Racism is becoming more normalized in Sweden – in all of Europe, I dare say, and people with xenophobic views who previously kept quiet about their views now feel more free to express them openly. Still, most of them reject the label of being racist.
A young Syrian man in Sweden recorded this woman on a tram in Gothenburg, Sweden, when she verbally abused him and his friends. Check the video out on his Facebookpage.
Don’t speak Swedish? This is the bottomline of what the woman yells about:
She gets 3.800 SEK a month, while “they” (presumably the young man and his friends) are receiving 8.000 SEK a month, to study Swedish for immigrants.
And at the end of her speech, she states that she obviously has the wrong skin colour, white, in Sweden, but even if she does, she still has the right to have opinions in her own country, and she’s not a racist.
Now with this kind of narrow definition, who is really left to be a racist?
My friend Sara’s post on Facebook the other day received a huge amount of comments. Sara recounted a conversation she had had in the lunch room at the hospital where she is working: a “tall, blonde” medical doctor had responded to Sara introducing herself by asking: “So where are you from? You don’t exactly look like you have viking blood in you” (the vikings are Sweden’s infamous seafaring warriors that terrorized other nations in the years 800-1500). Even though Sara simply had answered the woman with the name of the Swedish city she grew up in, the woman didn’t give in but kept pushing for my friend to explain her ethnic belonging and family history.
On Facebook Sara explained how tiring it is to receive this question over and over again and summed it up by concluding that no blonde medical doctor had to answer endless questions about their background on a coffeebreak on any given medical clinic in Sweden. Many commented with their thoughts and advice on how to handle such a situation, some of them being quite radical about asking the woman to fuck off or simply leave Sweden for a more tolerant country; most of them Swedes as Sara mostly has Swedish friends. I was about to agree with them then it struck me: I was once one of those people asking Sara where she was from.
When we had been friends for a while years ago she had brought up the subject of her being the odd one in the all-white Swedish middle class surroundings of university life where we both were, and in that moment I realized that when we first got to know each other I had asked her a million of questions about her home country. Why? I found her country so damn exciting and I wanted to know all there was about it (I had never been there myself). But I hadn’t seen it as a problem back then before Sara brought it up.
“Well you ask me a lot of questions, just like the others,” Sara agreed when I reminded her, then adding in a conciliatory manner: “But on the other hand you did seem genuinely interested.”
In my country some newcomers never make it into the Swedish society; they never learn the language, never make it to the jobmarket and their kids go to one of the ghetto schools where more than 50% don’t graduate junior high school. Being an outcast is also degrading and I have met a lot of anger in the ghettos in Sweden. But maybe as the glass ceiling is one of the hardest to break through this might create a lot of bitterness of another, more damaging kind than the feeling of being an outcast? If you are doing your best trying, graduating from high school with straight As, make it to medical school or another attractive university program, get yourself a good ass job and still neve becomes accepted for who you are because of your different name or (in Sweden) black hair – couldn’t this be worse?
Me myself I didn’t graduate junior high school and spent a considerable amount of time in special educational programs for troubled kids – but when I did make it to university in the end noone looked surprised when they saw me or asked if I was the first one in my family to attend university, when on my dad’s side I actually was one of the first, and my parents even made me give them a copy of my (usless) Bachelor’s degree in political science for them to frame and hang on the wall.
After quite some thinking I answered Sara’s Facebookpost and told her my thoughts about myself, saying I think she could point out to the blonde medical doctor next time that it is very tiring having to answer these kinds of questions. Because I don’t think she realizes herself that she’s a part of that glass ceiling that holds people back. I’m not free from prejudices and also I need an eye opener sometimes. And I believe in dialogue rather than telling that clueless person to fuck off. Sure, asking someone to fuck off is needed when the person knows what he’s doing, but most of us are just ignorant like me and needs to be made aware, just like Sara did with me once upon a time. I actually think the Swedish persons being so radical have made the same mistakes in the past.
I hope I will read a new Facebook update from Sara soon, with the result of the next answer on the question: Where are you from?
Do you like my blog and my ideas? Not everybody does.
The experience is new to me since I haven’t been attacked like this before and it’s a different thing knowing about people’s prejudices and to experience them first hand.
A response on Facebook to my blog post “Can I like this page if I date Arab men?” told me I should keep in mind that whites are probably the least racist in the world. I asked the person – no first or last name and the profile picture was the Swedish flag – to back up the statement with some verified research, and received the following answer:
“That’s not needed. We let all nonwhites into our country. And now the original population in all the immigrated countries starts to grow tired of the ungratefulness we are given in return. We have the right to become angry and complain. Same thing as if you would receive a guest who didn’t liked the food you cooked and he/she should just demand a lot from you.” (The original population in Sweden is not whites but Sami, but Mr No name might not have been very attentative during his school years.)
Another commenter, self-proclaimed American, found our Arabic-Swedish network’s Facebook group and only the idea of our network seemed to drive him nuts (he’s not the first one). He posted a hateful message on the wall on how Sweden could let in Arabs, which I as a moderator removed. Immediately the reactions came in private emails:
“So much for free speech (sic). Fuck you too! 89% of the rapist in Sweden are Arab. Shame on you and all ARab women. No self respect!”
Answering and explaining why I had removed his wall post only exaggerated his anger, part of it steemed from the belief that I too am an Arab (one part is translated from Arabic written with Latin letters):
“All people living in America Turkish Malay Indian Pakistani Persian… only Arab bastards cause trouble. Also why do you people FORCE your daughter to wear hijab? You can’t teach them modesty first? No wonder they go out and keep boyfriends on the sly. Arab bitch… Are you Lebanese? All Lebanese are bitches Your mother too is an Arab animal. You need a white cock in that mouth. You wish you were white and worship us whites.” (Who was it that was supposedly a rapist by the way?)
So this is obviously the kind of comment you can receive if you belong to an ethnic group not everyone seems fond of. What else could you face as a minority if this is the response I get on my according to me quite harmless commitment?
My reply to the man before I blocked him:
“Hello Mukhter! I am 100% white and I suggest you find other people to share your ideas with as I don’t find hate very appealing:)”
More comments like these are surely to come, but I won’t let hate set the agenda.
Can I tell you what Nelson Mandela meant to my 5 year old me back in the early 80s?
Once with our dad in the grocery store he didn’t want to buy the apples from South Africa and we demanded to know why. He told about how there was a country far away where people were treated differently, and how us in other countries shouldn’t buy their things, so that they would understand what they did was wrong. This was a tricky thing to explain for three small girls with one million questions.
“It would be like… if Maria (their friend’s daughter) wouldn’t be allowed to sit on the same bus as you”, he explained, as he trailed us through the store with a shopping cart filled with the boring groceries that characterized Sweden in the 1980s.
The story haunted me and then a few years later the front pages were filled with the news on how Mandela was released. One of my friends’ father explained what the headlines were about as we were going home from an outing, passing by the placards.
These and other stories about Mandela and South Africa must have affected my in a way I didn’t realize. But I’m glad I asked so many questions and grown ups were willing to take time explaining things to me instead of sugarcoating it, even if the burden of knowledge can be difficult for a child. It helped me in becoming who I am today.
I stumbled upon this page on Facebook that was dedicated to “TrueWhite Violated Men” in Sweden (“Riktiga vita kränkta män“). A white fist illustrated the stakeholder group, and on it’s wall statements of the following kind were being made: “Muslims in Sweden, adjust yourselves or go home“; “Feminists are trash, haven’t you had enough?“; “How can people joke about that being a white man is not hard?“. After last year’s turmoil around the xenophobic party Sverigedemokraterna, many white men obviously felt the need to gather strenght collectively. The page also had critics posting on the wall, questioning the cartoons (dark-skinned people and gays), but a lot of supporters, too.
I posted a question on the wall: could I like the page, despite being a white violated woman? The response came quickly: “Yes, you are most welcome!!” (My summery Facebook profile picture shows mostly my long, blonde hair and suntanned back.) I replied back with a follow-up question: “But I usually date arab men, can I still like this page?” The admin didn’t get it and kept going: “Of course!” I could still be on this page and he recommended me to “go hard” with the Arab men, as if someone with racist stereotypes would be open for cultural integration – or as if Arab men would be interested in dating someone with racist stereotypes about them.
I kept asking stupid questions on potential limitations for my membership in the group, and when the admin finally got what was going on, the answers stopped coming. In a few minutes all of my questions except the first one (left unanswered as the admin had deleted all of his replies) had been removed. Previous criticism by others is still left unedited on the wall, but my trick to make a fool out of them was obviously too delicate to keep. Not that it bothers me, it actually made my day. Sometimes humor is the most dangerous weapon.
Yesterday we celebrated Newroz, the Iranian/Kurdish New Year, here in Malmö where I live. The municipality had invited the public to live music by the singer Cameron Cartio and politicians’ speeches. Families lined up in the queue for the child-friendly small fires, Swedish style behind safety bars. My Iranian friend muttered: “This is typically Sweden, people even have to queue for jumping over a small fire”. We all had a great time, singing along to Cameron’s nonsense-songs that made him so famous (the invented words reminds about Farsi but have no meaning).
Swedes are usually great at admiring ourselves for our hospitality towards foreigners and all-inclusive welfare system, and Malmö is one of the most mixed cities with 30% of its inhabitants born abroad. The last years though, the city of Malmö had less reasons to be proud. In 2009-2010 there were horrifying shootings towards immigrants, keeping the whole city under siege before the shooter was arrested, and in Southern Sweden the xenophobic party Sverigedemokraterna (“The Sweden Democrats”) have gained strong support, creating tensions between people and fear among those who are a target.
I love dancing and music and yesterday was no exception, but there is another reason to like the Swedish Newroz celebrations. During times like this when many people seem to fear the other, there is nothing better than getting to know each other. I was happy that Malmö municipality gave us the chance to celebrate Newroz together yesterday, safe and boring Sweden-style, singing silly words with no meaning.