”The Swedish Institute For The Study Of Racial Biology”, sounds pretty impressive right? All official, clean and correct. It was official. Very official indeed, but not the least bit clean or correct. This week we’ll talk about how the Swedish government proudly founded an institute in Uppsala specifically dedicated to the study of eugenics – simplified, some of you might know it as ”selective breeding”.
What is eugenics? Basically eugenics is a set of beliefs and or practices that are centered around the goal of improving the quality of human genetics by way of selective breeding. A term which is nowadays very closely associated with scientific racism and white supremacy. This obviously also calls for a desired vs undesired set of traits, resulting in a categorization where some people where classified inferior and others superior. Sort of. Initially it just started with the breeding, see the core idea (selective breeding), precedes the wider movement and field of study (where we know it from) that came later. Plato, famous philosopher, and all mighty wasp father (pre-wasp times), presented in his work The Republic, what his ideal society would be. The small philosophical ruling class were to be paired of with each other, highly intelligent men and women with desirable aptitudes. Selective breeding was essential, not only to continuously increase the quality of the ruling class, but also to keep undesirable lower class genes out. Fast forward a couple hundred years to the beginning of the 1900’s, this core idea has taken on new names, (eugenics is on of them), along with more detailed concepts and scriptures and developed in to a full fledged set of beliefs. Eugenics had been the talk of the town for a while, funny enough, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve probably already noticed that the field of eugenics clearly grew and peaked along side racism, transatlantic slave trade and divisive theories of the evolution of the human race. It’s almost like there’s a pattern here. A system of separate (supposedly unrelated) entities (scholars, workers, merchants, politicians, royals etc) all working together (by chance?) to reinforce their place of power and shape the world to their ideal
eurocentric white haven, Sweden included.
We got so involved our leaders founded an institute in 1922 to map and document these racial and ethnic differences. They listed traits and ranked people from desirable to undesirable and deemed what was supreme. The results from this research was then used to set up our own selective breeding program, starting with systemic oppression and genocide to clear out the undesirables. In our case, those who ended up suffering the blow was our trans-population and some of our minorities (specifically Romani, Tornedalians and indigenous Sápmi).
Herman Lundborg – Sweden’s face forward in the field of eugenics, the first headmaster of the institute and one of the driving forces behind the motion to establish it. Fun fact for the Suedis’ reading this, the same people (representatives of present day Centerpartiet and Socialdemokraterna) who backed the motion to establish this institute also passed the motion for compulsory sterilization of ”undesirables” a little later. But back to Lundborg, this man worked incredibly hard to push eugenics in Sweden, urging the government invest in their research and take serious action against the degeneration of our population, I imagine in his mind maybe he felt he was saving the world. See him and his people were concerned that poor people with undesirable traits (a supposed knack for alcoholism, crime, mental illness and dark hair/skin) were having more children than rich people with desirable traits (well educated, cultured, white and blond). So they photographed, measured, interviewed and studied the communities of Romani, Tornedalians and Sápmi. After studying over 100 000 Swedes by 1926, Lundborg gathered the institutes initial research in the book The Racial Characters of the Swedish nation: Anthropologia Suecia (Svensk raskunskap). The book was full of nude pictures of various body types of different ethnicity, lists of ethnic/race based traits and a part which covered the ideal ”Swedish-Germanic racial type” traits with a picture to go with, depicting a naked white blond man who previously won the beauty pageant of the same name.
For anyone who’s still not convinced that this was an institute created to promote and support systemic racism by means of scientific racism, here’s a quote from an old professor from the time of the institute sharing some thoughts: ”I believe that the Nordic tribes, that formed the indoeuropéans, should’ve been acutely aware of their their psychological and physiological supremacy and should not have tolerated of any mixing. See even a drop of gy*py blood, in an otherwise strong host tends to ruin their morals (less of an effect on intellect). Initially, sadly (the field of) eugenics (racial-hygiene) can’t do much other than to keep the worst degeneration that is already in motion at bay”.
I’ll get into the details of the grander consequences that this government funded ”unofficial” breeding program had in next weeks post. I call it unofficial, because it was never referred to as a breeding program per say, however the laws and regulations were there, restricting who’s allowed to reproduce and where some were allowed to live/work. All of this fit rather neatly next to our already existing (also government sanctioned) laws regarding forced assimilation of the indigenous Sápmi (and various other minorities). At this point you might wonder why I keep mentioning them by name so much over the other groups of people, and well, it’s because they were here before present day ”Swedes” got here, yet they’ve been treated incredibly bad. Like horrendously bad. Our government basically tried to wipe them out, and not even in the ”we’ll just shoot and kill you”- kind of way, but in a ”we will erase your identity, existence and your culture, secretly killing your people over generations”- kind of way. So I have to mention them.
But hey, we’re at the conclusion, and by now I imagine you got a pretty good idea what the institute was for and why it was founded. I could get more into detail regarding the research itself, or mention more names of Swedish eugenicists, but I don’t believe it’s vital. What’s important is that you walk away from this remembering that this is something our (Swedish) people did. Legally. With the governments full support. We can’t ever forget it or leave it behind. Because the ripple effect of those actions are present today, and we still greedily ”share” the land with the ancestors of those same people that we literally tried to kill a few generations ago. Many of their elders still remember and still suffer based on our actions and the discrimination hasn’t stopped since, just changed. Swedish eugenicists will be listed in the links below for whoever wants to dive deep, but for you who’s just checking in. Don’t worry about it. Just remember this the next time some random journalist, or your uncle at the midsummer table claims that Sweden doesn’t have a history of racism.
Header: The header for this post depicts the state institute’s first location, known today as ”Dekanhuset” in Uppsala. The eugenics research was carried out here from it’s founding 1922 until 1937 when they moved into a new location (Västra Ågatan 24). Here they stayed until the official end of the institute in 1958 (remaining work was transferred to Uppsala University).