I have heard that the government of Iceland has an agreement with the government of the United States that no black serviceman will serve on the US’ base(s) in the country. Is this true?
That’s rather unlikely. Military units are all fully integrated; you’d have to manually pick out all the black guys before deploying a unit to a base in Iceland. That would of course be a logistical nightmare if there are important black NCOs or officers in the unit (and there probably are.)
Further, it seems unlikely that a relatively modern country like Iceland would make such an absurd demand. (Is there much racism in Iceland? I really have no idea. The population is rather homogenous, I have heard.)
That this is no longer their policy comes as considerable relief, especially considering Iceland’s recent granting of citizenship to American chess legend – and fugitive --Bobby Fischer.
Not their finest hour, though, on either point.
Agreed, Scrivener, although to put it in context you might want to consider the racial policies that existed in parts of the US in 1959 and another several years following…
As the article is restricted to library subscribers, can anyone shed any light on why this was Iceland’s policy? I’m curious to know whether there was any more to it than the same-old same-old bullshit.
I’d kind of like to know myself, too. My husband I are making plans to go to the Reykjavic Jazz Festival next year or the year after that. We won’t go if we’re, you know, not exactly welcome.
Don’t make any judgements on a half-century-old piece of evidence - after all, westerners were very welcome on the streets of Baghdad or Kabul in the 1950s. Iceland may have been an insular and prejudiced society then, but it’s not now. It’s got a well-travelled and widely-experienced young population.
I was in Iceland 2 yrs ago; it’s still an overwhelmingly white (beyond that overwhelmingly Icelandic, extremely homogenous) society. There are enough Thais and other Asian immigrants (including at least one lady I saw in a smaller town who appeared to be a mail order bride) now that I think the racial purity thing is a thing of the past.
It’s a tiny country with a big tourist industry and a modern NATO (predominately US) air base. At this point I don’t think you’d raise eyebrows at a jazz fest (come to think of it, what sort of jazz fest is gonna be all white?!) I’d be surprised if you had any problems. I was on the bus with a black British tourist & his white wife for a bit & no one seemed to give them trouble.
Iceland, still under Danish control (and Denmark invaded by Germany), had a little trouble deciding which side of WWII it wanted to be on. I saw a fascinating book in one of the many used book stores in Reykjavik called (this is a language I don’t really read from memory so I could be a bit off): Islensker Nazisker (Icelandic Nazis). It had come out some years before and apparently caused a bit of a fuss as it dredged up the Hitler Youth photos, nationalist/racialist rallies and named names (in a small society where people know each other) of which old folks were involved.
It seems that half the population was pretty pro-Nazi in the 40s and I imagine many of those folks were still around in 1959.
I wouldn’t hold that against their grandchildren, who seem to be pretty darn liberal on the whole with these things. (There are a couple of racist death metal bands in the Norwegian model, but this is not typical).
Have fun, and avoid the hakarl! (Yicccchhhh…)
Well, basically it was to protect the womenfolk. I kid you not. From the article:
He also cites a passage from the Icelandic “yellow press”, complaining about a group of forty or so Filipinos working on the island:
I had a high school teacher who was in the Air Force in the late 50s who said that he basically was severely restricted from leaving the base at any time even as a white man. They didn’t want any foreign soldiers carousing (& presumably knocking up the local women) and I could imagine not being white would make things much worse.
He told us that in order to get to Keflavik proper for a beer they had to carry fishing poles with them and pretend to fish first. Just walking straight to town for a beer would’ve gotten them into trouble.
It seems worthwhile to note that Iceland was a poorer country at the time. Having seen the brothels spring up around military bases in other parts of the world I have to say that the effect of the ban on soldoers visiting town probably wasn’t the worst thing for Icelandic society, even if the a lot of the motivation was repugnant…
No different to many of the attitudes facing black GIs in Britain at the same time.
I can attest to the former racist policy of the Icelandic government. I am a retired USAF Veteran. I was stationed in Newfoundland in 1970 at a radar site that closed during my tour of duty. As a Black Airman I was sent back to the States upon the site closing, and the White Airmen were sent to Iceland.
I was told that Black Americans could not go to Iceland. I was actually elated especially since I was a 19 year old kid that wanted to get back to the States and my girlfriend. I don’t know when the Icelandic government changed that policy but I just wanted to validate to any non believers that this was in fact a “true” policy.