A Decolonial View

By students in the Colonial and Postcolonial Master

Linné Must Fall


Flyer “Why Linné Must Fall” (LinnéMustFall, 2022).

Our university is named after Carl Linneaus (1707-1778), also known by his noble name Carl von Linné. Natural scientists classify flora and fauna until today with a system of categorization (taxonomy) which has developed from Linnaeus’ work of organizing animals and plants into an array of groups depending on their characteristics. Linnaeus and his work have significant colonial legacies (Charmantier 2020). In this blog entry, I will summarize these colonial legacies, sketch out how our university uses Linnaeus’ name and heritage (spoiler alert: they proudly speak of a so-called “Linnéan spirit”), and explain why and how some students have started to urge the university that Linné Must Fall. Linné Must Fall is inspired by Rhodes Must Fall, South African and English student movements which have called for both symbolic and material changes of university structures since 2015. This included, e.g., changes of names, taking down statutes that honor colonial figures, abolishing tuition fees, and decolonizing curricula by including diverse literature from across the globe (Mbembe 2016; Booysen 2016).

Linnaeus’ colonial heritage

In Linnaeus’ famous work Systema Naturae (“the system of nature”) of which he published manifold editions, Linnaeus did not only categorize plants and animals but also humans. Throughout the different editions of Systema Naturae his categorization of groups of people became more detailed – and racist. His categorization of humans became central for scientific racism which has been used by white people to justify the colonial exploitation of people of color across the globe. Linnaeus described people along the continents he knew of (Africa, America, Asia, Europe) and unrealistic skin colors (black, red, white, sallow), assigning each group of people a set of interior characteristics. He arranged these groups hierarchically, changing the hierarchy of some groups over time, but never of the ones he ranked lowest: Black people. There is no evidence that Linnaeus ever used the word human races. Instead, he spoke of human varieties. Still, his categorization of humans is utterly racist: Constructing groups of people along random characteristics such as perceived skin color, generalizing the people within each of these groups, assuming that all of them have certain traits due to their outer characteristics, and ranking them hierarchically (Eze 1997, 13; Charmantier 2020).

Moreover, Linnaeus contributed to the Swedish colonization of Sápmi, the land of the Indigenous Sámi, exploring the presence of raw materials and opportunities for economic exploitation of the area. He appropriated Sámi knowledge, e.g., about medicinal plants, for his work (Koerner 1999, 75). Linnaeus’ colonial entanglement is not the only problematic aspect about his persona. He also lied about his journeys, doubling and tripling the distance he had travelled supposedly (Koerner 1999, 61f.). In addition to that Linnaeus’ categorization of humans can be interpreted as sexist: Among other possible options such as body hair, Linnaeus chose female breasts (lat. mamma) as the indicator for grouping humans among animals (in the group mammals), while he used the male term “homo sapiens” (lat. the wise human) to describe the specificity of humankind separating it from the animal world. Furthermore, Linnaeus argued for the abolishment of wet nursing because he thought that the milk from working-class women would degenerate upper-class children, hence promoting that middle and upper-class women should stay at home with their children.

In our Postcolonial encounters class on Linnaeus’ colonial heritage in April 2023, our guest and Linnaeus-expert Linda Andersson Burnett debunked the common argument that “he was just a child of his time”, since it denies the presence of people such as the author and activist Olaudah Equiano (1745–1795) who rallied against racism, enslavement, and colonialism while Linnaeus was contributing to the foundation of so-called scientific racism.

How Linnaeus University deals with Linnaeus’ colonial heritage

Studies about the colonial heritage of Linnaeus have been around in international scholarship since the past century. In Sweden, however, Linnaeus still holds the status of a national hero (Hodacs, Nyberg, and Damme 2018, 9f.). This explains why Linnaeus university could still be named after him as late as 2010 when the university was formed, joining the institutions of higher education in Kalmar and Växjö. Linnaeus is present in many aspects of this university, from the name of the Linnaeus Gallery, which is a part of the library, over the scientific plant drawings on any official document to the logo of the student union (the flower of a plant that was named after Linnaeus, the linnaea borealis). Scholars from Linnaeus university engaged in an attempt to declare his legacy as UNESCO cultural heritage in 2016 (LNU 2016). And in the vision 2030 document of the university, it is stated that

“[t]he Linnéan spirit mirrors the academy’s reflected, critical and creative societal task. We are inspired by Carl von Linné and let the work thrive from curiosity, innovative utility, and proximity.” (Linnéuniversitetet 2019, 4, translation from Swedish by me)

This document was written before the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, one might argue, which sparked heated debates about the presence of Linnaeus in Swedish cityscapes, especially in the form of statues (Hübinette, Wikström, and Samuelsson 2022). But sadly, the idea of the Linnaean spirit as something positive is still alive on our campus, as I had to realize, when the dean of a faculty referred to it as a source of inspiration during my graduation ceremony in June 2023. The university website and its campus lack information about Linnaeus’ colonial heritage, which at least would show a certain amount of reflection.

Debates about changing the name of the university come up in waves, but have not led to any change – yet. In spring 2022, students organized an information campaign on campus, spreading flyers, holding a banner and talking to fellow students about Linné Must Fall. Especially international students and students of color are outraged by the name when they learn about Linnaeus’ colonial heritage. Some feel that the name is like “a punch in their face”. Several students suggested to call the university “Universtiy of Småland” instead. Others point out the hypocrisy of marketing Linnaeus university as an “international university” in its slogan. Choosing a racist name but still making profits with the tuition fees that only students from outside Europe need to pay in Sweden? It thus seems to be a question of time that Linné will fall.

Finally, it is important to note that it is never about a single person, in this case Linnaeus, but always about a system (Hodacs, Nyberg, and Damme 2018, 10). In the struggle to make Linnaeus fall, it is crucial to acknowledge that science until today is part of (neo)colonial endeavors, such as present-day green colonialism in Sápmi (Öhman 2017).

Maria Fahr 

Things you can do:

  1. Learn about anti-racism and colonial history.
  2. Discuss the issue with your friends and fellow students. Organize.
  3. Urge the university to at least install signs and information about Linnaeus’ colonial heritage on campus and the website.
  4. Collect signatures for a change of the university name.
  5. Call out when university staff uses the language of the “Linnéan spirit”.
  6. Instead of Linnaeus university, you can use “University Currently Known as Linnaeus” in your assignments. This idea comes from the #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa, where students started to call their university University Currently Known as Rhodes.
  7. Highlight that a change of name is an important symbolic change but not enough. It also needs material changes, such as the abolishment of tuition fees for non-European students.



Flyer front Why Linné Must Fall

Flyer back Why Linné Must Fall



Booysen, S. (2016) Fees must fall. Student revolt, decolonisation and governance in South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.18772/22016109858 (Accessed: 1 September 2021).

Charmantier, I. (2020) Linnaeus and race. Available at: https://www.linnean.org/learning/who-was-linnaeus/linnaeus-and-race (Accessed: 8 November 2022).

Eze, E.C. (ed.) (1997) Race and the enlightenment. A reader. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

Hodacs, H., Nyberg, K. and Damme, S. van (2018) ‘Introduction. De-centring and re-centring Linnaeus’, in H. Hodacs, K. Nyberg, and S. van Damme (eds) Linnaeus, natural history and the circulation of knowledge. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, pp. 1–24.

Hübinette, T., Wikström, P. and Samuelsson, J. (2022) ‘Scientist or racist? The racialized memory war over monuments to Carl Linnaeus in Sweden during the Black Lives Matter summer of 2020’, Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 9(3), pp. 27–55. Available at: https://doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/1095.

Koerner, L. (1999) Linnaeus. Nature and nation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Linnéuniversitetet (2019) Vision 2030 Vi sätter kunskap i rörelse för en hållbar samhällsutbildning. LNU 2018/1082-1.1.1. Available at: https://lnu.se/globalassets/dokument—gemensamma/personalavdelningen/hrs4r/appendix_lnu.pdf (Accessed: 11 May 2022).

LNU (2016) Universitetet stödjer ansökan för nytt världsarv kopplat till Carl von Linné, Lnu.se. Available at: https://lnu.se/mot-linneuniversitetet/aktuellt/nyheter/2016/universitetet-stodjer-ansokan-for-nytt-varldsarv-kopplat-till-carl-von-linne/ (Accessed: 21 July 2023).

Mbembe, A.J. (2016) ‘Decolonizing the university. New directions’, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 15(1), pp. 29–45. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1474022215618513.

Öhman, M.-B. (2017) ‘Kolonisationen, rasismen och intergenerationella trauman. Analys, reflektioner och förslag utifrån ett skriande behov av samiskLEDD forskning och undervisning’, in. Uppsam – föreningen för samiskrelaterad forskning i Uppsala, pp. 99–113. Available at: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-317735 (Accessed: 2 March 2023).

Keep it in the ground!


About the protests against brown coal mining in Lützerath, Germany

People stand next to the open pit mine looking towards Lützerath which is surrounded by police.

Protesters walks towards Lützerath, which is surrounded by police, 14/01/2023, Foto: Marco Molitor.

On Saturday 35.000 protesters, including renown climate activists such as Greta Thunberg from Sweden and Peter Donatus from Nigeria, gathered on the fields surrounding the village of Lützerath, protesting against its destruction at the hands of the energy giant RWE which plans to mine and burn the 280 million tons of brown coal located below Lützerath. Brown coal, also called lignite, is known for its ineffectiveness producing energy compared with other types of coal and fossil fuels (e.g., lignite from Lützerath produces half of the heat which hard coal can produce), its disproportionally high levels of CO2 pollution (1 ton CO2 per ton lignite), the destruction of entire landscapes and communities through enormous open pit mines and the systematic artificial lowering of ground watertables (BUND n.d.; n.d.). Thus, brown coal has been called the most climate-damaging fossil fuel. Germany has been one of the largest producers of lignite worldwide since the industrial mining of lignite started in the beginning of the 20th century and has only in recent years been surpassed by China (Enerdata 2023; Baum 2018; Herpich et al. 2022).

Since Wednesday, 18 January 2023, police forces have been evicting activists from the protest camp in Lützerath, which has existed for two years as a dynamic space of anticapitalist grassroots organization. By now, Lützerath is located directly at the open pit mine Garzweiler near Cologne. Heavy police force, drawn together from all over Germany, has been used to evict activists from Lützerath during the past days. As soon as one of the many occupied trees, treehouses, wood constructions, buildings and a self-built tunnel had been cleared from or left by activists, the places have been razed to the ground. As I am writing this text, the initiative “Lützi bleibt!” (Lützi stays!) announces that Lützerath has been evicted completely. Despite intense police presence, a two-fold fence around the village and heavy police violence during the protests and the eviction, activists continue to fight for the brown coal to stay in the ground with clandestine actions in the brown coal mining area in Rhineland Westphalia and solidarity demonstrations around the globe.

Riot police stand in from of a building, which has been painted with a pride flag. Activists sit on the roof of the building. In the background there are further buildings and heavy machinery.

Police starts to evict the occupied house “Paula” (left) in Lützerath, 12/01/2023, Foto: Stefan Müller.


RWE, which is the biggest coal mining company in Europe, the German government, and the government of the bundesland Rhineland Westphalia argue that the brown coal below Lützerath is needed to secure electricity during the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. They support their point of view with studies which have been commissioned by Rhineland Westphalia. Other studies have come to the conclusions that (1) the amount of brown coal that RWE can mine in the neighboring coal pit Hambach, already exceeds the amount of coal RWE has been allowed to mine in the so-called German coal exist law of 2019 and (2) that the coal from Lützerath is not needed to get through the energy crisis (Heinrich Böll Stiftung KommunalWiki 2021; Herpich et al. 2022; Oei et al. 2023). Instead, the reason for mining below Lützerath is, according to the study of the FossilExit research group of the University of Flensburg, that RWE can make a lot of profit from the coal especially now during the energy crisis (Herpich et al. 2022). Both the national government and the government of Rhineland Westphalia consist of coalitions of the conservative party CDU and the Green Party, and on the national level the neoliberal party FDP, additionally. The Green party has been in the focus of the critique by climate activists as several representatives had promised that “all villages [in the Rhine area] would stay” (Virnich 2022).

A bucket wheel excavator mines lignite in the open pit mine Garzweiler at night.

Lignite is mined with 200 meter long excavating machines, of which this is only the bucket wheel. The excavators work 24/7, 03/01/2023, Foto: Stefan Müller.

The German state and RWE are intertwined on several levels. 24% of RWE shares are owned by approximately 140 German communes and state-owned companies, i.e., that these communes make profit if RWE makes profit (Heinrich Böll Stiftung KommunalWiki 2021). Also, Germany has been the number one in Europe regarding state subsidies for fossil fuel industries (Investigate Europe 2020). The so-called coal exit law mentioned above has also been accused of being a coal prolonging law, as it promises 4.35 billion euros to RWE and another coal mining company, LEAG (WECF 2020). More visibly is the collaboration of state politics, state forces and the energy company in how the police has defended the interests of RWE against protesters and how the police and RWE have collaborated. For instance, the police uses transport cars of RWE to hold activists from Lützerath in custody (Der SPIEGEL 2023). Heavy police violence against activists and demonstrators in Lützerath has once again been denied and/or defended by high-ranking politicians, such as Olaf Scholz, the current German chancellor (tagesschau.de 2023; Krüger 2023). But while the political debate about Lützerath now centers around the violence by police against protesters, this text focusses on the (neo)colonial dimensions of the coal mining in Lützerath (tagesschau.de 2023). The (neo)colonial dynamics of what happens in Lützerath have been highlighted by many activists who have stayed at Lützerath during the past years, including e.g., Vanessa Nakate (Fridays for Future Uganda), Juan Pablo Gutierrez (ambassador of the Yukpa), Kaossara Sani (Act on Sahel movement), Ina-Maria Shikongo (Rise up movement, Fridays for Future Namibia) and Adrián Moyano (Author: Cronicas de la resistencia mapuche).

The history of coal mining in Rhineland Westphalia is connected with the German history of colonialism and World Wars, as the coal mined in the area was used to produce enormous amounts of iron and steel for the weapon and war industry, as well as gasoline and fuel for military vehicles and aircraft (Cioc 2002, 79; Baum 2018). In the late 19th and early 20th century German colonial police forces colonized areas in present-day Togo, Cameroon, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, China, the Pacific Islands and New Guinea with the help of weapons made with energy from burning coal (Cioc 2002; Conrad 2016). These weapons enabled the German colonial police forces to commit genocides such as the genocide against the Ovaherero and Nama in present-day Namibia on the basis of which German settlers stole the most fertile land available in the region, which their descendants occupy until today (Ossenbrink 2021; Melber 2019). As a European colonizing nation Germany contributed to the expansion of capitalism to a global scale which has resulted in the extraction of natural resources in the global South for the benefit of the global North. Lützerath is a relict and reminder of the destruction that capitalism has also imposed on Europe and especially, on its working class. However, the violence and intensity of destruction still differs: The severity of capitalist exploitation and the (state) violence connected to it is more intense and a lot deadlier in the global South than in the global North (Greenfield 2022).

Four police people stand with the back to the photagrapher. A colorful crowd of protesters faces them, among the first row there is one person with wheelchair. The ground is very muddy. In the distance there are wind power plants.

Riot police stand face to face with protesters heading towards Lützerath, 14/01/2023, Foto: Stefan Müller.

Wouldn’t it be better if Germany used its own coal than energy resources from the global South which are mined under a lot more violent and polluting conditions? Of course, “exporting the problem” to the global South and/or occupied Indigenous lands as done by the German state importing hard coal from Russia, the USA and Colombia is not a solution (Still Burning – network against hardcoal and neo-colonialism 2021). Long term solutions lie in a system change, in a society which is not based on making profits, i.e., non-capitalist, and in renewable energy production, which of course is not free of difficulties either, but at least enables a massive reduction in CO2 emissions. And this is where Germany – as Greta Thunberg said on the demonstration close to Lützerath on Saturday – has an enormous responsibility. Germany belongs to the countries which historically have produced most CO2 and are therefore responsible for the climate crisis (Müller, Braun, and Kriegler 2017). Germany’s wealth as a nation relies on its industry which as mentioned before has been fueled by fossil fuels, especially coal. Germany’s wealth must also be understood in the global colonial and capitalist matrix of power, which over the past centuries has led to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of especially white men of the propertied class (Moore 2019; Mignolo and Walsh 2018; Conrad 2016). In the case of RWE, it is three white men and one white woman of the propertied class who make up the management of the company (RWE 2023). As environmentalist Jason Moore says: We are not equally responsible for the climate crisis, the people who truly benefit from colonial capitalism are only few, they have names and addresses (Moore 2019). In the case of Lützerath, these people are, amongst others, Andree Stracke, Gunhild Grieve, Peter Krembel and Ulf Kerstin from the RWE management (RWE 2023). Of course, it is more complicated than that, because managers can easily be replaced.

Now, that Lützerath has been evicted, what comes next? For now, the coal is still in the ground, and protests continue to keep it there. The global and local ties of resistance against (neo)colonial capitalism which have flourished during the occupation of Lützerath can be seen as a path towards more joint action which hopefully will be more successful in other places.

Maria Fahr

A two to three stories wood construction stands on a meadow. A banner tied to it reads: "They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seed." In the background there are trees with platforms and treehouses.

The construction “Denkmal” at Lützerath before it was destroyed by police, 04/01/2023, Foto: Stefan Müller.



For information about the protests against brown coal mining in Lützerath from an activist perspective follow the telegram channel “Lützi – On Site – Ticker”, Invitelink: t.me/onsiteluetzi



Baum, Carla. 2018. “Flöze, Gruben, Schächte – Geschichte der Braunkohle in Deutschland.” Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. 2018. https://www.boell.de/de/2018/12/27/floeze-gruben-schaechte-geschichte-der-braunkohle-deutschland.

BUND. n.d. “Braunkohle und Klimaschutz.” BUND für Naturschutz und Umwelt in Deutschland. Accessed January 17, 2023a. https://www.bund-nrw.de/themen/braunkohle/hintergruende-und-publikationen/braunkohle-und-umwelt/braunkohle-und-klima/.

———. n.d. “Braunkohlentagebaue und Gewässerschutz.” BUND für Naturschutz und Umwelt in Deutschland. Accessed January 17, 2023b. https://www.bund-nrw.de/themen/braunkohle/hintergruende-und-publikationen/braunkohle-und-umwelt/braunkohle-und-wasser/.

Cioc, Mark. 2002. The Rhine. An Eco-Biography, 1815 – 2000. Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Conrad, Sebastian. 2016. Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte. 3. Auflage. C.H. Beck Wissen 2448. München: C.H. Beck.

Der SPIEGEL. 2023. “Lützerath. Warum die Polizei Fahrzeuge von RWE zum Gefangenentransport nutzt,” January 14, 2023, sec. Panorama. https://www.spiegel.de/panorama/luetzerath-warum-die-polizei-fahrzeuge-von-rwe-zum-gefangenentransport-nutzt-a-17703854-058e-4302-9dc8-4b40cb646e33.

Enerdata. 2023. “Coal and Lignite Production Data.” 2023. https://yearbook.enerdata.net/coal-lignite/coal-production-data.html.

Greenfield, Patrick. 2022. “More than 1,700 Environmental Activists Murdered in the Past Decade.” The Guardian, September 28, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/29/global-witness-report-1700-activists-murdered-past-decade-aoe.

Heinrich Böll Stiftung KommunalWiki. 2021. “RWE Und Kommunen.” 2021. https://kommunalwiki.boell.de/index.php/RWE_und_Kommunen.

Herpich, Philipp, Catharina Rieve, Maren Krätzschmar, Nora Stognief, Paula Walk, Johannes Probst, Alexandra Krumm, Arne Arens, and Pao-Yu Oei. 2022. “Das Rheinische Braunkohlerevier. Aktuelle Zahlen, Daten und Fakten zur Energiewende.” Flensburg: Fossil Exit, Europa-Universität Flensburg. https://vpro0190.proserver.punkt.de/s/cDRQN4pJ9M8a8nY.

Investigate Europe. 2020. “Milliarden-Subventionen gegen die Klimaziele.” Investigate Europe (blog). July 1, 2020. https://www.investigate-europe.eu/de/2020/milliarden-subventionen-gegen-die-klimaziele/.

Krüger, Anja. 2023. “Interview mit Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz. ‘Ich bin gerne Auto gefahren’.” Die Tageszeitung: taz, January 13, 2023, sec. Politik. https://taz.de/!5905418/.

Melber, Henning. 2019. “Colonialism, Land, Ethnicity, and Class. Namibia after the Second National Land Conference.” Africa Spectrum 54 (1): 73–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002039719848506.

Mignolo, Walter D., and Catherine E. Walsh. 2018. On Decoloniality. Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Durham, US: Duke University Press.

Moore, Jason W. 2019. “The Capitalocene and Planetary Justice.” Maize 6 (July): 49–54.

Müller, Boris, Julian Braun, and Elmar Kriegler. 2017. “A Brief History of CO2 Emissions.” UCLAB FH Potsdam (blog). 2017. https://uclab.fh-potsdam.de/projects/co2/.

Oei, Pao-Yu, Catharina Rieve, Philipp Herpich, Claudia Kemfert, and Christian von Hirschhausen. 2023. “FAQ Und Faktencheck: KEINE Energiewirtschaftliche Notwendigkeit Für Die Abbaggerung von Lützerath | Coal Transitions.” Europa-Universität Flensburg, Technische Universität Berlin, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung. https://coaltransitions.org/publications/faq-und-faktencheck-keine-energiewirtschaftliche-notwendigkeit-fur-die-abbaggerung-von-lutzerath/.

Ossenbrink, Lisa. 2021. “‘If Germany Wants to Reconcile, They Must Give Our Dignity Back.’” Al Jazeera. June 1, 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/1/ovaherero-nama-descendants-criticise-germanys-reconciliation.

RWE. 2023. “Management RWE Supply & Trading GmbH.” 2023. https://www.rwe.com/en/the-group/rwest/management.

Still Burning – network against hardcoal and neo-colonialism. 2021. Coal, Colonialism & Resistance. Centering Voices of Affected Communities and Warning of False Solutions. stillburning.net. https://stillburning.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Still_Burning_2021.pdf.

tagesschau.de. 2023. “Räumung Lützeraths. Gegenseitige Gewaltvorwürfe.” tagesschau.de. January 16, 2023. https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/gesellschaft/luetzerath-protest-demonstration-105.html.

Virnich, Birgit. 2022. “Proteste gegen Braunkohleabbau: ‘Werden Lützerath nicht aufgeben.’” tagesschau.de. 2022. https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/luetzerath-101.html.

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Why the Swedish discourse on “gang criminality” is racist


An analysis of the Moderate party’s electoral program

A concrete wall with a crack

Photographer: Michael Krause

In September 2022 an extreme right government constellation was voted into power in Sweden. A party that was founded by (neo-)Nazis in the late 1980s, the so-called Sweden democrats (SD), became the second largest party in the national parliament as they gained 20,5 % of the votes. A minority government, which relies on the support of SD, has been formed by the conservative parties the Moderates (M), the Liberals (L) and the Christian democrats (CD). The cooperation of the conservative minority government and the extreme right SD has been institutionalized by the so-called Tidö agreement which grants SD major influence regarding migration and law giving.

The pre-election debate was dominated by one topic: gang-related violence. In this blog post the policy program of the Moderates, whose candidate Ulf Kristersson is now Sweden’s prime minister, will be analyzed. The focus of the analysis lies on the Moderates’ political discourse on “gang criminality”. The complex issue of gang-related violence itself will not be examined here.

The Moderates’ policy programs regarding migration and gang criminality intersect, naturalizing a supposed causal relation between migrants and criminality. For example, criminality is the first issue that is mentioned on their website on migration, introducing the Moderates’ claim that immigration to Sweden should be reduced. This racist discourse follows a pattern of color ignorance, which critical whiteness scholars have analyzed as a pattern in Swedish political discourse. Color ignorance refers to the denial of race and, with it, racism. For instance, the Swedish political discourse on gang-related violence does not mention race. But race plays a crucial rule in the discourse. The participants in the political discourse know very well that the “vulnerable areas” in the suburbs of larger Swedish cities are poor and racialized, a topic that is frequently mentioned under the term “segregation”. As these quarters are then described as the origin of gang-related violence, gang criminality becomes racialized, without mentioning race.

The picture of “the immigrant” in Swedish political discourse is racialized and forms the fundament of the racist discourse on gang-related violence. He (the immigrant is also gendered) is imagined as the Other of a Swedish national self-image which centers around whiteness. Following the pattern of color ignorance, this is almost never mentioned directly, but shows for example in the stark contrast with which refugees from Ukraine, who were perceived as white and Christian, have been welcomed in Sweden, under the premise that “they are like us [Swedes]” in comparison to racialized refugees. I say “perceived” here, because whiteness has previously been withdrawn from people from Eastern Europe (anti-slavic racism), and since only mentioning Christianity homogenizes a religiously diverse group and silences the existence of the large Jewish community in Ukraine. The religious component of the Swedish national self-imagination as Christian is of importance for the construction of the Other as Muslim. This results in a binary of white Swedishness as opposed to a non-white Other, who is imagined as racialized and Muslim. To describe the Other a range of terms of ethnicities and nationalities is falsely used synonymously. This means that all racialized people in Sweden are not perceived as Swedish, no matter if they have Swedish passports or not.

The Moderates, as well as the majority of voices in the Swedish political discourse, do not include structural and institutional racism as factors into their analysis of segregation, poverty, and gang-related violence. Instead, their policy programs indirectly blame racialized people for all of these issues. The Moderates suggest that gang-related violence will be reduced by letting fewer racialized people come to Sweden, increasing punishments for gang-related violence, increasing opportunities for the police to survey people who are suspected to be part of gangs (i.e., racialized people) “as a preventive measure”, and giving the police the task to frequently conduct racial profiling in Sweden. Racial profiling means that the police targets racialized people in supposedly random controls. The Moderates write in their policy program on migration that “the police will be instructed to conduct more ‘utlänningskontroller’ (= controls of foreigners) within the country to find more persons who do not have the right to be in Sweden”. As Swedes imagine themselves as white, foreigners are imaged as non-white, which will mean that all racialized people in Sweden, no matter if they are foreign or not, will be targeted under this policy.

The most absurd policy suggested by the Moderates comes from their section in Stockholm. They have proposed – as one can read on the official website of the Moderate party – to combat gang criminality with ADHD testings in schools in “vulnerable areas” of the city. This policy builds on vague associations of mental health and criminality which are not evidence-based and stigmatize people with mental health issues. Once again, Moderates’ focus is not on how structural racism in Sweden contributes to the development of racially and class-wise segregated quarters and youth delinquency, but the problem is sought in (often racialized) children who happen to live in the so-called “vulnerable areas”. This speaks of a political ignorance towards poverty and racist discrimination in housing and employment in Sweden which indeed can have influence on the health of racialized people.

The Moderate party must stop targeting individual children, poor and racialized people to combat structural and complex social issues such as gang-related violence. The discourses on criminality and migration need to be detangled from each other. Instead of structural racist discrimination, the Swedish government should implement nationwide programs for anti-racist education and support for those who are affected by racist discrimination and violence. The United Nations expert group which visited Sweden in the beginning of the month came to the same conclusion urging Sweden to “step up efforts to fight systemic racism and focus on strategies to restore trust between police and minority groups”.

Maria Fahr


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