Sweden Wants to Eliminate The Word “Race” From Law To Combat Racism


This may or may not be the legal equivalent of a child covering his eyes, and saying, “If I can’t see you then you don’t exist.”

Sweden is attempting to address their rather preeminent title of having the “worst record in the European Union for employing foreign non-EU citizens” and their hate-crime rates by eliminating the use of the word “race” in Swedish law as it is not a biological concept but rather a social construct. They plan to, instead, use the term and concept of “ethnicity.”

This seems to follow Scandinavian suit of being progressive—understanding race as something imposed through a societal understanding rather than a biological default can definitely address the root of some racist views. Cool, right? Sweden’s Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag has said:

“We know that there aren’t really different human races. We also know that the fundamental grounds of racism are based on the belief that there are different races, and that belonging to a race makes people behave in a certain way, and that some races are superior to others…”

So, it looks like Ullenhag seems to have come to the conclusion that because people have shitty views about race, race itself must be a shitty thing. Yeah, that’s your problem. His political advisor, Sophia Metelius spoke with VICE News, saying:

“Of course it’s not to say we don’t have racism, because we do,” she said, noting discrimination issues towards Muslim, African, and Roma populations specifically. “We believe Swedish legislation should not imply that there are different races.”

So instead of addressing racism, Sweden will be rebranding it? As valiant an effort as this seems, it doesn’t appear to help those who face racism or hold those who discriminate accountable. Cutting out the word “race” from law is like saying you’re “colorblind” when it comes to race. Don’t worry, the acknowledgment of race itself is not racist. In fact, it’s necessary to successfully create a multiculturally tolerant society. But eliminating race talk altogether runs the risk of simply maintaining whiteness as the racial default.

Sociology professor at St. Catherin University, Nancy Heitzeg said:

“Pretending we’re race-neutral by changing language, if that’s all that happens, if there are no other efforts to address structural inequality, we’re ultimately allowing structural inequality and racism to persist, just with a new cover story,” she said.

Of course, it’s important to note that Sweden (and that of other European countries) does have a different racial history than America. With a 90% population of white people, the country has not had to address different ethnicities until somewhat recently. Still, the idea of taking the word “race” out of law removes the issue from the people it undermines. It may be a way to clean things up on the surface, but you don’t remove a weed simply by cutting it do you? Nope, you gotta uproot the thing.

Image via Getty.

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