Alice Bah Kuhnkes is Sweden’s new Minister for Culture and Democracy

Alice Bah Kuhnke
Sweden’s new Minister for Culture

Many people were disappointed with the election results in Sweden. Seems there may not be many if any mandates over the next four years. However, in my opinion, one bit of good news is the appointment of Alice Bah Kuhnkes as Minister for Culture and Democracy. She became only the second black minister in the Swedish government following Nyamko Sabuni.

Alice Bah Kuhnke

Click on the photo above to view her career in pictures on the Svenska Dagblaet website. Sure, it is in Swedish but a picutre paints a thousand words, right?

Alice Bah Kuhnke till TV4: Det var slagsmål om kulturministerposten. FOTO: Yvonne Åsell

The new Culture MInister was born and raised in southern Sweden, had a successful career in media, founded a think tank for civil society, Sektor3, worked as a sustainability manager at a technology consultancy company and was General Director of The Youth Board.

You can find out much, much more at her website:
http://www.mp.se/om/alice-bah-kuhnke

Editor’s note: The former culture minister disappointed a lot of people when she was photographed laughing while cutting a screaming, human black face cake.

Lessons learned: From my mother and while living in Sweden

In the 9th article in our Inside View series Faith set out to travel the world while making a difference in people’s lives. While in Sweden she got a phone call that changed her life forever.

At about 10:00pm on August 28, 2007, I arrived at Stockholm Arlanda airport. I remember the day so vividly because it was the eve of my 24th birthday. I had just left Phuket, Thailand after spending about two weeks there, most of which were spent with me suffering and recovering from food poisoning.

About three months prior I had just received my Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Policy at Howard University in Washington, DC. Instead of joining the work force like most of my peers, I decided instead to travel with a global education program called Up with People. The program is an opportunity for participants to travel for 6 months with others from around the world to volunteer and perform a show of cultural peace.

I can remember a couple of days after I arrived in the very multi-cultural Sodertalje, Sweden, I emailed my mother to tell her that one day I hoped to move to Sweden. To me, Stockholm, especially reminded me of Chicago. Perhaps the Swedish immigrants in Chicago felt similarly. My mother’s reply was that she and I could move there together for a couple of months. It was a great suggestion; one that I hoped would come true. After all, she was my best friend.

It was only about 20 days later, while in Vimmerby, Sweden that I got a very disturbing email. My father emailed me to say that I should come home right away. He told me that my mother was sick. I knew immediately that my mother was dead. She was gone and I was all the way in Sweden.

My journey back to Chicago from Sweden was long and physically taxing. After planning my mother’s service and taking care of her estate, I decided to rejoin my cast for the last 6 weeks of our tour in the US.

After my tour finished, I traveled to other countries visiting my castmates from Up With People and eventually settled into a career as a teacher in Chicago. It wasn’t long before I landed a job as the Dean of Students at my alma mater; an all-girl high school on the south side of Chicago. My passion to empower girls and young women became even more evident.

Even as a school administrator in Chicago, I decided to connect with the large Swedish population in my hometown. I joined the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, and became a volunteer at the Swedish American Museum. Since I knew that I had hoped to one day hoped to live in Sweden, I applied for a scholarship with the American Swedish Institute to research bullying in multi-cultural schools in Sodertalje, Sweden.

So, in August of 2011 I moved to Sweden for one year to perform research in schools in Sodertalje about bullying among 6th grade girls. Additionally, I spent the year working on my recently published book: Ten Lessons My Mother Taught Me Before She Died, which is dedicated to “girls” without mothers.

Initially, it took me a while to adjust to the idea that I was taking more than just a vacation to Sweden, but actually living there. It was quite an adjustment for me, but living in a Swedish host family helped make the transition a lot less stressful. Admittedly, I was not used to living a “green life”, but even now, I am a lot less wasteful than I was before I moved to Sweden. I am must move environmentally friendly. I grew to appreciate the Swedes appreciation for the environment.

In Chicago I wasn’t used to taking public transportation everywhere, so in Sweden I would get lost at least twice week: especially if I was going to Stockholm. My Swedish friends still joke with me about how horrible my sense of direction can be.

There were adjustments that did not frustrate me as much, like being able to take a “fika” or coffee break in the middle of meetings and even church service. The dress code at school was much more relaxed than in the USA which helped with my level of stress and anxiety. I did not feel as constrained. Actually as a Lupus patient, I was happy that I spent much of the year there without experiencing many symptoms of the disease. I was able to better under the health care system in Sweden as a patient who received amazing care from doctors who communicated about my status regularly. As an American I wish that we could adopt a similar method of healthcare.

I hated to leave Sweden, but was so happy that I had the opportunity to return to a country that means so much to me. Organizations like the American Women’s Club of Stockholm provided me with friends that I still keep in contact with today. Perhaps one day I will return Sweden to live permanently, but for now I remain connected here in Chicago to the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish American Museum. Most of all, I try to practice speaking and writing Swedish as much as possible. Jag hoppas att jag ska aldrig glomma Svenska.

Ms. Faith Elle

Ms. Faith Elle is a life coach, providing life coaching services to girls and women. Her company Faith Elle Enterprises also conducts workshops for youth and staff development in schools. Faith is currently an adjunct faculty member at Harry S Truman College, where she teaches College Success, an interdisciplinary class which prepares students to matriculate through the collegiate pipeline. She is a noted speaker, author and global citizen: to date she has traveled to 25 countries on five continents. Faith is a girls advocate and expert. The product of an all-girl school and a lifetime member of Girl Scouts of the USA.

In 2010, Faith was diagnosed with, Lupus, a chronic auto-immune disease which can affect the entire body. In order to raise awareness, Faith has committed to donating ten percent of all this book’s proceeds to Lupus research. Her book: Ten Lessons My Mother Taught Me before She Died is dedicated to “girls” without mothers worldwide.

Editor’s note: Faith’s fee for writing this article was donated to an organization dedicated to Lupus research, in her name.

Gloria Dixon-Svärd – An American in Norrland

In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our sixth article, Gloria Dixon-Svärd traded her dreams of being a diplomat for a life way up north. 

So what made a big city girl like me venture off to a small town way up in the north of Sweden and stay there for 19 years and become a “Norrlänning”? Well I suppose this question can’t be answered in one short story since there are so many factors which play a part. Some have to do with the person I was before coming to Sweden and the rest has to do with experiencing Sweden as a new arrival in the north. I had a lot of the quietness that is the stereotype of most people from the north and I simply fit right in.

My first encounter with Sweden was back in 1974 when I came as an exchange student to small town outside of Katrineholm. That doesn’t say much for those who don’t know Sweden but at that time Katrineholm probably had a population of about 20,000 as opposed to Washington DC’s over 700,000. The fact that I had fallen so deeply in love with a Swedish exchange student at my school the year before had a lot to do with it. Still, in my junior year I had expected to study abroad in Paris. I was very focused on becoming a diplomat and working at the US State Department so an international experience was mandatory. The romance with the Swede and contact with Sweden became a big plus in my quest for international knowledge. When I got to Sweden I simply fell in love with the country – its simplicity, the standard of living; the people, one couldn’t help but love the country. It was the closest thing to a “Utopia” which I had read so much about in my history and political science classes during the 70’s. But that’s another story.

Boden

The years came and went. I finished a 2 year visit in Sweden and went back home to become the diplomat I thought was my destiny. It didn’t happen! I continued to vacation in Sweden and on one such vacation I met my future husband who just so happened to be from a small northern town called Boden. I could write an entire article to describe my encounter with Boden and the north. In terms of “area” Boden’s Kommun is a very big town comprised of several small, neighboring towns. Up until the late 90’s Boden was Sweden’s northern most strategic, security point of protection. And yes, my husband like so many other men who lived in Boden worked for the military. So in the spring of 1979 I was living a life I never thought was possible: married and living in northern Sweden. Boden is a beautiful town in the summer. Like Stockholm it is a city on water but without the stress and the masses. I was now in the land of the midnight sun and it was truly an experience to find oneself up at midnight wondering when you would get tired. That comes at the price of November and December when there is approximately 3 hours of daylight! But there was something very exotic about that contrast which enthralled me for about 10 years. Experiencing the northern lights for the first time, Wow! I considered myself enlightened back then but I had never heard of the northern lights until I found myself on a dark, lonely road on my way home one night. Mine was the only car for miles around and the lights suddenly appeared in the sky, dancing as they say in the north in all its magnificence. I was terrified! I was sure that I was experiencing an encounter with the unknown. This is before mobile phones so I was “ALONE” and scared in every sense of the word.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

In the north you find yourself living in wait of the return of spring and the new life waiting around the corner.  Still, Boden turned out to be my door into the world of international business. As an American I was quite unique for that part of the country so I can truly say that I was a novelty in the right place at the right time. And I was a novelty because I was American, black, female in high heels and skirts, spoke not only Swedish and English but I also possessed at the time a working knowledge of French which was exactly what was needed for the job I secured. I was in charge of all the international contacts with both customers, suppliers and several sister companies around the world. So my studies of diplomacy came in handy after all.

My husband, son, daughter and I moved to Stockholm in 1998 as my son had just started to become a person to reckon with in track and field and the opportunities in the north were not many. We wanted him to have the best possibility to fulfill his dreams and I would come closer to an international scene and maybe work for the Swedish government. The job with the Swedish government didn’t happen, but I work for another international company and my life is here. My husband passed away 5 years ago but my son and daughter and granddaughter are within reach. They mean the world to me which is why I am still in Sweden. Yes I think about moving home but I have lived here longer now than I have lived in the US. I have become European and I don’t know how I would fit in to American society, trying to go back to being the American I once was after the exposure to a life in Sweden! Not just a Swedish experience but a European experience!!

Gloria Dixon-Svärd

Gloria Dixon-Svärd was born and raised in Washington, DC. She moved to Sweden 34 years ago where she married, had two children and became a grandmother. Instead of becoming the US diplomat she dreamed of she built a career working for International companies in northern Sweden and Stockholm.

In our next article Erica Smith-Escassut found a way to feed her spirit in France.

Kendra Williams-Valentine – How I Learned to Enjoy Strawberries

In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our fifth article, Kendra Williams-Valentine learned to love strawberries. 

It was my first real summer in Sweden. I accompanied my boyfriend to a cookout (I refrain from using the word BBQ) hosted by a friend. After a quick bite, it was time for dessert and I could see the group getting excited… and then it was revealed: sliced strawberries and vanilla cream.

I thought to my self:

That’s it??? Not sliced n chilled for sauce? No gram cracker crumbs on top? Okay so you don’t really do graham crackers here, but you have chocolate Syrup rite? Probably the good stuff from Belgium eh?
Oh. Just the berries.

 Ok then. 

I was not so accustomed to such simple pleasures, it occurred to me. I don’t know if I’d ever done that before to be honest.

It was good, but I was more enraptured with the looks of pleasure of the others around the table. It seemed like each bite was followed by a slight writhing pang just before swallowing. It was as if they were flirting with the ensuing lament that was to come after the season enviably and abruptly ends in Sweden. This joy obviously came from a place deeper then the roots of even the most virile strawberry patch.

For my boyfriend “humble” was always a good thing. I joked that I didn’t really get that way of thinking, even though I secretly wanted to. It was as if somehow the eye of the American eagle was watching and provoked me the constantly make remarks and to be unsatiated by meager portions of “logam” here and there. (“Logam”= Swedish code word for mediocre meant to be positive.)

But, alas! Soon enough, there I was with a strawberry patch of my own supposed to yield come summer. However, as I am adept at planning for failure in the domestic sphere (read: relationship), I just let the notion of gardens and homemaking rest in the back of my head, not silenced but restful.

By year three I was suddenly anticipating the strawberry season and a large yield came. This year we carefully protected them with a net.

Some were large.

Some small and close to the ground still reaching for the strawberry they aspire to be.

Others a bit unassuming, leaning on its neighbor… but the one thing for sure is that they were plentiful.

We picked them off. Without needing to use one word. And enjoyed the simple pleasure of plain strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Both of us.

Kendra

Kendra Williams-Valentine is from Boston (by way of California) and currently lives in Stockholm. She has a professional background in film and media development but her heart is also in the culinary arts. When she is not waiting for a copy of The Modernist Cuisine to magically appear in her lap, she writes freelance as well as on her food blog www.Americulinariska.com.

In our next  article Gloria Dixon-Svärd trades her dreams of being a diplomat for a life way up north.

 

Who would have thought a die-hard NYC chick would fall hard for a Swede and the Country.

In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our third article, Lucie Buissereth shares how much the Swedish countryside means to her. 

Yup, it happened to me and forever changed my life!

Lucie Buissereth in Sweden
Lucie Buissereth in Sweden. Photo Lucie Buissereth.

After 8 grueling months of coaching, training and competing, I needed a “Time OUT”- So it was off to Sweden to see my honey! This was my first trip to Sweden and whilst on the plane, I wondered how I would fare being away from my business and NYC.  Got to Arlanda, picked up my luggage, hurried to the lobby and there stood my gorgeous Swede with yellow flowers in hand and I was like, “YES I’m Home! He said we’d be skipping Stockholm for a few days and doing the “Country”.

Medal winner.
World Jump Rope medal winner. Photo credit Staffan Lindner

I was like “Umm, what? The Country? NO way dude! I don’t do Hilly Billy”, then he said, “Trust me my love”!  Well, I couldn’t resist!

I was seriously jetlagged and fatigued so we called it an early night but was reminded the next day would be “active”. The next morning, we were off on my surprise excursion. OMG! The walk through the Forest and into “Blairwitch Country”.

Walking through the woods.
Walking through the woods. Photo Lucie Buissereth.

I was like,” dude, are you serious?” But the more I walked through the boggy wet grounds, the more my soul said Yes Lucie B! Yes! When we finally got to our destination,

The wow factor.
The wow factor. Photo Lucie Buissereth.

I stopped, took a deep breath and looked out and saw the most magnificent scenery my eyes ever saw! I was speechless! It was a jolt to my senses! The Blueness of the Sea, the Coolness of of the Granite grey Rocks, the Greeness  of the trees, the stillnesss  of the Air, the beautiful Blue Skies, the sounds of the birds all around me! I remember tearing up without even knowing it! I was in the middle of God’s slice of heaven on Earth, unofficially called “Bonaparte Cliffs” right here in Utana Country; I realized right there and then that I was meant to be here, to heal myself, my soul, my spirit!

At peace.
At peace. Photo credit Staffan Lindner

We were only supposed to be in the country for 3 days, well, it ended up being a full 8 days of journaling by the water, walking through the forest, mushroom picking, hugging trees and fishing!

I recommend this beautiful peaceful place for anyone who needs a spiritual and mental Detox from the stress of city life and/or need a re- connect to God and Nature…This is the place!

yurt

Lucie Buissereth, AKA- Lucie B is a M.D. turned Regional and National Jump Rope Champion, World Jump Rope Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalist, Arnolds Champion in Speed, and Power N’ Endurance. She is a Jump Rope Master trainer, Boss Lady, Entrepreneur, Owner of Lucie B Jump N Fun, Trainer N’ Coach of “Lucie B’s Rock It Ropers”- NY’s 1st Single Rope Speed Team. She is a Motivator, Ultra-Creative, Out the Box, Super Positive, who is always ahead of the pack, Leading the way to make my dreams come true, making a difference in the lives of other and leaving a legacy of Love and Light for all!

Next month Twaambo Kapilikisha addresses sisters with children “in the middle”.

Nice things happen to me in Sweden – My first Tjejmilen

On the 30th Anniversary of the Tjejmilen, I decided to participate. It is the biggest sporting event for women in Sweden.

Ready to walk
Ready to walk.

I signed up in the walking category so we were the last two groups to start the race.

Her canine babies.
Her canine babies.

This was the category for women with baby strollers, walking sticks, and newbies like me.

DSCN1479
Me and Germaine.

I walked up on Germaine, we hugged, took a photo and I kept on moving. She was in a zone.

My Swede popped up to take my pic.
My Swede popped up to take my pic.

This may be around the 3 km mark, in the park and just by the restaurant where we took my mother on her most recent visit. So I thought of her as I walked by.

Beautiful course.
Beautiful course.

We walked a beautiful 10k course that took us through some of Stockholm’s prettiest paths.

My and my bottle.
My and my bottle.

One bottle of water lasted me the entire time. I only needed half of it. I did consumer half of a banana and a small power bar too. I got hungry.

Some of the dozens of volunteers.
Some of the dozens of volunteers.

Of course there were water stations along the route. Toilets too and at one point, we could take an energy tablet, that was chewable, from the hands of the dozens and dozens of volunteers.

Some of the live entertainment on the course.
Some of the live entertainment on the course.

My Swede described the event as a follkfest. There was live music at different stages along the course. How fun!

The second spot where my Swede popped up.
The second spot where my Swede popped up.

My Swede had the course map so I never knew where he may pop up. Can you imagine how much fun it was for him to surprise me?

Yay! I did it.
Yay! I did it.

What a great feeling to cross the finish line, pick up a medal and celebrate. And I didn’t event break a sweat. How cool is that? Ha ha!

My Swede had a congratulatory rose for me.
My Swede had a congratulatory rose for me.

I got the medal, the rose, and the Swede. It was a good, no GREAT day.

Tjejmilen journey
Tjejmilen journey with my time.

Nice things happen to me in Sweden.

Sweden is like living in Russia.

In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our first article, Cecilia Gärding explains why she is dedicated to fighting against racism in Sweden. 

I come home from my vacation in the north of Sweden and go back to work as the project-director for ”The Cultural Heritage Agents”. A project with the purpose to help culturally active youth with a status as a national minority and youth with an immigrant background to become more included on the Swedish cultural scene. One of the main reasons for this project is to address how different minority groups are marginalized in the public debate about how they as a people or as a religious group are portrayed in cultural expressions made by mainly ethnic swedes.

Their responses have been strongly criticized by the majority society at large but also been questioned by certain media, celebrities and others. That has scared many people to silence. The few that has had the courage to keep struggling know that the prices they pay are persecution and threat to their lives. In Sweden we have followed the anti-gay laws in Russia and persecutions of the gay community. We might have the laws against racism in Sweden but in many ways, what we are going through here is similar to the Gay community in Russia. We and they know that these persecutions will never be prosecuted and people rarely choose to report these incidents. I know, I am one who is subjected to this. Instead we try to focus on the positive.

For me I try to turn the negative into constructive dialogue by writing books and making films. Through the film “We are like Oranges”, which is inspired by

authentic stories about how Afro-Swedish youth in Sweden face racism, from the book Afro-Swedish in the new Sweden we raise the question about hate-crime towards Afro-Swedes and remind the public about the racist past of Sweden. Where the otherwise untold story of 200 years of Swedish slave-history and blackface scandals at a student party at Lund University 2011 suddenly makes sense. We made the movie to educate and create understanding but Sweden has a long road ahead. Because the latest blackface scandals in Sweden which all happened late summer this year are signs that we are moving backwards. The scandals where Josephine Baker was portrayed by a white woman at a commemoration of her performances at a Stockholm club named Berns and the Pride festival scandal where blackface participants were allowed at the Pride festival and pictures were displayed on their website, can only be seen as warning-signs. As one of the founders of the Facebook page “No pride in Pride” I took a stand to show that blackface stereotypes have to criticize no matter what organization accepts them.  Because of this I have received support but also a massive criticism. A criticism , that once again, comes from a white ethnic Swedish community that reminds me that my experiences and my body as a South-African and Swedish is not mine to own.

I feel a responsibility for the young who grow up in Sweden. What is the effect on them when they hear how grown-ups with no experience of racism tell us who has the right to say what about who´s bodies and who´s experiences. Both the ones with ethnic Swedish background and those who have another background learn right from wrong from us. How are they affected to hear it is ok to say demeaning words to others with another ethnic background or religion? That it is ok to dress up in blackface, that artistic freedom goes before human rights? Or even worse, that this is NOT blackface at all, that we who are involved are the ones that need more education? We already know that the young born in Sweden with another ethnic background are more affected than their Swedish friends of depression, self-inflicting harm, youth unemployment and suicide. This is the result of living in a racist society.

Sweden has been in international news off and on when different ethnic groups have been subjected to racist acts. Researchers are keen on defining this as “Swedish Naivism”. This problem definition should change name, it is nothing naïve going on here and has never been in the history of Swedish or western racism. Instead is a calculated strategy showing its ugly head. The effect of the silencing of ethnic minority groups is the most effective way to deliberately kidnap the right to react and criticize. This is exactly what happened and is happening in the gay right movement and the women rights movement. People who belong to these movements should reflect on these similarities and question status quo.

Sweden is today a population that consists of 28.6% that either has a status as a national minority or has foreign background. Within 10 years the second generation of immigrants will be bigger than the first.  That these groups are not represented in the education of journalists, as co-workers in our cultural institutions or as members of the cultural organizations is a problem. Sweden has a cultural sector that is completely segregated . Because of this the cultural heritage Agents  have decided to create a vision to ensure that this part of the population receives more representation.

The other problem we have is that we lack an understanding of Sweden’s racist past and how different groups have been stereotyped in our art forms. That is why our project analyses for example the connection between Afrofobia, Antiziganism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism In Swedish Film history to create understanding that we need new Swedish film that doesn’t relate to old prejudice. For this reason we have created a film festival in Stockholm named “The diversity of the Swedish film heritage the 24-25th of August.

It is only when we are in agreement that we have a problem that we can work for change together. It is when we reach representation in our culture and media sector, in the gay and women rights movement, when we are respected as cultural actors but also as respected cultural consumers, when we feel safe to react, that Sweden stops to feel like I am living in Russia.

Cecilia Gärding
Cecilia Gärding Photo credit: Joachim Ljunqvist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cecilia Gärding is Zulu, British and Swedish. She is the Project-director for  The cultural heritage Agents and the producer of the film We are like Oranges. She is also the the Swedish Ambassador of Adyne-The African Diaspora Youth Network in Europe.

Next month Thania Moore shares her hair experiences in Madrid.