On Racism in Scandinavia

You are probably sitting at home and watching things unfold in The States with wide-eyed disbelief and wondering at the extent of racism being displayed in public spaces. Let me disabuse you. Institutionalized and systemic racism exists everywhere. Systematic discrimination has become normalized to varying degrees everywhere. In many countries, especially those in Western Europe and Scandinavia, it is not visible to the naked eye, hence it is harder to identify and crack down upon. It is best understood as an invisible wall coupled with a reinforced glass ceiling that you cannot pin down. But it is there, everpresent and we have run into it more times than we care to admit. 

Take the case of the job market. We like to believe that hiring and rising up the corporate ladder is based on merit but experiences of many show that it is not. When your name does not fit a certain template, it will betray you and you will not get past the review stage. This experience resonates amongst many black and “foreign” students, with similar points of view. It is NOT an overstatement that such students don’t get jobs that are meaningful and/or relevant to their education, competencies and experiences. The best outcome that such students may aspire to is poles apart from the best outcomes most scandinavians dream about. Many have had to change names to get a job. Neither would employers say this to your face nor would such students speak, except anonymously, about their struggles. No one wants to “go there”. Here is a study in America on this: 

Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.

Here is another study of blacks and Asians having to “white-wash” their CVs to engineer callbacks. Coming closer home, experience and research show this is true, maybe even worse, in Sweden. Here is one such study

Our results indicate that changing a foreign name of Slavic, Asian, or African origin to a Swedish-sounding or neutral name is associated with a substantial increase in labor earnings…Our interpretation of the results is that individuals are treated differently depending on their name. Theoretically, this can be due to statistical
discrimination, prejudices, or preferences for or against certain groups.

On average, a ‘Foreign’ student have to make ~20-30+ times the number of applications of a native to land one or two interviews. Think what it means for conversion rates. Ask yourself about the last time your company hired a person of colour or you overrode your instincts to hire a person of colour. 

There is also the ever present surprise you’re met with when you do something very well at work or at school as if race has anything to do with your competence or skill. Having worked as a lecturer in a university for a while and you can’t imagine how many persons were surprised at the fact that there are black teachers and let alone that black teachers can possess THAT calibre. It is like everyday for us is a thesis defence and we have to prove ourselves everyday and constantly to get and keep a job.  

Take finance and business conferences. In the maximum number of circumstances, there is NOT a single person of colour in sight. Let’s be honest. finance and business in Scandinavia is dominated by men and white men for that matter. You’d be surprised to meet a person of colour at a business conference. Again, how diverse is your team or company? 

There is much more racism than you think. Several times you see it when you play or watch football and banana peels and monkey chants are being aimed at players. You see it when you pass by certain places and you hear Lion King monkey chants from some kids, clearly aimed at you. Once I was asked if we had Facebook or the internet in Africa and another friend has been asked if their family lives on a tree or in a forest. Well-meaning questions sometimes, but then shouldn’t we know better?  A friend saw a lady rapidly try to hide his purse when he came to sit next to her on the bus. Another friend has been called a monkey at work and been told to go back to where she comes from yet for some of these they are born and brought up here. Others I know have been “randomly” stopped at airports for extra screening, singled out from the crowd. 

If you want to know more about this, just walk up to any black person or person of colour that you know and ask them to share their experiences and stories. These will shock and surprise you. I have had long conversations with Swedes who are black and who are born and brought up here and who forever feel like they have to prove that they really are Swedes. 

This needs to be the turning point. We need to examine our hearts and really ask ourselves the tough questions of what we can do to bring about change. There is a need to expose the subconscious biases and take intentional steps to rectify it. We desperately need change. 

3 thoughts on “On Racism in Scandinavia”

  1. The prejudice towards foreigners and bias for Swedish nationals has been documented and reported on by the UN in the GREVIO reports. The documented racism occurs in the judicial system and with family law. I know these reports to be true from my own experience. Not only does this exists in Swedish courts but society and with law enforcement. It sickens me and saddens me that it happens anywhere and I will say, as a white foreign woman in Scandinavia, I have been frequent victim of such behavior by not only the courts but also from the police. How can we have it end? When will it stop? In America it is publicized and gains criticism and world attention. In sweden, it is disregarded and put behind closed doors. I’ve tried to bring it to the attention of news media. I have tried to speak with voice of reason and clarify to assist others in the future. My efforts have been in vain as Sweden would not even uphold their own laws against violence and assault from a Sweden against a foreign woman and child. And this is supposed to be a modern and equal society with human rights as a focal point. I can say it is all lies and propaganda.


  2. Its sad reality that xenophobia and racism is present in every nation and counttry in the world. I think some countries are doing better like Canada. But there’s example of racism towards white people as well in south africa, and in Japan against any foreigner it is not just a “white poeople phenomena”. it is the fear of the foreign and the foreigner – it is a universal problem. But it is universally worst for black people-


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