• Sweden's news in English

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

The Local · 1 Aug 2014, 16:33

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.
Story continues below…
"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 news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swedish 'knowledge hubs' to fight extremism
The new centres are aimed at discouraging Swedish youths from joining up with Islamic extremist groups such as Isis. Photo:AP/TT

Swedish 'knowledge hubs' to fight extremism

28 minutes ago

Sweden's National Coordinator against Violent Extremism, Mona Sahlin, has announced a pilot programme to set up special centres in four cities in order to prevent the recruitment of people to extremist groups.

Eurovision 2016
Eurovision ticket chaos leaves fans fuming
Sweden's Eurovision 2015 winner Måns Zelmerlöw. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Eurovision ticket chaos leaves fans fuming

2 hours ago

Chaos reigned supreme on Thursday when tickets for next year's Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm were released for sale and users experienced major technical problems with the ticketing website.

Refugee crisis
Five myths about Sweden's refugee crisis
Refugees at the Malmö branch of Sweden's Migration Agency. Photo: TT

Five myths about Sweden's refugee crisis

3 hours ago

UPDATED: Sweden's reputation for openness is being questioned as it tightens asylum rules and border controls. But how much are attitudes really changing? Here's a truth check on some of the more common misperceptions about how the refugee crisis is affecting the Nordic country.

10,000 Swedes tell Google to forget them
Google is assessing almost 10,000 privacy requests from Sweden. Photo: Paul Sakuma/Google

10,000 Swedes tell Google to forget them

3 hours ago

According to fresh data, almost 10,000 Swedes have lodged privacy requests with American tech giant Google for search removals but only around 41 percent have been approved.

The Local Recipes
How to make Swedish mulled wine: glögg
Swedish mulled wine served the traditional way. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

How to make Swedish mulled wine: glögg

4 hours ago

One drink in particular keeps the Swedes warm in winter: glögg. The beverage has been a Christmas tradition in Sweden since the 1890s. John Duxbury shares his favourite recipe with The Local.

Swedish party named in refugee ads slams drive
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Swedish party named in refugee ads slams drive

6 hours ago

An international campaign by the far-right Sweden Democrats has been sharply criticized – after they used a centre-right mainstream party's signature alongside their own without permission.

Presented by American Express
The quickest route to UK Eurobonus destinations
Photo: Berit Watkin/Flickr

The quickest route to UK Eurobonus destinations

7 hours ago

Time for a getaway? The UK is just a short flight away from Sweden, and there are numerous great options for weekend away. Here are the top five.

Five weirdest attacks on Sweden's straw yule goat
The Gävle Goat in happier times. Photo: Andreas Bardell/TT

Five weirdest attacks on Sweden's straw yule goat

8 hours ago

An iconic Christmas straw goat that gets torched almost every year in Gävle, Sweden, was erected on Thursday. The Local takes a look at some of the most outrageous attempts to destroy it.

Winter in Sweden
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Sami guide their reindeer in Karesuando. Photo: TT

An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft

10 hours ago

You've seen the city life, Stockholm clubs and Gothenburg streetcars - but there's another side of Sweden, wild and raw. The Local spoke with Peter Siikavuopio, a Swedish trapper living in the far north, about his craft.

Swedish police probe fatal attack in Norrköping
Stock picture of a Swedish police officer. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Swedish police probe fatal attack in Norrköping

10 hours ago

UPDATED: Police have launched a murder investigation after one man died and another was left fighting for his life in hospital on Thursday following a mystery assault in Norrköping in central Sweden.

Five myths about Sweden's refugees
Sponsored Article
Top five UK weekend getaways from Sweden
Sponsored Article
After Paris: 'The war is not only against Isis'
How did this missing Swedish cat turn up in southern France?
Would you eat this Swedish pizza?
Blog updates

25 November

So What Does An Ambassador Do? (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"I know that my mum is super proud that I’m an Ambassador. But if you asked..." READ »


20 November

Editor’s blog, November 20th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, It has been a long and busy week for The Local as we reported on..." READ »

Sponsored Article
How Stockholm solved a startup’s housing crisis
Sponsored Article
Swedish researchers find Ice Age 'missing link'
People-watching: November 25th
Sponsored Article
Lofsdalen: The real Swedish wilderness
What do Swedes want for Christmas?
GUIDE: How to help refugees if you live in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Beaches, bikes, and buds: studying in Malmö
Mystery ice circle in Swedish river
Sponsored Article
Sweden must combat extremist 'mirage'
IN PICTURES: New royal winter snaps of Sweden's Princess Estelle
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
How to figure out healthcare abroad
Stockholm film festival's top movies
Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: the new epicentre of global leadership
People-watching: November 20th-22nd
Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se
Sponsored Article
‘Food choices in Sweden destroy forests in Asia’
Swedish King calls for bathtub ban
Analysis & Opinion
Why you should care about Sweden raising its terror threat level
Sponsored Article
The cheapest and fastest way to transfer money
Stockholm's best international bars
Is this the best warning sign ever?
Why are more Swedes getting fat?
Sweden's tribute to Paris victims
What is Sweden's sexiest name?
VIDEO: Madonna's emotional tribute to Paris victims at Stockholm gig
Nine of the merriest Swedish Christmas fairs
Sweden cashes in on new kronor banknotes
How lonely are you in Sweden?
Roaming bear shot dead in Swedish village in Uppsala county
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: