On racism, the refugee crisis and the art of expressing oneself
“The refugee crisis triggered the text that I presented in the final at Norwegian Talents. The racism flourished and became visible to those who do not experience it in daily lifte. Because it is there all the time. It’s only we that do not see it because we do not experience it”. – Sofie Frost
By: Vibeke Hoem
Racist opinions. People fleeing from war and terror, who were shot at and bombed, but still not welcomed by some – all of this triggered Sofie to write her poem on 22 July 2011, and the refugee crisis two years ago. Her relocation back to Norway after a stay in London made her comprehend the transformation of Norway in a new way. She tells us that she left Norway in the hands of the re-elected Labour Party, a society where peace and diversity was on the agenda, and that harboured a united we after 22 July. But when she came back in 2016 it was like a different country.
– What had happened? The Progress Party (FrP) had come to power and a FrP representative served as the Minister of Immigration and Integration? It was a country that had turned 180 degrees, and I was stunned by what I came back to, she explains.
To find your way to express yourself
It is only been a few weeks since Sofie Frost was on stage in the final of Norske Talenter (Norwegian talents). There she performed her poem on 22 July and the refugee crisis together with Det Norske Jentekor (The Norwegian Girls’ Choir) who sang «Til ungdommen» (To the youth). The gripping words, the visual enactment, and the comparison of the youngsters who swam for the life away from the terrorist at Utøya with refugees who desperately tries to cross the Mediterrenian on the run from war and atrocities, but who are met with closed borders. A message that gave a very corporeal impact on judges, the audience, and people who watched this on television at home.
Sofies performance at Norske Talenter (Norwegian Talents). This video is only in norwegian.
Sofie is an actress and a slam poet, and has already become a Norwegian champion in slam poetry. Recently she was also crowned Nordic champion in slam poetry. In 2017, she was a finalist to Skamløsprisen and at the same time a nominee for the Jenteprisen. It is like you pay extra attention when she talks. Her voice is mild and comforting, yet with a firmness that makes every word seem carefully chosen based on a deeper thoughtfulness and the reflections she has made. Even though she has always been writing, it was two years ago she first began expressing herself this way – through slam poetry.
– I have always had a desire to express myself and voiced strong opinions, but not known how to speak out. My sister gave me a tip about Spoken Word. There I saw this American poet. I have written poems all my life, but this was the first time I found a format that suited my way of raise some issues.
Sofie Frost began to write when she discovered Spoken Word. Since then, many performances have come and gone. She emphasises the friendly and accommodating environment of Open-Mic she is part of as essential to her own development and what she has learnt from it.
– But it was first when I read the first poem at NRK that things really got going, she says.
In this poem, Jeg har tatt et valg (I have made a choice), she exposes her own experiences with sexual assault. In this video, she stressed that it was about white Norwegian males, and not men with a different ethnicity. It became an important statement for her to promote as a contrast to racist attitudes that surfaced during the refugee crisis, like those expressed by – among others – the right-wing extremist group Odins soldater (Odin’s soldiers). According to them we could not accept refugees as the group was afraid that they would rape their women.
– This kind of prejudices and stereotypes makes me so angry, Sofie tells us. For that reason, this topic also became central to the original version of the 22 July and refugee crisis poem.
– It was originally written in English, and also more political, she explains.
In order to adapt it to Norske Talenter, and to get people to listen to it, she had to adjust the content a bit.
– It is like one person said not so long ago. “We don’t listen to what’s being said anymore, but to who’s saying it”. I wanted to soften the lyrics so that everyone could be a part of it, and to really listen.
She decided rather early to use this poem if she got to the final.
– With that poem, I probably gave up the chance to win. But it was so important for me to use this opportunity, she says.
Afterwards, she was nervous about the reactions.
– I hang around with a like-minded crowd, people who have the same opinions as me, but on Norske Talenter you reach so many different people, also those who disagree with you. But I was really surprised. Mostly the reactions have been positive.
Pick the everyday battles of your community
When I ask her whether she has any advice to others who want to use their voice to influence things, she replies:
– It is frightening to express yourself if you are a woman. Even though I am less harrassed because I am white. For example, look at Sumaya (Jirde Ali). She is a woman with a different ethnicity than Norwegian and get so much negativity. Despite that she’s an incredibly important voice, which carries a lot of ‘gold’. The key is to find your own strength and your own way of expressing yourself. To me, art has become my preferred way of articulation.
When I ask her about what kind of encouragement she would pass on to others who want to contribute, but are uncertain about what to do, she responds:
– Do some research and identify organisations that you support. Be active on your own terms. I, for example, am low on energy and work only 50 %. It is about accepting and finding ways you can contribute. Not everybody can go to Greece and work for a full year, but it is important not to feel guilty about it.
Sofie further encourages others to find out what they can do in their communities.
– Donate clothes, give money on a monthly basis, or have dinner with a refugee, she suggests. Most importantly, she thinks it is necessary to talk to people, to have an open mind, and to be critical to your own circle.
– Engage in the discussions. Nothing works better when buddies are schooled by other buddies in terms of how you speak to women. Uncomfortable, for sure, but it’s important to not feel bad about it. It affects attitudes so much. I would much rather listen to a friend of mine than a politician, for instance. We are all humans – involve yourself and get to know them before you make a judgement. Let people be who they are, she ends.