Posted on October 27, 2022

Asian American Speaks Out About Racism in Sweden and Is Met With More Racism

Akemi Tamanaha, AsAm News, October 25, 2022

On October 19, Katherine Zhou published a thread on Twitter before going to bed detailing her experience with racism while working and living in Stockholm, Sweden. She expected only a few people would read it.

When she woke up the next morning, the thread had gone viral. People were responding with messages of support, denial and more racism. AsAmNews spoke with Zhou about her experience as an Asian American in Stockholm and the response to her Twitter thread.

Microagressions, racism and physical intimidation

Zhou moved from Austin, Texas, to Sweden in January 2020 after taking a job with Spotify. She says the company gave her generous financial compensation, offering her a large relocation budget, housing assistance and a high salary. Spotify did not, however, prepare her for the cultural differences she would experience.

“It’s truly something we have to be wary of and find out ourselves,” she said.

So, Zhou did her own research about the country, its culture and its attitudes toward Asian people.

“My Google searches before I moved there were like: What are the racial demographics of Sweden? Are there Asian people in Sweden? Is there Asian food in Sweden? Is Sweden racist?” she said.

Google searches can’t capture an accurate picture of a country’s culture. Zhou found few written resources about racism in Sweden. What little literature there may have been was written in Swedish, which she could not read.

When Zhou arrived in Stockholm, she began experiencing microaggressions that she says would be considered archaic in most major U.S. cities. She was coughed at, tutted at and mocked for her eyes. People crossed the street to avoid her. Although Sweden’s political leadership in 2020 was more progressive than the Trump administration, the compounding microaggressions made her feel unwelcome and bothered.


In February of this year, two men cornered Zhou while she was at a city train station. They mocked her eyes and flipped her off. {snip}


For two months, Zhou said the police led her to believe they were working on her case. Instead, they told her the case had been dropped because of insufficient evidence. {snip}


There have been supportive responses to Zhou’s thread. She says that people who experienced similar things have confided in her. A few people have also helped her identify the two men that cornered her.

Many Swedish people responding to Zhou’s thread denied that racism existed in their country. They told her that the men who accosted her did not look Swedish. In an ironic display of xenophobia, they claimed they must be Kurdish or Balkan. Twitter users sent her links to an article that claimed Sweden was the second least racist country in the world.


Zhou does not believe that increased policing will help prevent the things she has experienced.

“What we can do instead of an increased police presence is community accountability of people looking out for each other, people standing up for each other, speaking up for each other,” she said, recalling how it was community members that found her attackers.

She also believes the country needs to stop ignoring racism.

“They need a baseline recognition that there is racism in their society. They need to not be in denial,” she said.