it kind of feels like it has been forever, but it has only been just over two months.

Most notable of what has happened, alongside the battle with COVID-19, is the Black Lives Matter movements uprising against police brutality and overall racism. Many people think of Iceland as a peaceful Paradise, which I’m sure it is in the eyes of many people, and when compared to other places. But being better than other places isn’t good enough, we have to always strive to be as good as possible, not just Iceland, but everyone.

There was only one Black Lives Matter protest in Iceland on the 3rd of June and following that a Black Lives Matter Iceland chapter was formed. The protest was peaceful and powerful and showed that more action is needed from Icelandic lawmakers and citizens to stand with people of colour, listen to their concerns and fight with them and for them when they are exhausted from their every day fights. Racism has sadly been ingrained in Icelandic history and is sadly still a part of our lives and even our culture still today.

Dori Levett Baldvinsson , Derek T. Allan og Sante Feaster – Icelandic-Americans that alongside others took part in organising the Black Lives Matter protest in Iceland.
Screenshot from visir.is.

The Black Lives Matter protest here in Iceland was in large part to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter groups all over the world and to protest police violence in the US and the death of George Floyd. But it was also about systematic racism and daily oppressions black people in Iceland face. The protest also highlighted the stance the Suðurnes chapter of police in Iceland took when they put an Instagram photo up with the hashtag blue lives matter, they later took down the hashtag siting lack of knowledge of the origin of the hashtag. A side discourse also took place about how both emergency call operators and the police lack empathy towards other minority groups, in particular the homeless and people with drug- or alcohol abuse problems.

Racism in Iceland – past and present

Clipping from an Icelandic newspaper in 1977. Headline reads “N****r in Þistilfjord. The story itself is not deep-rooted racism, and is about Ato Stephen (his name is not mentioned in the text), working as a farmhand to learn differnt ways of working his own farm in Ghana. It gives an example about how black people were othered in Iceland for a long time. Morgunblaðið went to Þistilfjörður to interview Ato Stephen a few days after this headline was published.

We will always carry it with us that during and after WWII we protested entry for Jewish refugees on the basis that we wanted to preserve the pure Icelandic heritage, no Jewish refugees got to come to Iceland officially. A little bit later we made it a part of our contract with NATO that no black soldiers could stay at their Icelandic base in Keflavík (page 31). We have to make sure stories like these don’t repeat themselves again and in at the same time also fight racism on a smaller, everyday scale.

Opinion piece from an Icelandic newspaper in December 1938

The image reads: Even though it is natural that Icelandic citizens feel compassion with the Jews in Germany during their looming tragedy, we still have to consider that everyone has to fend for themselves and the Icelandic nation has to first take car of their own before they take on the responsibility of foreign refugees. Even more so the nation has the holy duty, to safeguard the Icelandic race, the Nordic and Celtic blood, so that no strong, foreign race, will erase the nordic features of our race in just few generations. It must become the peremptory demand of every Icelander, that the government will make sure that the immigration of foreigners, that now seek assylum all over Europe, will be controlled. The nation is of one mind when it comes to this decision.

Shortly after the Black Lives Matter protest we got a reminder about how hard we have to keep working against racism here in Iceland. An Icelandic comedian, that was in the headlines in 2018 for groping an underaged girl under her dress without her consent, filmed another Icelandic comedian on his Instagram story where he was making a derogatory impression of what was obviously meant to be an Asian person performing a sexual act on a man. The latter was also in the news in 2012 for an Asian character he “created” and was very derogatory towards people of Asian heritage.

Many people rose up in outrage towards these men which was good, but many other people also rose up to defend them, using the good old excuse of “they were only joking”. It wasn’t until some very strong Asian women came out telling their stories about how these jokes about Asian people, that are based on exaggerated and false stereotypes were in part what made them the victims of bullying when they were growing up, and have made them be subjected to sexual racism, sexual harassment and violence all their lives.

The tours are starting again!

In positive news though, I have started to do tours again! On the 19th of June, Iceland’s day of women’s rights, when it was 105 years since some women in Iceland got the right to vote for parliament, I did my biggest tour yet when over 150 Icelandic women came to celebrate the day with me and the Icelandic Women’s Rights Movement that sponsored the walk.

At Bernhöftstofa on 19th of June


And alongside those tours I will start to blog here weekly again! I have put my tours up on AirBnb, so go check them out (and book a tour if you’re in Reykjavík or coming to Iceland!

20th of April 2020

This seems to have been a week of optimism. People in Iceland seem mostly optimistic about the outcome of how we’ve handled Covid-19, and some are even a bit too eager to get to the end of this seemingly never ending tunnel. But hopefully we’ll continue on our way upwards, slowly and steadily.

Vigdís

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, 2019. Screenshot from Útvarp 101.

Perhaps the most notable news this week was the 90th birthday of Iceland’s former president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was Iceland’s first, and currently only, female president, and she was the first democratically elected head of state in the world when she got into office in 1980. I think I can say without a doubt that she is our most beloved president, and on her birthday this week, on the 15th of April, people clearly showcased that appreciation by sharing thoughts, stories and photographs on social media under the hashtag #takkvigdis (#thankyouvigdís). I wrote a short appreciation post about her on the Reykjavík Feminist Walking Tour instagram, if you’re interested in knowing more about Vigdís.

Flóra útgáfa

On the 16th of April the publishing co-operative Flóra útgáfa published the 6th edition of their online magazine entitled Líkamar or Bodies. The issue is all about different bodies, loving your body and the skin you’re in, the complications we sometimes run into when practising self love and pretty much just everything that has to do with inhabiting a body. The publication is mostly in Icelandic, but I recommend this poem in English by model, artist and activist, Ísold Halldórudóttir: Sometimes I wish I was skinny.

Að sjá hið ósýnilega

Trailer from the documentary Seeing the Invisible.

This week I finally got to see an Icelandic documentary called Að sjá hið ósýnilega or Seeing the invisible. The documentary is about Icelandic women on the autism spectrum and is a must see for everyone. I would say especially for people not on the spectrum so we know how we’ve been failing autistic people as a society and how we can do better.

The movie is going to be accessible in Iceland through ruv.is until the 13th of July (but only in Icelandic), and I highly recommend it to anyone that is in Iceland and understands Icelandic.

My only criticism on it would be that I think it isn’t tough enough on us that aren’t on the spectrum and are non-disabled. Autistic people shouldn’t have to adjust to society any more than they want to, in order to not become victims to violence, abuse or bullying. People should just never be violent, abusive or bullies.

The bad

Unfortunately we don’t seem to be able to have a week of just good, and this week was no different.

This week a young man verbally attacked an Asian woman video taping the interaction while shouting: “you are the Coronavirus” while the woman tried to object to his incessant and nonsensical shouting. The video was uploaded on the social media platform TikTok but was deleted later on as members reported it. The young man seemed to not take the lesson and has continued bragging about the instance on other social media platforms (1).

As a mostly caucasian country Iceland is really slow when it comes to racial matters but fortunately all media and such have only called Covid-19, either that or Coronavirus so racism surrounding Covid-19 has not been very apparent in Iceland until it came to that instance. 

The good

Other good things that happened this week are that the first Icelandic woman graduated as a heart and lung surgeon. Congratulations Ragnheiður Martha Jóhannesdóttir! It’s been more than 100 years since the first woman graduated from medical studies in Iceland and we’re still having firsts which is amazing but maybe also a little bit sad since of course it would be better if we were moving a whole lot faster! The first female doctor in Iceland graduated in 1917 and her name was Kristín Ólafsdóttir (1,2).

An imagined view of Tryggvagata after the changes, Gerður Helgadóttir’s mosaic at the centre. Photo from reykjavik.is.

This week on reykjavik.is, the official website for the city of Reykjavík, it was announced how Tryggvagata, a downtown street, will look after impending changes. Usually that wouldn’t be a feminist issue, some construction work downtown, but this time it is. The reason being that after the change the whole street will be focused on a large mosaic art piece made by Icelandic artist Gerður Helgadóttir. The mosaic has been on that wall for almost forty years but has always been partially blocked by cars that park in front of it. But now that the parking has been moved underground and away from the street Gerður’s work will be in full view. Gerður was an amazing artist, that sadly, along with her fellow Icelandic female artists is not remembered enough. Just like I try to highlight in my tour at one of the stops that is solely about women in the arts.