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 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.