After the last election in Sweden in 2010, the racist party the Sweden Democrats entered the national parliament. The post-election reactions and discussions have largely been preoccupied with the issue of how this new presence of a racist party in the Swedish parliament disturbs the exceptionalist image and the privileged position of Sweden both in the West as well as in the non-Western world as being humanity’s avant-garde and beacon for antiracism and everything that is considered to be good and progressive. An explosive eruption of militant antiracism has also taken place since 2010, especially among the country’s elites and within the Swedish establishment. Although Sweden is still topping the international lists as having the most radical anti-discrimination legislation and as harbouring the most solid antiracist population without any competition, at the very same time, Sweden has recently and rapidly also entered the top positions of being one of the most statistically segregated and segmented societies according to racial lines, at least in the Western world and particularly within the residential and labour markets.
With this background as the point of departure, this article aims at understanding the current situation in Sweden from a critical race and whiteness studies perspective, something that has not yet been heard of in a country which prides itself of having accomplished a post-racial utopia and where colour-blindness is hegemonic and issues of race and whiteness are taboo subjects and almost forbidden to speak about. We regard contemporary Sweden as a white nation in crisis and diagnose Swedish whiteness as suffering from what can be conceptualised as a white melancholia. To be able to disentangle and shed light upon what is perceived to be mourned and what is seen as being lost for the future, the article offers an historicized account of what we consider are the three principal phases, stages and moments of Swedish nation-building and Swedish whiteness, namely the white purity period between 1905-1968, the white solidarity period between 1968-2001 and the white melancholy period from 2001 and onwards. The analysis also takes into account how these three nation-building projects and hegemonic whiteness and racial grammar regimes are interrelated and intersecting with the different gender and class relations, with the different racial formations and minority discourses, and with the different political ideologies and affective structures that characterised these three time periods.
At the end, we argue that Sweden is at the moment subjected to the double-binding power of Swedish whiteness in the sense that the disappearance of white Sweden, that is Sweden as a racially homogeneous nation, and the passing of good Sweden, that is Sweden as a politically progressive nation, are both perceived to be threatened and even under siege by the presence of people of colour within the Swedish body politic and state territory. Consequently, both the reactionary and racist camp, and the radical and antiracist camp, are mourning the contemporary crisis of the Swedish nation. Finally, we are discussing the possibility of applying our analysis of Swedish whiteness and of white melancholia to other white nations in crisis, and the potential contribution it could make to the field of race and whiteness studies.
The American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, August 9th-12th, New York, USA