Marginalization of Immigrant Youths: Myths & Facts

Photo : Jos van Zetten . Photo:Jos van Zetten

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Under the Urban Research Programme at Oslo University College (Høgskolen i Oslo ), the two researchers investigated whether the immigrant youths experienced themselves as excluded, marginalized and angry as portrayed in mainstream media. The researchers addressed the prominent issues discussed in the media by analyzing news stories especially in connection with the demonstrations against Israel’s invasion in Gaza last year and the Muhammad caricatures of this year.

They also had interviews with youths and Andersen has conducted fi eld work with observations for more than one year. All these data were put together and they came to the conclusion that this group of youth is not marginalized, on the contrary to general perceptions.

– The picture in the media is usually negative saying that they are badly integrated, angry and marginalized. Especially Muslims are often targeted and stigmatized. Through our research, we found something different. None of our participants described themselves as marginalized. They are preoccupied with regular things: Friends, school works, leisure activities such as football and shopping,” said Biseth.

“More Normal” and “Urbanist” than Ethnic Norwegians

Biseth also noted that they found there are more similarities than differences between immigrants and ethnic Norwegian youth. Although some of them live in areas often referred to as segregated, they do not feel that they live on the rim of society. She added that they are simply more “normal” than many seem to suppose.

They are not physically restrained to the suburbs where they live and they use large parts of the city except for the forest, according to the research. In that sense, Biseth names them as “urbanists” and “Oslo patriots”. She points out they use all parts of the city and the public space, which is an indication of integration. She also notes that they do not necessarily go for museums but go to the cinema, use the beaches and hang out with their friends.

Another striking fi nding set forth in the study is the immigrants’ ambition for their future. Accordingly, they have similar ambitions and goals for education, job and family as ethnic Norwegian with the same class background. There are both similarities and differences within and between the majority and the minorities. This proposal leads the researchers to suggest that the social and economic backgrounds have more infl uence than ethnic background when it comes to success in the Norwegian society.

Demonstrations: Just Seeking for Action

As a result of the interviews and observations, the researchers had the impression that many of those who participated in the violent demonstrations against Israel in Oslo in 2009 were there for excitement and action without conscious awareness of the confl ict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Also, all of the interviewee expressed their disapproval of the violent part of the demonstrations, whether they participated or not. The research shows that they have a common reaction when it comes to the violence during the protests and several said: “This is not the way how it should be and it was a stupid thing to do”, even if they had friends involved in those actions.

Reality of Segregation in Oslo

The research also questions the myth of ghettoization in Oslo and proposes that Ghettos, understood as confi nement to certain suburbs or areas does not exist in Norway.

I cannot say that we did not fi nd clusters in the population. If you talk about “physical segregation”, many of the observed groups are coming from certain suburb areas. They usually live in certain regions, but as a result of their own choice. Some because they do not want to stand out as an alien in their neighborhood, and others because the suburb offers the living conditions they want. But this is not a case just for immigrants. Segregation also happens in the western side of the city, where people from certain socioeconomic classes tend to cluster together said Biseth.

Gay Attack, Obama and Politics

Another inquiry in the research was the immigrant youths’ perspectives on an assault by Muslim men towards a homosexual couple in Grønland last year. All of the participants agreed that it was unacceptable to use violence against the couple due to their choice of lifestyle. Moreover, most of them even condemned the assault, according to the research.

Heidi Biseth said they also talked about national elections and the US election of President Obama with the youngsters. She said they found that some were not interested in politics at all, which is quite common among all youths, while some of them were very aware and engaged in politics. -“Moreover, some of them voted for FrP, others for SV. They were on the entire political continuum,” said she.

The researcher also discussed the notion of democracy by questioning how the young immigrants participate in the discussions at schools and whether they participate in students councils. According to the results, the lack of linguistic competence or being shy, which is not about being immigrant, emerged as the largest obstacles in participating in these kinds of activities.

Careful

– We look at how minorities, mainly Muslims, are portrayed, and explanatory models presented in the media, then we look at our own research. The media’s explanation models do not fit into what we have found, “says Biseth.

She also warns that one should be careful about attributing certain qualities or characteristics to an entire group in the population, and then failing to see the different individuals. Such a group perspective can contribute to marginalization, alienating people, and preventing them from participation in society.

She also noted that some people may have extremist perceptions. Those are issues in a democracy we have to deal with. It may be religious extremist on one side, or xenophobia on the other side. In a city you always have a mix of people, which is one of the most interesting sides of urban life. The educational sector has a role to play in educating for peaceful coexistence in a diverse society, according to the researchers who themselves live in immigrant populated areas of Oslo.

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