Vandals spray-painted the words “Racist Fish” on Copenhagen’s statue of The Little Mermaid Friday morning, Reuters reported. Historians and literature professors are having a hard time finding any connection between the statue and racism.
Since 1913, the 4-foot-tall bronze statue has sat atop a rock in the water a few feet off the shore in a Copenhagen park. The monument honors the fairy tale that was the basis for the 1989 Disney animated blockbuster, and which may be the most famous creation of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The statue is a local tourist attraction.
On Friday morning, authorities discovered that the statue had been vandalized with a message about racism.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, multiple statues have become the center of controversy. By and large, those controversies have focused on statues of Confederate generals and soldiers across the United States, as well as people with problematic pasts, such as Christopher Columbus, in the U.S. and elsewhere.
However, Ane Grum-Schwensen, a researcher at the H.C. Andersen Center at the University of Southern Denmark, isn’t really clear on any connection between The Little Mermaid and racism.
“I am having a hard time seeing what is particularly racist in the fairy tale,” she said.
Indeed, the 1837 fairy tale, for those not familiar, concerns a young mermaid who longs to be a human and gives up her soul in exchange. Inasmuch as it is about fictional creatures, there is no racial component to the story. Indeed, what criticism the story has received in the centuries since its publication has focused not on racism but on its appeal to Victorian moral attitudes of the day, according to the book Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults.
And as The Independent reported in 2005, Andersen rejected the prejudices of his fellow Danes.
“No nation has more prejudice, I think, than the Danes… to deride and sneer, to watch for the weak points in our neighbors, that is our evil nature,” he once wrote.
This is not the first time The Little Mermaid statue has been vandalized. Indeed, in the century that it’s stood, it’s been beheaded, had paint poured on it, and even been blasted off of its base by explosives. Much of that vandalism has been tied to issues not remotely related to the statue; for example, it’s been damaged by anti-whaling activists as well as by vandals who spray-painted “Free Hong Kong” on its base.