By Culture Editor. I arrived in Sweden at a time when the truth doesn’t really matter. When facts are twisted to spur hatred and what is right is not what matters most but the lie that takes the populist brigade to the next level.
Defiant good people often say to me, no that is not what we do in Sweden, meaning dividing and hating people. They are right in a nostalgic way. They long for and talk of a Sweden that I do not know. They try to take me there but I arrived here. In this Sweden. The one we live in today.
The one where people’s lies have grave consequences on people’s lives but the same people show up on the public arena and add fuel to the fire in the name of free speech.
I say immigrants but I really want to talk about what this Sweden means for black people. For a black woman like me. Populism did not bring racism it just emboldened it and as such exposed the depth with which it runs.
Almost every Swede that I meet defiantly tells me that ‘in Sweden, we do not see colour.’ That premise is based on denialism. The majority of the Swedes look at themselves as good people, not capable of prejudice but the truth is that denial has created a dangerous blind spot and stifled an open debate on racism. The popular thing among the people I meet and talk to about racism is to say that there is no racism. If I argue them down on that assertion they normally change to ‘but I am not racist.’
White people have delusionally inhibited a false sense of righteousness by exonerating themselves from racism by blaming those who perpetrate it.
Before I proceed, let me just push the elephant out of the room. Whenever I start talking about racism people assume that I mean that all white people are racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wholly acknowledge the fact that not every white person is blatantly racist but I can also understand why it can feel like all white people are racist.
And yes, I feel let down by the self-proclaimed good white people for racism and the persistence of white privilege because they claim to hate it but continue to enjoy its spoils. In the face of racism, simply not being racist is not enough.
The majority of whites choose to do nothing about racism. While we must respect other people’s choices, we must also acknowledge that all white people universally benefit from white privilege and a social order built on the notion of white supremacy. So when they choose neutrality, they do so because they have no incentive to fight racism but that does not mean they do not profit off of it or benefit immensely from its spoils.
Through lack of action, they passively support it and enable it to flourish. If I eat stolen goods, I have not only benefited from the theft, I am complicit and I have encouraged the thief to steal again. I am thus not a neutral party but a silent benefactor. In this analogy, all white people are complicit in the theft of humanity of black people through racism.
If you benefit from a system of darkness but refuse to shine a light on it, then turn around and clear your conscience by asserting that you yourself are not racist but just choose to be neutral that does not make you different from the person who perpetrates it. You are just two sides of the same coin.
Racism is not an issue one can simply ignore, it is about discrimination, it is about people being unjustifiably denied opportunities; being pushed down the scale of human dignity; getting racially profiled and killed just for being black or brown. It is about dehumanisation.
For a black person, we carry the extra burden of being aware of your race in an uncomfortable way and the fact that it limits your freedom to act however you like. We don’t have the luxury of being neutral. We must, just to mention a few, repeatedly send out signals that we are not a threat; work extra hard to prove that you are not a barbarian or that not all black people have Ebola.
I find it funny that white people do not realise that even the ability to be neutral is a white privilege too. Black people do not have the luxury of neutrality.
Before I arrived in Sweden, blackness was an abstract thing, a given. I was not aware that I was black. Not in that way. I just thought of race as an object of being. Something to be known to exist but without the need to be proclaimed. How I was wrong. Oh, I was so oblivious, walking around thinking of myself as just a human. I didn’t even think that I needed to assert my blackness in a way that protects me from the way it makes me vulnerable. To use it as armour otherwise, it will be used as a dagger to rip me apart.
I think about it now and I feel a deeply personal loss and a profound sadness. All that time I spent not acknowledging my race and loving myself fully. Numerous times when I experienced racism and did not even recognise it or call it out. I think about how I was not just oblivious and ignorant but also privileged. I was once just a human. A beautiful, mahogany coloured uncomplicated human.
In Zimbabwe, I was a full human as race goes. had black privilege. I have to warn you, though, black privilege does not come with all the perks that white privilege comes with. White privilege is universal whereas black privilege is local but when you have it, when you are among the majority that looks like you, when blackness is the norm, you have the privilege of guaranteed human dignity. I know now that I no longer have it guaranteed.