• Sweden's news in English
 

'The concept of race is a slippery slope': Ullenhag

Published: 01 Aug 2014 16:00 GMT+02:00
Updated: 01 Aug 2014 16:33 GMT+02:00

The decision has been more than 20 years in the making, Ullenhag said, and has been discussed extensively on both parliamentary and international levels.

 "I think we should have done it before," Ullenhag told The Local. "But at least we're doing it now."

The suggestion received unanimous support from the governing alliance of Sweden. On Thursday an investigation was launched into how best to implement the decision.

"First, we need to determine if we need something instead of race, a different expression," Ullenhag explained.  
 
He said that in many laws the terminology should be an easy fix - it will still be illegal to discriminate against ethnic background or religion, for instance. The government also needs to make sure the new Swedish law proposals are in line with international human rights conventions.
 
"There are many international conventions that use the word race, so we have to make sure we don't miss anything. The problem is that the word 'race' is used differently in different countries," Ullenhag said.
 
Sweden must ensure that the decision complies with the EU Anti-Discrimination Directive, which demands that EU nations provide protection against discrimination on the grounds of "racial or ethnic origin".
 
But Sweden's step, although seen by some as bold, is hardly ground-breaking. Austria has already "rejected the idea of separate races" and replaced the term race in legal texts with the term "ethnic affiliation", as is also done in Hungary. In French legislation references are made to "real or assumed" race, another method of watering down the term.
 
The minister explained that he, along with the Swedish government, desired to scrap the word "race" due to the way the term is used in Sweden - as confirmation that subspecies and "races" of human kind exist.
 
"The idea of race in Sweden goes back to race biology, and the research we had in Sweden back in the days when we were heavily influenced by Germany," Ullenhag explained. 
 
The Swedish Society for Eugenics (Svenska sällskapet för rashygien) was established in 1909, and in 1922 the Swedish National Institute for Race Biology (Statens institut för rasbiologi) was opened in Uppsala - the first such institution in the world.
 
The research institute was headed for nearly 15 years by Herman Lundborg, a physician with anti-Semitic views and an adamant advocate of "racial hygiene" and eugenics. Some have even said the institute inspired Nazi biopolitics.
 
The Institute later became associated with an sterilization programme for people with "negative" genetic characteristics - a programme which was not terminated until 1975.
 
In 1999 researchers with the Human Genome Project (HGP) determined that the idea of race has no roots in genetics.
 
"The concept of race disappeared from scientific discourse more than a decade ago," Juha Kere, Professor of Molecular Genetics at Karolinska Institute, confirmed for The Local on Friday.  "It is the broadly accepted conclusion based on worldwide genetic studies that the concept is unfounded."
 
Professors across the globe have come to the same conclusion, with American anthropologist Loring Brace writing that, while there are genetic differences across the world, there is no visible line, no clear-cut categories.
 
"As a rule, the boy marries the girl next door throughout the whole world, but next door goes on without stop from one region to another."
 
Kere explained that, while there are differences between populations, the genetic variation within each population is greater than the variation between different populations. 
 
"And more importantly," Kere said, "the differences between populations are gradual and reflect the spreading of all humans from Africa. We are all descendants of the early Africans. There are  no sharp differences that would in any way reflect the old 'race' definitions."
 
In other words, the Swedish government decided it's about time.
 
"It's quite an unmodern term," Ullenhag told The Local. "It implies that we do have different races, and modern science says that we don't."
 
But while there may be scientific consensus that "race" is indeed an outdated concept, there are those who say that the term still fills a vital function.
 
The National Afro-Swedish Association (Afrosvensarnas Riksförbund, ASR) has been particularly critical. 
 
"Race may be a social construct, but that doesn't mean it's not a reality," ASR spokesman Kitwamba Sabuni told The Local. "For us, this is just trying to take away the possibility to even talk about it. It's critical."
 
Zakarias Zouhir, chairman of the ASR, agreed.
 
"This path worries me," Zouhir told Sveriges Television on Thursday. "It's just sweeping it under the blue and yellow rug and pretending there is no racism in society."
 
Ullenhag responded by saying that the "collective" perspective of the ASR focused on "racification", the claim that "we are all stuck in our races". 
 
"I think that you are on slippery slope there. The problem with that view is that you lose individuality," Ullenhag argued. "I think a liberal way of fighting xenophobia is more effective, where you say that it is always unacceptable to judge people from a collective standpoint. They should always be treated as individual human beings."
 
Ullenhag stressed that racism and xenophobia will still be hit by legislation even after removing the word race from law. He admitted that, while scrapping the concept of race may not end racism, he believes it is a key "piece of the puzzle". 
 
"We need the political leadership to stand up for the equal value of all humans," Ullenhag told The Local.
 
"We also need to be crystal clear in Sweden that we will not follow the same path some EU nations have done by following xenophobic forces. Our government has been very clear that, yes, we do have a xenophobic party in parliament, but we will not let them change the political map."
 
Solveig Rundquist
Follow Solveig on Twitter

Related links:

For more stories about Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Hate speech' probe into Swedish anti-begging ad
The ad campaign at Östermalmstorg station has been strongly criticized. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

'Hate speech' probe into Swedish anti-begging ad

UPDATED: The Swedish Chancellor of Justice has launched an investigation into whether or not a controversial anti-begging campaign on the Stockholm underground constitutes hate speech. READ  

Swedish workers' lucky escape in bridge collapse
A concrete slab fell off the bridge in Sundsvall. Photo: Jango17/Wikimedia Commons

Swedish workers' lucky escape in bridge collapse

A number of Swedish workers were on Tuesday thankful to be alive after their company car was crushed by a 30-tonne block of concrete that fell off a bridge in northern Sweden. READ  

Lenny Kravitz lets it rip on stage in Sweden
Lenny Kravitz performing at Gröna Lund in Stockholm. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Lenny Kravitz lets it rip on stage in Sweden

US artist Lenny Kravitz made headlines when he rocked his pants off at a rip-roaring gig in Stockholm last night – literally. READ  

One injured in Stockholm suburb drive-by shooting
A man was shot in the Bredäng area of Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

One injured in Stockholm suburb drive-by shooting

A person was taken to hospital on Tuesday afternoon after a drive-by shooting in a Stockholm suburb. READ  

Swedish legend set to star in hit fantasy series
Swedish actor Max von Sydow. Photo: AP Photo/Gero Breloer

Swedish legend set to star in hit fantasy series

Swedish veteran actor Max von Sydow has signed on for a role in the sixth season of the wildly popular Game of Thrones fantasy series, according to a US movie magazine. READ  

Russia slams Sweden over expelled diplomats
Moscow has hit back at Stockholm over a diplomatic incident. Photo: RIA Novosti Pool Photo via AP

Russia slams Sweden over expelled diplomats

UPDATED: Russia lashed out at Stockholm on Tuesday and confirmed it had expelled a Swedish diplomat in retaliation for one of Moscow's officials being asked to leave the Nordic country. READ  

Swedish ship in new migrant rescue mission
Migrants aboard the rescue ship Poseidon on an earlier rescue mission in June. Photo: AP Photo/Carmelo Imbesi/TT

Swedish ship in new migrant rescue mission

The Swedish rescue ship Poseidon has helped another hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, said the coast guard. READ  

Opinion
'Let's promote nudity in a healthy way'
Lotta Gray and her son Lennox. Photo: Private

'Let's promote nudity in a healthy way'

Swedish parents need to get more comfortable being naked around family members to help their children develop a healthy attitude to nudity, argues journalist and blogger Lotta Gray. READ  

Sweden's golden girl swims to new record
Swedish champion Sarah Sjöström. Photo: AP Photo/Sergei Grits

Sweden's golden girl swims to new record

Sweden's Sarah Sjöström broke the women's 100 metre butterfly world record for the second time in 24 hours to win gold in the final at the world swimming championships on Monday. READ  

Swedish ex-politicians get millions in payouts
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven pictured with his parliamentary colleagues in December 2014. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Swedish ex-politicians get millions in payouts

The government changeover last autumn has cost the Swedish taxpayer a whopping 147 million kronor ($17 million) in severance payments for politicians and officials, it was revealed on Monday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Swedes get ready for new money, money, money
Gallery
Property of the week: Huddinge, Stockholm
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Joyful celebrations at Stockholm's Pride Parade 2015
National
Snoop Dogg's initial drug test positive say Swedish police
How did a banana help a Swedish man avoid speeding fines?
Blog updates

31 July

Editor’s blog, July 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Dear readers, As the Stockholm Pride Festival kicked off this week, we spoke to the chairman of..." READ »

 

15 July

Climate Change: A New Risk Assessment (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today.   The UK is..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
People-watching: July 31st - August 2nd
Technology
Modern mugging: Swedish thieves use smartphone app to rob man
National
How a century-old Russian sub wreck got Sweden into a frenzy
Gallery
People-watching: July 29th
National
How to become a Swedish woman
National
Free bus cards for refugees in Sweden
Lifestyle
New snaps of Sweden's baby prince
National
Why are Swedes so scared of Russian submarines?
Gallery
Property of the week: Simrishamn, Skåne
Sponsored Article
Getting pregnant the Swedish way
Features
Five outrageously harsh tourist comments about Sweden
Sponsored Article
Why is Sweden still working with Russia?
Gallery
People-watching: July 24th-26th
Travel
Seven ways to beat the Swedish rain
National
Should Sweden's alcohol stores be open on weekends?
National
How to become a Swedish man
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd
Lifestyle
How to never miss your favourite features on The Local
National
Royal husband on 'breadwinner' role
National
Stockholm to ban all cars for one day
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Gallery
Property of the week: Sölvesborg, Blekinge
National
Questions over who would replace Swedish PM in a crisis
Gallery
People-watching: July 17th-19th
National
Why are Swedish women joining Isis?
Travel
Ten Stockholm streets you just have to walk down
Sponsored Article
'Swedish women must demand their partners use a condom'
Sport
Did UK football parents threaten Swedish kids?
Technology
Stockholm scientists find world's oldest sperm
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th
National
Angry Swede uses bird nest as fake speed camera
National
Meatball row as Ikea changes recipe
National
Sweden's new princess in spotlight
National
Slimy slugs go on sale to raise cash for EU migrants in Sweden
National
Crown Princess Victoria turns 38
Sponsored Article
Harstena: Life in Sweden's secret archipelago
National
Is this the best marriage proposal story in Malmö's history?
Sponsored Article
'Biofuels critical for climate-friendly flights'
Sponsored Article
Gaps don't have to kill your Swedish CV
National
Why summer could be the best time to invest in a Swedish property
Gallery
Property of the week: Bollnäs, Hälsingland
National
Swedish house on sale for one krona
National
Would you give this ugly food a home?
Gallery
People-watching: July 10th-12th
Travel
Foreign hikers in Sweden set to get more help in English
Sponsored Article
'Swedish industry needs US trade deal'
Sponsored Article
Sweden's 'incredible' chance to connect
Sponsored Article
'Today's refugees could be tomorrow's Zlatan'
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Sponsored Article
‘I don’t feel Swedish, I feel international’
Sponsored Article
VIP Mingle at Almedalen's hottest event
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

3,312
jobs available
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:
psdmedia.se