OPINION: ‘Swedish Lucia ad racism is shocking and hypocritical’

Journalist Edinah Masanga writes about the online abuse suffered by a child featured in a Swedish Lucia advert.

OPINION: 'Swedish Lucia ad racism is shocking and hypocritical'
File photo of Lucia. Photo: Anna Hållams/TT

There is something inherently wrong or, rather more aptly, hypocritical about Europeans fighting to continue a “cultural” event of celebrating Zwarte Piet while getting vehemently upset about a dark-skinned child representing St Lucia.

So in other words, it is okay to celebrate and keep alive slavery legacies by letting white people paint themselves black but it's not okay for a dark-skinned child to be dressed as a saint.

You know, I used to think it's racism per se, but then when I saw that Syrians, who have mostly light skin colour, are stereotyped as terrorists, I realized it wasn't just the colour issue in Europe, it's just the European superiority complex. The 'them' and 'us' attitude. We the superior Europeans and them the outsiders.

It does not matter how white a person can be, here in Europe, they have to have originated from here in order to be good enough.

This is my third year in Sweden and whenever I speak Swedish I mostly get the “du är jätteduktig” remark a lot. Not as a compliment but as an expression of surprise. It's as if I am not expected to speak good Swedish. It's partly because I'm black and mostly because I am a foreigner.

Being good is not expected of me. I sometimes sit with Swedish people who are less educated than me and have to argue about facts of my profession, which they know nothing about, but will argue for the sake of not wanting to admit that I could know some things which they don't. I mean, how could I, I'm an outsider. I'm from the inferior group.

One day I was out with my friends, one of them is a black woman who has been here in Sweden since she was three and we were doing something that is considered Swedish, and I noticed that my other white Swedish friends kept telling her or showing her how to do the thing that I expected that at 33, having grown up here in Sweden, there was no need to explain anything to her. But of course, even though she is Swedish, she is not really Swedish right?

The ridicule of that young boy who appeared in Åhléns' Lucia advert pained my heart. The loss of humanity in order to please one's superiority complex is appallingly painful to say the least. To mock and dehumanize a child all for their skin colour is both a symptom and a cause of the European superiority dogma. It is shocking, for a society that prides itself on civilization.

What happened to children being innocent, sweet and vulnerable creatures that deserve all of our love and protection? Even if people hated the idea of a dark-skinned saint, why mock and racially abuse such a beautiful little soul?

I found myself thinking, as I was reading The Local Sweden, as I do every morning, couldn't the racists just let it pass simply because it was a child? But I realized of course they could not because their superiority had been threatened, their purity had been tarnished.

I know that people will say “but not everyone is like that”, and that there were more Facebook 'likes' of love on the picture, but that is exactly the problem: it shouldn't be commended that there were more likes, because the child wasn't there for a 'being liked' contest, he was there as a symbol of a tradition which is celebrated by all children in Sweden, including children like him.

Europeans can and should do better. Don't stoop so low as to attack children, of all the sad things that you could do.

Edinah Masanga is a Zimbabwean journalist living in Sweden. Follow her on Twitter or read her blog here.

Edith Masanga. Photo: Private


‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

But the most common recurring story reflect Sweden’s longstanding guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
Glad Påsk!
Midsommar drowning  
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.