By Sarah Johansson
When I was in grade 8, living in Sweden, I joined a programme called ‘Then and Now’. It was a government-funded initiative that chose 30 students from across the country from different grades, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of achievement academically. Based in a tiny town of 95% ‘Swedes’ with many privileges, the program attempted to create an understanding of diversity, a sense of unity, and an explanation of why these are needed for a great society.
During the one year period of the program, we were tasked with small, written assignments where we were asked questions such as “What makes you a Swede?”
As the only (yes, only 1 out of 30!) person of a background that was not 100% ethnically Swedish, this particular question became my passion project. I did research, discussed, and wrote for hours until I had formulated a text that relayed my opinion on what constituted a “Swede”. Since then, I haven’t given the issue much thought.
In the light of American elections and Trump dominating all media outlets, I don’t expect you have heard, news of Sweden’s next elections in 2018, where our Swedish Democrats are gaining votes. To give you some perspective, this party advocates similar policies to Trump. They do so by discussing the issue of refugees and inflow of immigrants – telling us what they will do to stop the tidal wave of lives flowing in, so that we can continue to cherish our sacred Swedish traditions of drinking a lot, dancing around a pole dressed in flowers, and devaluing individuals who strive for goals like providing for their families (for example). This may sound pretty strange for someone who isn’t familiar with Scandinavian culture, and don’t get me wrong, there are many brilliant parts to the system (such as our free health-care, education, and low rates of incarceration). But intertwined with these, are aspects of Swedish society that don’t work. Particularly faulty are the aspects that this neo-Nazi party is striving for, gaining votes through a strategy known as scapegoating. Feeling threatened with economic recessions and total social chaos as a result of immigration, the Swedish Democrats are creating a national fear of anything outside of the very, very small Swedish comfort zone.
My eyes have been opened to the uncertain, chaotic situation that is already arising from their dangerous preachings. Through conversations with friends and family, I have heard about first-hand experiences with these openly racist groups. Further, through cleverly constructed but unsupported claims on social media by neo-Nazi supporters such as old classmates and distant relatives, voices of hatred and panic are ringing along the streets of our society.
A slap in the face was, however, offered as I was chatting with my older brother, who still lives in Sweden. He looked very tired from what seemed to be eye-bags dressing his face. Upon asking what he’d been up to, if he hadn’t been sleeping, he laughed a little. My worst fear of him having gotten into another argument regarding his race was confirmed as he told me what had happened: “Some greatly white Swedes felt threatened by my not so white Swedishness”.
Two grown men had chosen to pee on my brother’s car and harassed him until a fight broke out. Let us all just note that my brother is born and raised in Sweden, speaks Swedish and English (as required by the state), holds a Swedish passport, has a Swedish mother, and a father who pays at least 40 000 SGD per year in Swedish taxes. I honestly can’t really see what more he could possibly do to be more Swedish or supportive of the Swedish system – other than be depressed, dye his hair blond, tan in solariums and use blue contacts – as per tradition. And as you can tell, these changes wouldn’t really alter anything other than the way he looked from the outside – no longer a dark-haired intruder, but rather a “normal” Swedish guy.
Let’s put this in contrast with my “Swedish” friend (I call him this because he “looks Swedish”) who also has one Swedish parent, is 5 years younger than my brother but has stripped the government of more money in financial support (not because he is poor, but because he has chosen to drop out of his government-funded school), and has no future aspirations to support his country, nor has his family paid as much in taxes. Although it may come off as I dislike him or his family, I really don’t; I am simply trying to illustrate the differences that their mere looks have created. His blonde German mother is seemingly more adequate for a Swedish society than an Iranian man. So one of them gets patted on the back for talking openly about his illegal use of tobacco and alcohol, whilst one gets harassed and beaten up for fueling his car. Oh, what a delightfully perfect system you are protecting and promoting, Swedish Democrats. Right on!
It wasn’t until this incident occurred to my brother that I started to question what I had written in 8th grade. What actually is a Swede? Is there a checklist to tick in order to determine if you constitute as a particular nationality? To me, it is a daily struggle to – in the light of refugee streams and global chaos – try to grapple with the issue of nationality – particularly when it is put above the issue of humanity.