• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

'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
Opinion
Sweden bad, Norway good, Trump better? I'm confused
Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold/NTB scanpix/TT & Kristin Streff/AP/TT

Sweden is neither a socialist paradise nor an internationalist hell. The truth, argues The Local's reporter Lee Roden, lies somewhere in the middle.

Sweden loses fastest internet crown
Good luck untangling those. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman /SvD /TT

Worse still, the new European king is Norway.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden tonight
The Northern Lights pictured in Sweden on Wednesday night. Photo: Norrsken Sverige

An unusually high level of solar activity means the spectacle could be visible from rare spots in the country.

The Local List
These are the brands Swedes love the most
What brands do the Swedes love the most? Photo: Per Groth/Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/Pontus Lundahl/TT

Revealed: Swedes' top-20 favourite brands.

Spotify launches new karaoke style streaming in Japan
Can karaoke help Spotify to crack Japan? Photo: DocChewbacca/Flickr creative commons

The Swedish streaming giant has taken inspiration from Japan's love of karaoke with its launch in the country.

US rappers' gig ends in 'bloodbath' in Stockholm
US rapper Ghostface Killah. Photo: Scott Roth/Invision/AP

A man ran onto the stage during a concert by US rappers Ghostface Killah and Killah Priest in Stockholm.

Border checks
Could Sweden's border controls soon be lifted?
The border control at the Swedish side of the Öresund Bridge to Denmark. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

The EU-approved six-month extension of controls in the south of the country will soon come to an end.

'Homemade bomb' on bus in Sweden was bike helmet
File photo of a Swedish police officer. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

A bicycle helmet sparked a bomb scare on a bus in Uppsala.

What's on in Sweden
Four don't-miss festivals in Sweden this week
Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival. Photo: Stockholm Öl & Vin AB

Arab cinema, Gay Pride, out-of-the-box art, whisky and craft beer – what more could a person in Sweden possibly need?

Sweden advised to bring conscription back in 2018
Bringing back the draft could help a stretched military, a government inquiry says. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Young men and women could be made to fill in questionnaires for recruitment to the Armed Forces as early as next year, according to a new proposal.

Sponsored Article
Expat finances in Sweden: the Common Reporting Standard
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Aliens' sex lives? Why Swedes want Nasa to send a condom into space
Analysis & Opinion
'If Sweden really wants startups, drop the red tape on migration'
Blog updates

27 September

Cutting your nose …. (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Last week, Jeremy Browne, the Special Representative for the City of London, visited Sweden. Jeremy was…" READ »

 

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 23rd-25th
Politics
Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
Features
INTERVIEW: How Arthur the jungle dog opened hearts and minds
Gallery
Property of the week: Smögen, Västra Götaland
Society
Sweden's ancient forest tongue Elfdalian fights for survival
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
The Local Voices
Is Swedish bosses' ignorance keeping refugees out of jobs?
2,960
jobs available