The Colorblind Society: An Obstacle to Fight Racism?


Around 40 students recently gathered in Lund to talk about race and structural racism in Sweden.

Jus Humanis  organized the panel debate titled “The Colorblind Society: An Obstacle to Fight Racism?”. It was co-hosted by ELSA Lund and Feministiska Juriststudenter Lund .

“Structural racism and racialization, which is rasifiering in Swedish, are indeed increasingly referred to in Swedish media,” says Alice Wadström, president of Jus Humanis. “The medial climate is more and more polarized with regards to their use, and perhaps not without a certain degree of confusion as to their meaning. Despite the fact that the idea of different races is a mere social construct, discrimination based on this idea is indeed real.”

Jus Humanis is a student-managed non-governmental organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of universal human rights and democracy. They are partly funded by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

Judith Kiros was the first panelist to speak about the issue. She is a writer, blogger, poet and co-founder of the anti-racist platform Rummet. She spoke about the backlash her platform received in the beginning. It was intended to be a blog where racialized people could engage in different discussions. However, some people were afraid that it would further racialize society.

“That says a lot about how anti-racism was understood those days,” she said. She emphasized that there was a resistance to understand that racism is a structural matter affecting peoples’ lives, rather than an issue reduced to white individuals having bad behaviour towards people of colour.

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Tobias Hübinette, lecturer in intercultural studies at Karlstad University, continued the discussion speaking about the creation and evolution of the word “race” in Sweden. Concerning Afro-Swedes, he spoke about the reality of this group in society and the invisibility in the normative sphere. He said it was difficult to speak about “race” in Sweden because Swedish legislation doesn’t include the word.

Viola Castellano, adjunct professor in social anthropology at Bologna University, spoke about the racialized stereotype of the “welfare queen” in America. This term was used during the Reagan era to describe the low-income mother with several children who was dependant on the welfare system to survive. Although not openly racialized, it was implicitly so, since the image directly connected to that term was that of a black mother. “The individual is blamed without putting that same individual within the structural context of power relations that surround her,” she said.

Finally, Leila Brännström, lecturer in Jurisprudence at Lund University, shared with the audience her research about the evolution of the terms “race” and “ethnic origin” in Swedish jurisprudence after the Second World War. She highlighted the inadequacy of the term ethnic origin as constructed by the Swedish tribunals to accommodate the discrimination suffered by racialized individuals.

The discussion was followed by some questions from the audience. The panel was moderated by Alejandro Fuentes, Senior Researcher at RWI.