Newsflash: Racism DOES exist in Scandinavia
Racism is everywhere, it is a pervasive system and culture that permeates every single country on this earth. Whilst daily headlines may make it appear that racism is exceptional to certain countries- especially as some countries have a more coloured history involving colonialism, laws that actively practise racism etc. do not be fooled, racism is everywhere. When I read about a Norwegian singer Sophie Elise and the reactions received to the music video for her debut single “All Your Friends” in summer, I was saddened but not surprised.
Sophie Elise is Norwegian reality star and instantly after the release of the music video, her comments erupted. No, there was no scandal from the content of the song or its lyrics. What “fans” and observers found so abhorrent was the man who played Sophie’s romantic interest. Or rather the colour of his skin. Kingsford Siayor. He is a local actor and a black man.
Sophie received death threats, accusations of bestiality and was called a “degenerate.” The comments were disgusting and exposed a layer of racism that exists in Norway. Sophie immediately hit back and posted in an Instagram caption that the comments had been “a hell from another world” and she “wanted someone who could play, who had experience with dance” and she “could not have been more pleased with the man the choice fell on.”
Even so just like with the rest of Europe and other Western countries, we cannot underestimate or under-evaluate the rise of Right-Wing groups and political parties. Many of these parties and their members are racist, they hold racist beliefs and for their supporters who claim not to be, they are still culpable for ignoring and choosing not to see the racist and xenophobic undertones of these “Nazi” belief systems. Right-Wing parties have been on the rise over the last decade. Not only this but between 2008-2014 hate crimes against black people of African Origin in Sweden for instance, rose by more than 40%. Afro-Swedish activist Maria- Teresa Asplud is part of an Afrophobia Focus organisation that tackles racism against those of a Sub-Saharan African background in Sweden. Most famously known for taking part in a counter protest facing 300 members of the Nordic Resistance Movement rally in 2016; her picture became viral and opened up a conversation about racism in Sweden and more broadly Scandinavia.
One explanation espoused for the nature of racism in Scandinavia was that most of these countries were late in terms of accepting immigration, some would say- although a weak argument- that they simply have a lot of catching up to do in comparison to many other European countries who are more exposed to diversity and actively engage in multi-culturalism. Nevertheless, there have been people of colour in Sweden for hundreds of years and Sweden- formerly one of Europe’s leading powers during the 16th and 17th centuries also had colonies- Ghana (St Bartholomew). Over the next hundred years black people who lived in Sweden were subjected to the same derogatory standards and quips as many of those around the world- unfamiliar to those who look at 1900s America.
Additionally, capital cities in Scandinavia ARE diverse and international. With local events such as the Feministisk Festival to celebrate diversity with workshops, and community round-tables- Scandinavia is exposed daily to different cultures and peoples. But, we must not ignore the fact that Swedish history is littered with racialized policies. Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a research centre for racial biology – in the town of Upsalla. Founded in 1921 up to 63,000 people mostly women were identified as ‘sexually precarious or mixed-race types” and under legislation enacted in 1934 a racial purity programme was underway in Sweden. The law was repealed in 1976 and though it is no consolation for the suffering gone through the Swedish government in 1999 stated it would pay up to £13,430 to each surviving victim of the 1934-76 Eugenics programme.
We only have to look at modern incidents such as an incident in 2015 where the Mayor of Lidköping in Central Sweden publicly defended the “traditional” name of “negroballs” to describe a popular chocolate cake, to see that racism is still deeply ingrained in the fabric of Scandinavian society. Can we pin this all down to ignorance, unaware of the offense of “traditional” names, festivals, structures?
The fact is, it is 2017 not 1917, we must push past the narrative of “ignorance” as an excuse, especially as we see Right Wing-fascists parties on the rise in Western countries. It is simply not good enough. Racism is everywhere and we must recognise it everywhere- even if this means taking our eyes of America to look at European countries, to look at Scandinavia, where people of colour still suffer from racists attacks each day.
Written by Jasmine Botchey