Most Swedes are not that evolved in the questions and issues of black or white and how we talk about us and them. Don’t get me wrong, most Swedes are very articulate and mean well, but sometimes it just gets wrong. We are not used to talking about how we portray people, because most of us think that we are all the same. And we both are all the same, and not at the same time. It does not matter how we talk about them – because the second we start talking about them we are no longer talking about us.
Ok, back to the issue – it is not a problem how we portray people – but it is a problem how we not portray them. If we only got one image of how they are, that is our problem. Because that is indeed a reflection of ourselves. One of the most popular children’s books in Sweden, a series in fact, that has been around for a decade was recently discovered to contain a blackface. One of the characters was a blackface. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but it is also a bit humiliating for Sweden that no one saw that when the books started publishing. The author stated that it was a made up character in the spirit of broadening the visualization of gender/diversity/animals/beings/humans/colours melting together. There was just one more problem to that, the stories are about one human and the rest of the characters are animals. Not too clever. Even as a fable where anything goes there should have been no human at all. A blackface and animals. Yay. And Swedes did not see this at all. For years. In fact I think that when the debating about the book started most Swedes had to google the word blackface to see what it meant. And once you’ve seen it you can’t go back. That book is about a blackface girl.
Most Swedes go about their lives like this “it’s always been this way – how can it be racist”. If it has indeed always been this way, can it be wrong? Yes it can! We can talk about a matter for decades, that does not make it right.
I had to ask a Brit for a description of a Swede. The answer “blonde hair, liberal in sex, somewhat emotionally handicapped, criminal issues”. Altogether not that strange or far from the truth told in Swedish novels that sell in huge amounts in Britain. Ok, the sexy bit from the 60’s still hangs around, but the new image of a Swede is someone lacking emotions in a society that suffers from lots of crimes. Why would that visualization not be correct if we talk about them as about us?
I also had to get a second opinion. I asked an American. The answer “well organized”. If we only have one image of how the other is it might not be all completely right. Even when true. Of course. All Swedes are well organized, we are all blond – myself included (though a Swede would indeed call me brown haired), we are liberal in sex (don’t even get me started on this one, if you ever mention the word “hen” to a Swede they will say that they want to be man or woman and not something in between) we are emotionally disabled, so disabled that we have to write books about the horrors of living in a society run by crime, well organized crime, in order to keep sane.
We can of course all just decide on that the image “we” have of “others” is the just one, and that “they” don’t even have the right to interpret that image at all. Sweden can be a prejudice and racist country without us ever knowing.