What is a “Person of African Descent”​ and why are they the “seen/unseen” in Denmark?

Ethnicity is a multidimensional concept. It is neither simple nor consistent. It comprises one or more of the following: shared origins or social background; shared culture or traditions that are distinctive and maintained between generations and lead to a sense of identity and group; and a common language or religious tradition.

Under the United Nations definition, People of African Descent (PAD) is a specific group with diverse histories, experiences and identities with one commonality; they are descendants of Africans who were displaced to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade many generations back or more recent migrants who have journeyed to the Americas, Europe and Asia. Today, we PADs identify with many different labels – African, Black, Black African, Afro-Caribbean, Caribbean, African American, American, Afro-Latina(o), Afro-Dane, Dane and more. However, no matter how we identify, we still share things in common, such as behaviours, risk factors, and factors such as height and weight and disease experience. We have needs in common such as the need for extra Vitamin D intake. Our commonalities generate entire industries such as the black hair and beauty industries, which is known for generating billions of dollars in other countries.

When Statistics Denmark collects data about the general population, it is usually broken down into the following categories:

  1. Persons of Danish origin,
  2. Immigrants from western countries,
  3. Immigrants from non-western countries,
  4. Descendants from western countries,
  5. Descendants from non-western countries

Utilizing these population labels creates practical problems and ignores the needs of PADs, who can fall into all the above groups. For example, a PAD who is also a British citizen, born or not, would fall under category 2. A PAD with one PAD parent and one Danish parent, would fall under category 1. Due to this method of categorizing, we have no way of determining the state of PADs in Denmark, whether their human rights are being upheld, nor can we actively work to eliminate racial discrimination in Danish society as we never have the full picture on many issues. This lack of information also makes it difficult for Denmark to uphold its agreement to take action on eliminating racial discrimination in all forms, an agreement it made when it signed the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination treaty (ICERD) in 1971 and the subsequent General Recommendations number 34 by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD34), which Denmark received as a State party to ICERD in 2011.

A Danish committee of experts was formed in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice, which officially recommended incorporating CERD in 2014. Despite this recommendation, none of the Governments in power since 2012 have presented a bill on incorporation to Parliament. (See the Danish Institute for Human Rights’ Selected List of Themes on ICERD Denmark 2020)


Citizens are now choosing to speak up, creating a petition themselves which asks Parliament to finally address CERD34 after 9 years. It will not be an easy task, as they will need the signatures and support of thousands of fellow citizens in order to get their petition to Parliment. But the opportunity to have real discussions about racial discrimination, based on data which better reflects the state of PADs, is worth the effort.

If you agree, then say “Ja Tak Til CERD34″ by signing this citizen’s petition. It is about time this unseen group is seen. And stay tuned the coming weeks to learn more about CERD and CERD34.


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