Swedish revolution 

Whoever thought of Swedes as a pacifistic,  neutral people needs to think again. After a racist advertising campaign was put up in the underground system by Sweden’s right wing nationalistic party, people decided they’d had enough. Crowds appeared at the station in question and demonstratively tore down the offending advertising. 

Swedes are taking a stand against the rising racism and xenophobia in society. Recent polls show that the party representing these attitudes has become the largest opposition party to the government. 

I feel at times that the open and tolerant Sweden I love is something of the past. But these reactions and these pictures show that the majority of Swedes will not take this sitting down. They will take to the streets and they will act to defend the rights of all people living in this particular spot on the planet. 

   
   

The seriousness of xenophobia

us and them

In Greek, the word xenos means strange or foreigner. The word phobos as we know means fear. Putting those together gives us the well-known concept of xenophobia – the deep-rooted, irrational fear of something strange or foreign. Xenophobia can present itself in many ways, including the fear that immigrants and refugees are too abundant in a society.

In cultural research, we often talk about in-groups and out-groups. The in-group is usually the majority who belong to a somewhat homogenous culture. The out-group are the ‘others’ who live side by side but rarely amongst the in-group. One way to look at xenophobia is to see it as the relations and perceptions of an in-group towards an out-group. This may include a fear of losing identity, suspicion of the out-group’s activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate their presence to ensure a presumed security.

Xenophobia in a society is often aimed at a group of people who are not considered part of that society, eg beggars from Rumania and refugees from Northern Africa. When xenophobia becomes systematised it often leads to hostile and violent reactions, such as the phsyical attacks on beggars that we are seeing in Sweden or the call for expulsion of immigrants by SD voters. In extreme cases of systemitised xenophobia, genocide becomes the result.

To combat this issue, the Council of Europe in 1993 formed “The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance”>. This is an independent human rights monitoring body specialised in combating racism, discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance. The organisation produced The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, also known as VDPA – a human rights declaration. In this declaration it clearly states the following:

”the VDPA urges all governments to take immediate measure and to develop strong policies to prevent and combat all forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia or related intolerance, where necessary by enactment of appropriate legislation, including penal measure.’

We know that the winds of fear are sweeping over Sweden and Europe. And we know that governments can do what they can to combat this – changing policy, engaging in dialogue, ignoring the issue, closing the borders. But as soon as there is a manifestation of racism or xenophobia I think Sweden should have a zero tolerance policy. This might include infringing on civil liberties such as freedom of speech and right to demonstrate, but xenophobia is a creeping cancer that leads to horrific actions. We just have to take a look through history to understand that.

The battle of the Swedish chocolate ball

Image

What you choose to call it – racist or politically correct?

The interesting thing about language and culture is that they are constantly in flux. As time goes on, languages develop and as more people travel or migrate, cultural behaviours change. This can be a scary thing for some people who don’t want to see change happening and who cannot embrace the new aspects of their culture. They fiercely hold on to the past, their old cultural identites and behaviours and actively work against the positive influences that a cultural mix brings.

One such example of this is the chocolate ball, a kind of cake that is very popular in Sweden. Previously, in less enlightened times, these chocolate balls were called ‘negerbollar’. This translates as ‘nigger balls’ or ‘negro balls’. Understanding the offensive nature of the name, this chocolate delicacy was officially renamed some years ago. But a certain section of the population, who I am guessing are not black, hold on to their right to call them nigger balls. Yesterday, was so-called ‘negerbollen day’ on Facebook and 21 000 people had signed up their support to say ‘negerboll’. In a counter move, an organization refusing to use this title was set up claiming tomorrow as ‘Chocolate Ball Day’.

In a country with a self-image of tolerance, the chocolate ball has become a symbol of political correctness versus racism.

Sweden is a country with the right to self expression and freedom of speech. But with that right and freedom also comes responsibility. Just because we can say whatever we want doesn’t mean we should. If with our words we can cause harm, or personal offence, I think that we should choose other words. In cultural theory, there is a concept of the in-group and the out-group. One way to look at this is that the in-group is the group in the majority, they set the rules, the create the standards and decide the norms. The out-group is in the minority, and they are very aware of how injust some of the behaviours of the in-group are. The in-Group is usually blissfully ignorant of these things because they don’t have to think about it. But it is the in-Group that has the power to make the change. Chocolate balls are just one example of that. It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about realising that with the language we use, we create gaps in our society. We might not care if we say ‘nigger balls’ but as long as somebody else is offended then we should change our words. The majority of Sweden has done that, but not all.

We are all in in-Groups sometimes and all in Out-Groups sometimes. Maybe it’s our religion that puts us in the out-Group or our sexuality, skin colour, origin, profession, education, place we live, unemployed status, interests and hobbies, political beliefs, choice of clothes. If you reflect for a moment over a social out-group you identify with and then pick a derogatory word for that group. Then put that word in front of the word ‘cake’. How does that feel? Probably not ok.

So let’s think broader than our own perspectives. We have a history of language and culture to be proud over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it. A small word can make a huge difference to improving integration and harmony in a society.

So is ‘negerboll’ racist? It depends. If you are aware that it is loaded with multiple meaning, that you might seriously offend others and that you’re using it politically – then yes. It is extremely racist. If you live isolated in a part of the country where you do not know that ‘neger’ is an offensive word to others but you think that it just means chocolate – then no, it’s not racist. But you do need to get out more.

Do we have to respect other cultures?

colour and culture fooditerranean

Somebody wrote the following question on Facebook today – ‘to what degree do I have to respect other cultures?’ and it got me thinking.

Since I work with diversity and intercultural competence, you would think my answer would be clear for me – a resounding ‘YES!’ but it’s actually not that straightforward. I think, in fact, the answer depends on what we mean by ‘respect’. If by respect, we mean to accept and acknowledge that other cultures exist within the boundaries of what seems good and right to them, then the answer is ‘yes!’ If disrespect comes from an ethocentric perspective, a sentiment of right/wrong, good/bad, then I don’t think that’s ok. The ethnocentric always thinks their way is best and that other perspectives, or world views, are in some way faulty. This borders on the racist. So how can we balance the acceptance of other cultures with the discomfort we experience when reading or witnessing actions that are unacceptable to us?

It’s not easy but I think that we should accept other cultures, and that we should genuinely repect there are many different ways to view and to be in this world. But, that in no way means that I have to like everything that others do, especially if it compromises what I value or what I perceive as ethical. Intercultural competence is about accepting differences but also about being authentic in your own cultural beliefs without being xenophobic.

So let’s not mix up respect and liking. In my mind, they’re two different things.

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