Sweden Plans to Thwart Racism by Eliminating the Mention of Race from Its Laws

Kayla Ruble, VICE News, August 11, 2014

Sweden’s government is pushing a new measure to tackle racism issues in the country–it plans to completely remove the word “race” from all legislative documents.

Shortly after Sweden was recognized as having the worst record in the European Union for employing foreign non-EU citizens, the country’s Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag announced plans to investigate the process of eliminating the word from all of its legislation. According to Swedish media outlet The Local, Ullenhag explained that laws should not be used to promote the idea of race, which he explains is not a biological factor, but instead a social construct.

“We know that there aren’t really different human races. We also know that the fundamental grounds of racism are based on the belief that there are different races, and that belonging to a race makes people behave in a certain way, and that some races are superior to others,” he said in an interview with Sveriges Television after announcing the plans.

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The minister’s political advisor Sophia Metelius told VICE News that the plans have been discussed by the government for some time.

“Of course it’s not to say we don’t have racism, because we do,” she said, noting discrimination issues towards Muslim, African, and Roma populations specifically. “We believe Swedish legislation should not imply that there are different races.”

According to Metelius, the proposal will now be passed to a committee in order to evaluate the best way to move forward with the measure–and as a constitutional change it will eventually have to be approved by two consecutive parliaments. {snip}

But not everyone is a fan of the measure, including the country’s Afro-Swedish group Afrosvensarnas Riksförbund (ASR.) The organizations spokesperson, Kitimbwa Sabuni, told The Local that it was an effort to take away the possibility to discuss race. He said “this scientific racism that Ullenhag is focused on, when he says that racism is based on believing in different races, is not true.”

Irene Molina, a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University, told VICE News that this has been an ongoing debate in Sweden where phrasing in legislation has already begun referring to ethnicity instead of race. She called it a “glorification of multiculturalism” among people who don’t want to recognize that racism exists in Sweden. {snip}

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{snip} Nancy Heitzeg, a sociology professor at St. Catherine University, told VICE News that while it is true that race is a social construction, it’s still important to measure and compare race in order to take account for racism. Similarly, according to the American Sociological Association, ceasing to study racial categories is “ill advised” even if “racial categories do not necessarily reflect biological or genetic categories.”

“Pretending we’re race-neutral by changing language, if that’s all that happens, if there are no other efforts to address structural inequality, we’re ultimately allowing structural inequality and racism to persist, just with a new cover story,” she said.

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Sweden established the first national race biology institute in the world back in 1922. In its infancy, the institute was associated with the larger eugenics movement and led by Herman Lundborg. Research was largely focused on analyzing the genetic makeup of the country’s people, as well as skull size. Lundborg’s beliefs that ethnic Swedes were superior were reportedly the underlying force of the country’s controversial forced sterilization program, during which more than 60,000 people were sterilized between 1935 and 1975.

“Racism exists and is a very huge problem in every day Swedish life,” Molina said. “It is everywhere, political life, the labor market, racism is a reality for all people with non-Swedish backgrounds.”

More recently, Sweden has come under fire by many for having deeper-seated issues with race than it lets on. A 2012 analysis found reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, and Afrophobichate crimes were on the rise in the country that is almost 90 percent white, despite the decline of homophobic hate crimes and others.

Another problematic issue in Sweden has been occurrences of “black face,” including a 2013 incident in which the country’s culture minister took a slice of cake that was designed to look like a naked black women. The male artist, who made the cake as an installation to address female genital mutilation was present, sporting a face slathered in black paint, looking on as the minister took a slice from below the belt.

“Swedish society is developing increasingly racist feelings, it is exactly a result of not recognizing that racism is at the core of the society,” Molina said.

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