The reality shock of “equality” in Northern Europe’s social unrest

Once again, witnessing the rhetoric pirouettes of European media trying to come to terms with the social unrest in Sweden and in the UK. While the triggers for these unrests are diametrically different, mainstream media, the great xenophobic equalizer, is using them to further the narratives around the “foreign threat”. The Local, Sweden’s main news source in the English language, enlists Nima Sanandaji , whose byline reads: a Swedish writer of Kurdish origin with a PhD in polymer technology who has written numerous books and reports about subjects such as integration, entrepreneurship, and women’s career opportunities to provide us a “liberal” (sic) analysis of the unrest. (As a side note, why a man with a degree in polymer technology would be presented as an expert in women’s career opportunities is beyond me). His analysis, can only be summed up as “those ungrateful youth! we gave them everything (these kids even got free iPads, would you believe it?!) and this is how they repay us!”. An excerpt (though really, the whole thing is worth the read): 

Why then are we seeing violence in areas such as Husby? We don’t need to speculate. In 2011 the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap, MSB) published a research study which examined this very phenomenon. The study notes that frustrated young people in certain neighbourhoods have very low respect for the police, the fire department, ambulance drivers and other representatives of public authorities. Driven by anti-societal anger, they often seek confrontations with representatives from these branches of the public sector.

(Again, European media doing what they do best to fend accusations of racism: present the opinions of a Person of Color that most mimic the mainstream white culture; a permanent staple of Dutch opinion pieces, especially to quiet any dissent of PoC towards the dominant culture).

Tobias Hübinette and L. Janelle Dance, in an article under the title “Sweden: No Longer the Exception to Western Racist Rule” at Racism Review, wrote today:

However for ordinary white Swedes reading and watching the news it is highly probable that all the inhabitants in the suburbs are associated with violence and rioting. In the end, the Sweden Democrats (a former Nazi party which has transformed itself into a populist anti-immigration party and which, according to opinion polls, is the fourth or the third largest party in Sweden) will maybe become the biggest political winner due to the suburban unrest. Now, the Sweden Democrats will most probably gain even more support among the voters. Of course, representatives from the party have already made use of the events by calling for stronger police interventions and the introduction of temporary state of emergency measures in certain urban districts.

Once “exceptional” Sweden is no longer the exception to the general Western rule of blaming the racialized victim. On the contrary, white Swedes are remarkably unexceptional as they behave like racist and conservative white Americans. Ordinary white Swedes, who claim to embrace antiracism, equality and social democracy, look at the riots in Stockholm and blame marginalized youths for the institutional discrimination, political marginalization, and structural racism that have become common place in the former “conscience of the world”.

While I agree with most of their article, I certainly disagree with the title. Sweden, like the rest of Europe, was never an exception to anything. Pretty much the entire continent is funded on principles of White Supremacy and ethnocentrism. Centuries of colonial intervention, financial impositions onto the Global South, economic and cultural models based on centering the well being of White Europeans at the expense of the rest of the world have never made Sweden “the exception” to anything. One does not need to go far into past history, this is the present: the manufacturing practices of businesses like Ikea or H&M, models of Swedish corporations, with the inherent resource depletion and exploitative labor practices in the Global South are rooted in White Supremacist capitalism. Are we to believe that Swedish businesses can, on the one hand, participate in the systematic exploitation of countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, etc or use the forced labor of political prisoners in former Communist German prisons  while, at home, “behind closed doors” so to speak, they can be a truly egalitarian country treating the people who hail from those nations fairly?

Sweden, like The Netherlands and the rest of the Nordic countries are usually presented as very equal societies. Economic indexes are often touted as proof of nations that are models of welfare and the well being of their citizens measured in tables, graphs, facts and figures that undoubtedly prove the superiority of these models. Topics like life expectancies, GDP, “happiness indexes”, education, etc etc are quantified, measured, tracked, made into statistics. This, the bureaucrats claim, is the measure of success. What they never take into account are the unquantifiable factors: how does a white supremacist culture play into this supposed equality for those that are constantly told they do not belong? How equal can a society be when its media constantly advances a rhetoric of alienation and racism? How equal can those that are marked as “foreign” (for generations, I might add) be when entire political parties run on discourses of Othering and different variations of bigotry and hatred? What does equality mean when those that hail from nations that have their resources taken away are then pointed out as “undesirable”? Those are the figures of inequality that are never quantified, never measured, never taken into account. Equality might look great in the binders of the bureaucrats but it certainly doesn’t feel like such in the bodies of those who bear the markers of Otherness.

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