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Some truth to what you say, but you exaggerate quite a lot!

Reader comment on item: Something Rotten in Denmark?
in response to reader comment: Sweden is the most racist country

Submitted by Immigrant (Sweden), Apr 25, 2010 at 17:19

As an immigrant living in Sweden, I must say that part of what you say is true, but I think that you on the whole exaggerate a whole. For instance you write that the race purity department was shut down as late as 1976. As far as I know, there has never been any such department in existence in Sweden! I also do not agree with you about that refugees and other immigrants are placed in never-ending Swedish language courses in order to keep them away from the job market. How would this benefit Sweden? Those people get grants for attending classes, and the classes in themselves cost the Swedish state quite a bit of money.

This is how I see the situation: On a whole, the majority of Swedes are not racist. However, there might be something like around 30% of the Swedes who are racist or xenophobic in some way. And then you have many more Swedes who think that Sweden has admitted too many immigrants and refugees, and that they're a burden to the welfare society. And then you have those many tolerant Swedes who genuinely acknowledge the right of all humans to seek better lives and refuge wherever it can be found on this planet. So I guess that what I'm trying to say is that things are far from as simple and one-sided as you try to make them out to be. On the contrary - it's a very complex matter.

Many foreigners - especially those who look foreign to Swedes - who come to Sweden complain that they feel uncomfortable because people stare at them. I would agree with that. As a foreigner one is constantly reminded about the "we and them" factor. Whether you stand in line at the super market or take a ride on a bus or in the metro, there is always that reminder that this is Sweden and you don't belong here, looking you in the face! Some of it might be rooted in racism, but perhaps most of it isn't. The Swedish national character has this thing built in its nature, which is that one scrutinizes everything that is alien - not necessarily with contempt, but more often out of curiosity. And at the same token, Swedes do not generally like that which stands out and is different. That's why nobody dares to dress elegantly here - because it's taboo to stand out! I have realized that many immigrants arrive in Sweden looking great and "dressed to kill", but it doesn't take long until they start to not care about their looks, and after a year or so they will start to look less and less attractive and appealing. I think it's because of this national mass psychosis which dictates to citizens that they should not dare to even think of being any different or better than anyone else in any way! Some people refer to it as jealousy, and the Swedes themselves call it "The royal Swedish jealousy". But I won't get into that.

The problem with Sweden is that they do unfortunately have this thing here where they think of all dark-haired or dark-skinned people of non-European descent as being untrustworthy, dirty and inferior. Most Swedes would never admit to thinking this - not even to themselves, but as an immigrant who grew up here and mingled with Swedes as if I was one of them, I know that this is the case! They think of themselves as humanists, liberal and progressive, at the same time as they think of themselves as superior to people of non-European background (And also Southern Europeans such as Italians, Greeks and Spaniards). That's why it's almost impossible for most of those immigrants to sublease a decent apartment from a Swede, or to land good job. Of course there are many exceptions, but generally this is how it is. I have also experienced some racist or xenophobic attitudes in their health care system, where I wasn't treated the same because I was a foreigner. My brother in law who is Swedish, gets admitted to the hospital if his blood sugar level is around 18 (Normal is 6-8) and he was once hospitalized for two weeks until they managed to normalize his blood sugar levels. But when my blood sugar levels where constantly around 30-36, and I kept throwing up almost every day, they refused to hospitalize me although my Korean doctor had directed me to the hospital with a letter in my hand telling them about my condition! That is absolutely terrible! There is this feeling of the existence of something we refer to as "smygrasism" here, meaning "Discreet racism". It's as if there is a general racist consensus within the system - In the judicial courts, in the immigration services and in the government. The immigration laws are there, but they are not practiced! Instead the bureaucrats keep playing with words and come up with explanations that do not at all make sense! They're breaking their own laws. It's sort of as Sweden wants to look good in the world and live up to its reputation of being a tolerant and progressive liberal country, while they discreetly are doing a lot of things that directly dis-earns them that reputation.

Recently there is a rampant increase of xenophobia and racism in Sweden. And it makes sense since these are very difficult economic times for most people. In such times people tend to look for scape goats, and this has particularly been the case in Europe. I think it will pass though, and I also think that Swedish racism and xenophobia will evaporate into thin air with time, as immigrants become second and third generation and integrate more and more within Swedish society.

Conclusion: You have painted a much too exaggerated and dark picture of Sweden as a host country for refugees and immigrants. Swedes are suspicious and distrustful of that which is alien to them, which is why a lot of foreigners do not feel comfortable here, and which causes many to move on to other countries such as the U.S., U.K or Canada. But there is also a lot of tolerance here.


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