A Decolonial View

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Why the Swedish discourse on “gang criminality” is racist

Postat den 30th November, 2022, 11:42 av Maria Fahr

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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Det här inlägget postades den November 30th, 2022, 11:42 och fylls under blogg

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