Bög. It translates as fag (as I’ve mentioned before, the Brits call cigarettes fags. Brits are silly.). But it has none of the same negative connotations. In fact, the word is used in advertising. In the newspaper. On TV. In everyday conversation. And no one bats an eyelash and looks at you like a prejudiced asshole. Like in Eugene.
What caught my eye was a billboard for a company that went to other places of businesses and taught them about equality. And proper hiring practices. And how to get along with everybody. And, of course, how to sing kum ba ya. The billboard told me that they would bring a bög to my place of work. Obviously, I did a double take. It’s not every day in the US that advertising like this makes its way onto billboards in the middle of town. So I stopped. I re-read. I read for sarcasm. For irony. I was critical. And it wasn’t there. They were just using the word because the negative connotations that accompany fag in the US don’t accompany bög in Sweden.
My world has been turned upside down. I don’t know what to do. I thought Sweden was so sensitive to the differences of others. I thought that they avoided at all costs categorizing people. I thought they were the epitome of political correctness. I was wrong.
Maybe this is just a sign of their immense capacity for acceptance. Maybe they are so advanced that words like bög don’t mean anything bad. Or maybe they just dropped the ball on this one. Because I just don’t see this flying in the US. The use of the word though raises an interesting question. Is the political correctness and liberal way of lifestyle that is so celebrated her in Sweden a lot of empty talk?
Sweden does a lot. They are at the forefront of the green movement. For better or worse. They are leaders in sexual equality. For better or worse. They are, by most accounts, a very liberal society. For better or worse. But Sweden has a dirty little secret. A secret that has woven itself into their northern European sociocultural landscape for hundreds of years.
Isolation. Little immigration. Little emigration for that matter. It all adds up to a very homogenous society. One which is used to things being done a certain way. The Swedish way. And one which is used to a certain look. The Swedish look. Until now. So those that are different are noticed.
They are denied taxis in Stockholm. As an Asian gentleman DCP spoke to encountered, as he was flat-out denied, while the French group that came right after him was accepted.
They are denied jobs, as a study a while back found that names with Arabic connotations, despite the exact same resume as a Swedish sounding name were denied interviews. Time and time again.
They are referred to with racial slurs. As evidenced by the high ranking public servant who was recently forced to resign because of her word choice.
They live in certain communities in Sweden. Segregated. Cut off by Swedish society. By choice? Depends on who you ask.
They are blamed for the rising street violence in Göteborg. In Stockholm. In Sweden.
They are the referred to as “they.” As in “look what THEY are doing to this area” or “THEY always vandalize the elevators,” as the old stinky man in our building said once.
So while I have had plenty of people tell me how racist the US is and how segregated the country continues to be, they seem to be blind to what is going on in their own country. Interestingly enough, there seem to be historical similarities to what the US has gone through. The Chinese emigration to California when the railroads were being built. The Irish emigration to the north-east when NINA signs were placed alongside job announcements. No Irish Need Apply. As new groups of people came to the United States, racism appeared. Change is frightening. Differences can be scary. And so what better way than to hate the very people you see as differ from you?
It’s happening here. A prejudice that is aimed at the newcomers. The others. The have-nots. The immigrants. The Chinese. The Irish. The Mexicans. The Iraqis. How you label them doesn’t matter. It exists.
It’s not a blatant racism here. It’s quiet. The kind that is muttered under the breath. The kind that can be swept under a little bit. Like hiring Lars over Mohammed. Or never going to Rinkeby. Or using THEM as an excuse for the problems in YOUR society.
The interesting thing will be to see how this all plays out. The US was able to integrate. For the most part. The melting pot that is America. But it is an ever changing recipe. And so as new groups are represented, racism rears its head once more. By no means to I intend to suggest that the US is free from racism. It’s not. It happens.
And so, those in glass houses should not throw stones. But how will Sweden, which for hundreds of years has been dominated by fair haired, fair skinned people living in semi-isolation, handle it? Just as the US has done with the countless groups of immigrants who have made their way to the United States, Sweden will manage. It’s just a matter of time. But as long as Swedes continue to walk around with a self assured sense of superiority, a sense of liberal self-righteousness, then the undercurrents of racism will continue.
Despite the liberalness of the country there is an air of racism. It is Sweden’s dirty little secret.