Intercultural Conference Addresses Ways to Fight Xenophobia

Hitt Húsið

The City of Reykjavík hosted this year’s Intercultural Conference at the youth centre Hitt Húsið, which was by all accounts well attended and well received. Speakers and attendees alike related their experiences with xenophobia and racism, as well as ways to combat it.

Translations and accents

Amongst the events at the conference was one led by First Lady Eliza Reid, entitled “Can good literary translations involve inclusion?”, which explored the idea of translated literature establishing better connections between cultures.

Yet another event explored the oft-overlooked subject of Icelandic spoken with an accent. Many people of foreign origin in Iceland who speak Icelandic will do so with an accent, and this event sought to examine how this affects one’s self-image, how those with Icelandic as a mother tongue respond to Icelandic with an accent, and related subjects.

Young people and racism

One of the other more compelling events was an open discussion group for young people aged 13 through 18. This event was coordinated in cooperation between Nordic Pioneers, the anti-racist group Antirasistarnir and Isabel Díaz, Iceland’s UN Youth Delegate on Education, Science and Culture.

Some of these attendees who spoke to RÚV recounted being subjected to bullying and slurs, in school and in the workplace, as well as more subtle kinds of racism. As one example, Kristín Taiwo Reynisdóttir was adopted and brought to Iceland when she was just a couple weeks old. Despite this, she says, she is repeatedly asked where she is from because she is Black. Other people of colour who attended expressed frustration with always being addressed in English first, no matter how long they have lived in Iceland, based on the presumptions others make because of their skin colour.

Women of foreign origin and education

Towards the end of the conference, W.O.M.E.N., an organisation of women of foreign origin in Iceland, led a panel discussion about how, despite their numbers, women of foreign origin are seldom in policy-making positions and are underrepresented in other spheres of society as well.

On a brighter note, the open discussion of young people raised several ideas for how xenophobia and racism can be combated. One of the more prevalent ideas to arise was education–for students, parents and teachers alike. Antirasistarnir offers such education for interested schools, as well as making themselves available to students struggling with xenophobia.

As about one quarter of Reykajvík’s residents are of foreign origin, the conference was by all accounts well received.