• Sweden edition
 
'Swedishness must be split from being white'

'Swedishness must be split from being white'

Published: 21 May 2013 13:44 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 May 2013 13:44 GMT+02:00

Why is it that the notion lives on about what a Swedish appearance looks like? The radio programme Studio 1 asked this question in March during a debate about racism in Sweden today. The question of Swedishness is a loaded one and the debate heats up when race becomes an ever-more central concept in order to understand racist practices in every-day life in Sweden.

Our thoughts and our actions are affected by history and by society's structures and norms. Society and its different shapes existed before each and every one of us alive today were born. In other words, we are born into a web of thought patterns and values that influence how we treat and regard each other and ourselves. We are quite simply greatly affected by structural power hierarchies that came about during a period in history marked by racism and colonialism. Of course there is development over time, but when it comes to norms and stereotypes it takes a long time.

Swedes do not stand apart from the world and its history of racism and colonialism. Our way of dealing with this has so far been to deny that race exists, while we have also wanted to affirm the unknown and the new. Most Swedes will claim they are colour blind, and only see a human before them when they meet someone new. This denial risks hiding from view the discrimination and the segregation that is so tangible and evident for the many who are not seen as Swedes, and whose stories make up a painful testament to the state of things in Sweden.

Several articles and debates have recently criticized Multicultural Centre's exhibition Warning For Race and our anthology Race And Whiteness In Contemporary Sweden. We have read twenty-odd texts that object to our choice to use the term race. We know that the word race is taboo today, but at the same time it is related to a history that we still have not managed to come to terms with.

Critics say we are trying "fight fire with fire", as a Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) editorial writer put it, or they say speaking about race doesn't lead anywhere in attempts to understand today's Sweden. What the criticisms has in common is that they strongly argue for how things should be - that race should not have any significance in today's Sweden - instead of looking at what they actually look like.

That is why we argue that Sweden needs a non-colour-blind anti-racism that enables an understanding of the thought structures behind today's exclusive Swedishness. That is what we are trying to talk about and what we intend the exhibition Warning For Race to contribute to.

Like most other people, we do not believe that separating people into race would solve any social problems. But if certain groups of people with similar backgrounds are found over and over in the lower tiers of the statistics tables, then there is a reason to seek out knowledge about it and try to understand what the consequences are.

The reason Multicultural Centre raises the concept of race is because we still think race is an active category in Sweden, or, as we say in the exhibit, "race is still done" all the time in today's Sweden even though the concept itself has been discarded by science and politics alike.

We still separate people based on what they look like. Not always and not everywhere, but it is happening all the more often and in particular in relation to who is regarded as being Swedish or not. It happens in the media, it happens in culture.

There is even solid empirical research about Swedish every-day racism that has chronicled the experiences of non-white Swedes. It does not make for fun reading.

For the past 15 years, we at Multicultural Centre have studied and worked with the phenomenon of every-day racism in an educational manner. From there, we have concluded that we need to speak about race, instead of just contenting ourselves with analyses of ethnicity, meetings between cultures, and general xenophobia.

Despite most Swedes today distancing themselves from racism, we still meet stereotypical images and descriptions of non-white minorities and non-Western cultures in contemporary Swedish culture. Comparatively, Sweden has established some of the strongest laws against discrimination, and therefore gets top grades in the Migrant Integration Policy Index for creating the best preconditions for integration of new citizens. This isn't what needs improving.

We see a segmented labour market, and we see housing segregation - even when we compare with other countries that are much more cautious towards people who are not seen to belong to the majority population.

Taken together, this should prompt us to pause for reflection.

We want a new Swedish story better equipped to deal with and include today's demographic diversity and to create a new Swedishness for the future. That new story's main task is to separate whiteness from Swedishness in order to be a socially sustainable future Swedishness.

To find our way to that story, we think we must make visible the suppression and discrimination based on appearance, which we do in the exhibit and in the anthology. Let us not pretend that Sweden and Swedes stand apart from the world, history and the racial thinking and the norm of whiteness that still live on both in other countries and in our own society.

Christina Zedell, Willy Viitala, Leif Magnusson and Tobias Hübinette of the Multicultural Centre, which was established as a foundation by Botkyrka Municipality in 1987.

This article was originally published on the Newsmill citizen op-ed site.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

National
Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal
A scene from a video of the attack published by Dagens Nyheter

Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal

A policewoman accused of letting her dog attack a drunk man while she repeatedly hit him with a baton, has had her conviction overturned by a court in Stockholm. READ  

Entertainment
What's On: October 31st - November 7th
Uma Thurman will soon be on her way to Stockholm. Photo: TT

What's On: October 31st - November 7th

Halloween fun and an international film festival are the big events hitting Stockholm this week. We cast our eye over the capital and the rest of the country for the best activities to check out this week. READ  

International
Pirate Bay Swede found guilty in Denmark
Gottrid Svartholm Warg. File photo: TT

Pirate Bay Swede found guilty in Denmark

Sweden's Pirate Bay Founder Gottrid Svartholm Warg was found guilty of hacking crimes in a Danish court on Thursday. READ  

National
Malmö loses out as rare toads move in
The European green toad. Photo: H. Krisp (WikiCommons)

Malmö loses out as rare toads move in

After a rare species of toad moved into southern Sweden's Malmö, builders have had to tone down massive expansion plans in the area. READ  

Politics
Palestine recognized as state by Sweden
Palestinians in Gaza last month. Photo: Adel Hana

Palestine recognized as state by Sweden

The Swedish government has officially decided to recognize Palestine, with the move announced in a speech by the country's new Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. READ  

Interview
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
For ten days, Globen is transformed into a giant pumpkin. Photo: Shockholm

Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween

American Bill Schacht missed the spooky outfits, family feasts and charity events he associated with Halloween when he moved to Sweden. So he did something about it. The Local meets the founder of the capital's annual Shockholm parade. READ  

Business & Money
Huge losses for energy giant Vattenfall
A Vattenfall plant in Germany. Photo: TT

Huge losses for energy giant Vattenfall

Swedish energy company Vattenfall has reported losses for the third quarter in a row. READ  

International
Malala donates prize winnings to Gaza
Malala receives the Children's Prize from Queen Silvia. Photo: TT

Malala donates prize winnings to Gaza

UPDATED: Girls' rights champion Malala Yousafzai, who was in Sweden to accept the World's Children's Prize on Wednesday, said she would use all her winnings to help rebuild schools in war-ravaged Gaza. READ  

Swedish Honeymoon Killing
Cape Town 'fixer' phoned Dewani before killing
Dewani in a Cape Town court. Photo: TT

Cape Town 'fixer' phoned Dewani before killing

A man jailed for killing British businessman Shrien Dewani's wife during their Cape Town honeymoon said on Wednesday they spoke shortly before the murder to discuss payment. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Blog updates

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 
 
 
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

994
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN