Recently though, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) came out with their fourth report on Sweden (you can find all four Swedish reports here at the ECRI) essentially giving Sweden a slight pat on the back while shaking its head as if to say, keep trying. It’s a start. And starts are always good in my opinion.
It’s important to note that the report does acknowledge some improvements, while also highlighting plenty of problems, Sverigedemokraterna being one. Another being the public discourse surrounding immigration from Islamic countries. This excerpt seemed especially familiar anytime I happen upon a Swedish news report:
“ECRI notes that the situation of Muslims in Sweden has not improved over the past few years. Anti-Muslim political discourse has become more widespread and the tone has hardened. Some researchers have found that four out of five media reports about Muslims are negative. On the Internet, comments calling Muslims ‘invaders’ of Europe and inciting violence against them have proliferated, and some members of Parliament have made comments on their blogs to the effect that use of violence against Muslim immigrants is inevitable.”
Open up any online message board in Sweden (much like in this country) and you’ll find a level of vitriol that borders on criminal.
Or how about this quote?:
“As ECRI already noted in its third report, Afro-Swedes continue to suffer acts of racism and discrimination in everyday life. They are the object of racist insults in public places and racist remarks in the workplace…”
Again, I know. There is plenty of racism in the US. Glass house. Don’t throw stones. Got it. But the report highlights the things that I have seen too many times. Take the racism and discrimination in everyday life quote from above and my experience a while back in Helsingborg when a pudgy, middle-aged Swede whipped a lighter through the air that hit me. He apologized by way of saying Ursäkta, det var inte meningen. Jag missade negern bakom dig. The man behind me couldn’t help but hear. It was a disgusting display of racism that shocked me. And stuck with me.
Plenty of folks will argue that the word neger means negro and is ok to use. They are wrong. On a variety of levels. This is something that has shifted in the last twenty, thirty maybe even forty years, but Språkrådet (Swedish Language Council), in one of those moments that should shed some light on things, answered a simple question: Är neger neutralt? with a simple answer: Nej, neger är inte neutralt. That includes negerboll a word used to describe a delicious baked good known as a chocolate ball (read the full answer from Språkrådet here).
Or how about this past summer in Stockholm, when a friend was asked if she spoke Swedish? A legitimate question early in the conversation considering the linguistically diverse group I found myself in. However, the subsequent follow-up raised my eyebrows. Kommer du från Sverige? In Swedish. Where do you come from? There was really no reason to ask that question in that way. We had already spoken plenty of Swedish. Established that she had come from her job in Stockholm. Curious to know if she come from Stockholm? Then ask that. Curious to know if she comes from up north or down south. Then ask that. Asking if she’s Swedish? Not necessary.
The two experiences were different in their severity. But that shouldn’t really matter. Both speak to the very problems that the ECRI reports on. A latent problem that sometimes spills out in very blatant ways, like in Helsingborg, or more subtle ways, like in Stockholm.
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