White xmas in Sweden

As I speak the temperature in Sweden is about where it should be right about these times in these parts of the world: freezing cold. The news are all awash with warnings about impending snow chaos and xmas related jingoism plus a few thoughts from my self dismissing everything and nothing.  This type of weather not only does it bring with itself lack of sunshine and lackluster cheery greetings from neighbours who just want to sit down in their dark recesses of their apartment seeking solace and solitude from everyone else, it also brings out the cold shoulder attitude from the rest of the population. Hence, I decided to write down a few thoughts about immigrants, racism and adaptation in this country.

I find myself looking back to the time I thought how hilarious it was that Swedes thought that people with black hair were different. After spending many years worried about my ethnic background, skin colour and language proficiency the very thought that someone would differentiate me because of the colour of my hair was a cool respite from the hot heads in the USA who are obsessed with skin colour. Not so anymore.

These days Sweden is a much different country than the one I came to 15 odd-some years ago. There is a political party from the extreme right in power more popular than the Christian democrats, the Swedes refer to themselves as “ethnic” Swedes, and institutions battle and grapple about whether to not continue with Christian traditions in a state that is supposedly, in law, to practice separation of church and state.

The curious thing is that everyone saw this one coming, the admittance of the discussion of extreme right thinking in the everyday menu of things to discuss in public. Believe it or not the changes started with the simple naming of a common pastry everyone used to call negerball. It is loosely translated as niggerball. A chocolate based pastry with coconut sprinkles. People of all walks of life, mostly “ethnic” Swedes, suddenly felt immigrants were making inroads in their lives they were not comfortable with and by God, who are these immigrants to tell us what to call our foods? Not that the food fight is over mind you, these days the news were recently afilled with a decision a poor teacher somewhere up in the bedrock of the North Pole made about a costume children usually wear this cheery xmas celebrations are all about. Here in Sweden it is a customary tradition that children dress up as a the gingerbread man. Don’t ask why, they do love their ginger and cinnamon cookies here during this joyful season. Unfortunately the lowly teacher who did not want to offend brown children by prohibiting that children dress up as the gingerbread man only managed to cause a furore in comments as if Sweden was suddenly being invaded by foreign ideas ready to destroy the very essence of what it means to be an “ethnic” Swede. The food racism isn’t over yet and I can’t wait which other source of food will be hot contested as a national treasure Swedes feel represent them as “ethnic” Swedes. Am guessing another pastry ready to make entrance in this racist fight and I suppose the Finns are next in line. Gotta love Swedish semantics and semiotics.

I can understand that Swedes want to go back to when things used to be the way they always were. The old Nordic spirit is a hard act to follow specially when no one had Nordic countries in their radar. Indeed, Sweden has a difficult time seeing itself as an immigrant country despite the fact that “ethnic” Swedes are a lot with many different cultures although white peeps don’t count as foreign as other peeps of colour do. Allow me to expound. Extremism in Sweden is heading exactly the same path as white supremacy is at this point in the USA. No matter what white you are, you are ok, so long as you are white. People in Sweden target black and these days, it seems, brown has entered the concious of the Swede. The international belief that immigrants with a different colour other than white deteriorate society at large has made a foothold in Sweden. It isn’t the Germans who destroy or corrupt society nor are the Dutch, Polacks, Finns (they were in their turn a pariah to the Swede mind you, not anymore, nor Norwegians who are a national sport because they are buying up Sweden with their oil ) nor Brits; it’s those darn others from different countries such as Albania, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurdish people or Somalians who impregnate the every day with kebab, loud noises as they speak for everyone while they talk in their mobile phones and strange traditions such as Ramadan or khat chewing which are the culprits that are slowly engulfing Sweden into foulness. Yet in all their brouhaha about being contaminated by foreign ideas Swedes fail to realize how slowly their conception of being a tolerant and a generous country is being torn asunder by their own doing. Swedes are far from being tolerant and are as intolerant as the very people they say they are not. So why can’t they be more like “ethnic” Swedes? that is the question that riles and rankles the very fabric of the “ethnic” Swede. I can understand because I understand that customs and traditions plus ways of lifestyle clash everyday in simple acts such as throwing away garbage. No one is telling Swedes it takes time to become an “ethnic” Swede even if this is the country that portrays itself as a country with patience at the Queue line. It is in these invisible time-lapse gaps that right wing nuckleheads find fodder for their ideas.

The Nordic way is a very hard act to follow because despite of its self-reliance nature and contradictory welfare system “ethnic” Swedes still live according to their old protestant belief that one ought to be able to pull itself from their own bootstraps. Not to say that there aren’t “ethnic” Swedes who love to circumvent the system and betray their country in the same breath they exclaim their love for their birthplace. Plenty of offshore accounts have been discovered by the tax authorities and oddly enough few are black or brown. Just saying.Evenmoreso at street level, this act of helping society at large for no reason other than thinking of the other is amiss in many immigrants. Not that they won’t do it. Eventually, many do understand that acts in concert of thinking about the other benefit all. Though there are more new immigrants that need to learn than those that adapt themselves to their new country and the country’s ways and manners. And here comes the crux: the Nordic way requires to fend by yourself and better yet, live by your own self so as not to be a burden to others. This is contrary to cultures that value family ties. The very idea of big families is an anathema to the “ethnic” Swede. Swedes can’t even conceive the idea of cousins because cousins just might as well be distant cousins though they just as well might be your own neighbours.

Countries like Sweden have budgets for adaptation, assimilation and integration. Yes they do. Unfortunately the money isn’t doing the necessary transformation. While the right wing nuts such as popular extremists find a place in society and the media allows room for their hearsay and shenanigans, the very ones that need to place themselves in their new society find themselves fending off the onslaught of rejection by segregating themselves in immigrant enclaves. Towns and villages ordain their property values by the amount of immigrant their part of town have. Am referring to things down on the floor as the business folk like to say. In the upper echelons of society there is enough cultural diversity to fool the eye as is wanton to be said here in Sweden. But “ethnic” Swedes still can’t muster accents in the language nor can they muster too much deviance in behaviour which upsets the order of things in a parliamentary country such as Sweden. One is liable to get the evil eye for even speaking out of context for the sake of conversation change. There isn’t either a concious of other colours in TV. Most shows aren’t about people of colour. Quite the contrary, it’s all about white Christian values if you will. Hispanics are yet to figure in the imagination of the Swede and if they think about them, they tend to be portrayed in the collective imagination of the Swede as a problem not because they know first hand but because the narrative around the immigrant from latinamerica is portrayed in the narrative that comes across the Swede as problematic.

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