Sweden’s History Of Racism: Part 3 – The State Institute For The Study Of Racial Biology

”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).

Links:

Eugenics

Statens institut för rasbiologi

Compulsory sterilization in Sweden

Svensk raskunskap (bok)

White supremacy

Rashygien

Plato’s Republic

Scientific Racism

Sweden’s History of Racism: Part 2 – Carl Von Linné

So in this part we’ll talk about Carl Von Linné, the prince of botany, and the role he played in Sweden’s contribution to systemic racism as well as his role in (some say) the very foundation of the ideology itself.

You probably know him from the previous 100 SEK bill or as ”that famous flower guy”. It’s impossible to grow up here, or live here for a period of time, without seeing his face or hearing his name. He’s one of Sweden’s greats. What Charles Darwin was to the science of evolution, Carl Von Linné was to modern botany. He formalized the two-term naming system (binomial nomenclature), which is used to name flowers, plants, animals and organisms and in turn categorize them. He helped the world (somewhat) agree on a universal naming system and provided a system by which to do so (if you which o know more about the system in detail, you’ll find that here), this was his life’s work (1707-1778). We use this same system today for ex. when referring to ourselves – Homo sapiens ( + another sapiens in our case), Homo is our genus (our race), it includes everything from our long dead archaic ancestors to us today. Sapiens means wise, it’s the name we gave ourselves because unlike our previous ancestors, somebody decided our most notable trait seems to be our wit. Then recently somebody added another sapiens, to differentiate between earlier generations of Homo sapiens vs you and me, since we’ve been around for a while now.

– So, he categorized animals, named some plants, what’s the big deal? He clearly did us a great favor. He helped lay the foundation of taxonomy and the scientific field of ecology? Yeah, you’re right, he did all that. However the categorization didn’t stop there, he helped lay the very foundation of categorizing humans too and here’s where it starts going south.

Linné’s system of taxonomy, aka the system he used to categorize plants and bugs, was also known as the very first system to include humans grouped with apes, rather than as a separate group. He noted that both species shared the same anatomy, thus he grouped us both under Antropomorpha (manlike). He received loads of criticism (and some praise later on) for it. Putting man at the same level as monkeys and nature itself (in 1735) was incredibly disrespectful. (White) humans were seen as spiritually and physically more advanced beings, created in the very image of God. A lot of people refused the idea that they could be related to apes, or that they were apart of nature rather than above it. However this controversial evolutionary debate wouldn’t really take off until a few years later with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859).

Systema Naturae, first edition published in 1735, was Linné’s most famous work, and he came to publish several updated editions of the book over time. This first edition contained some animals and plants he had classified, however here he also introduced the concept of subdividing humans in to four varieties based on continent and skin color. If you’re read up on racism, or just grown up and existed in today’s historically racist society, you’ve probably stumbled across these classifications before: Europæus albesc (white europeans), American rubesc (redish american), Asiaticus fuscus (tawny asians, later changed to Asiaticus luridus, meaning yellow asians) and Africanus nigr (short for nigriculus) (blackish African). He also added an extra section known as a ”wastebasket” specifically for the purpose of categorizing humans that didn’t fit anywhere else, humans that were seen as monstrous, wild, abnormal or ”unknown”. Each one of the groups came with their own characteristics of course, based on his measurements and observations. White Europeans were, to quote ”of fair complexion, sanguine temperament, and brawny form… (they were) of gentle manners, acute in judgment, of quick invention, and governed by fixed laws and their mother”, yellow Asians were melancholic, greedy, inflexible and governed by superstition, red Americans were hot tempered, stubborn, ”free” and governed by tradition and the black Africans were, to quote ”Of black complexion, phlegmatic (cool) temperament and relaxed fibre… Of crafty indolent (lazy), and careless disposition and are governed in their actions by caprice (impulse)”.

This (basically) marks the very invention of the concept of race, at least as a respectable scientific field of study. Other people contributed as well, other people were discussing the same things at the time, but Linné’s Systema Naturae became the blueprint, the reference. People have always been racist/discriminatory/oppressive, however from now, it becomes acceptable to measure skulls, establish an institute for the study of racial biology (we had one here in Uppsala, Sweden) as well as castrate, systematically oppress and assimilate indigenous tribes, all under the name of science. Sweden did all of these things and more. Other countries did all of these things and more too and science provided an excuse, a sheet to hide under. We still use science as an excuse for these same people to this day, speak of how their interests were strictly scientific, they were children of their time, that they couldn’t possibly know what their studies would be used to justify. All (mostly) true, and after we’ve acknowledged that I hope we can accept then how being a racist doesn’t have to be a conscious effort, you can literally just be a child of your time/environment, this is one choice, however here’s another on, NOT being a racist means you make a conscious decision to work on not being one. Our collective history of racism, and it’s role in our ”modern” civilization’s very foundation means we’re left with a structure today that perpetuates it.

I’ve seen loads of people come to Linné’s defence to talk about how he wasn’t really racist, he just categorized people based on their looks. The reality is we’ll probably never know whether he was or not, we can speculate – Hmm yes most people like him at his time were, but for the topic at hand and as a conclusion of this topic to be honest it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we need to recognize the impact his work had on both botany and racism.





Links:

Carl Von Linné

Race and History: Comments from an Epistemological Point of View

Racism: A Very Short Introduction

#BlackLivesMatter

So, I’ve already written about saviourism, white privilege, certain aspects of colonialism, aswell as some neo-colonialism that overlaps with systemic racism. If you’re interested in any of the above, since they’re all branches of racism, feel free to scroll further down for those posts, or to follow the blog since I most definitely will be covering them again. You can also type each of the terms into google to start reading any and everything you find or use the links ill be adding at the bottom. Take note that this post is specifically related to the B.L.M. movement, many of the tips can be applied to other social justice movements, but my intention is for the focus of this post to be on the B.L.M. movement and the fight against racism. Think of it as ”things to keep in mind” when you approach it with a wish to engage if you’re new.

If you, like so many others are hoping to join the fight against racism, or if you claim to already be in it and is reading up to get better at it, below ill be sharing some tips, pointers and links to potentially help you on your way.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter that I’ve chosen to use as my title, is also a great source to find information about different aspect of racism, how to actively work against it and un-learn it. To access it, simply type it into Facebook, Google or Instagram. People share experiences, tips, issues, articles, they also use the phrase by itself to highlight the importance of black lives, since there’s a need for it.

I’ll start this post by addressing some questions and thoughts I’ve received from friends and acquaintances:

1. If you (as a non-black) person feel bad about what you’re seeing in the media right now. Good. You’re supposed to. If brutalized and murdered black bodies make you feel sad and outraged, if systemic racial oppression makes you feel overwhelmed, exhausted and unsure about yourself, your actions and what you’ve been (or not been) doing to help… great! Then there’s something here we can work with. See, NEWSFLASH, you’re supposed to feel bad. Because it sucks, all of it, for all of us, and especially for black people. What you’re NOT supposed to do is write to your traumatized/exhausted/depressed/hurt black friends to ask what you can do to make yourself feel better. Because it’s not about you and that’s lesson one on racism as a non-black person. It’s not about you, always remember it’s not about you, and when you’re about to comment on something, mention something, share thoughts or just open your mouth in a racism related context, ask yourself: – Am I about to reshape or center this around myself or my experiences? If yes? Then don’t. (Also, the people that should worry you, are the ones that aren’t feeling bad right now). Take note that some activists/friends of yours or public speakers you follow may have expressed that they’re available for conversations if people have questions and wish to learn. Use these opportunities to ask the questions you might not’ve been able to answer alone through google, and if they have a gofundme/patreon/paypal chip in on the work they do, the same way you’d pay any teacher.

2. Scenario ”I haven’t shared anything or spoken out personally on the issue, but let me share a black picture for #blackouttuesday in solidarity with the black lives matter movement, because I do care! Fighting racism just takes a lot of effort” Hmm alright, uhm. So two things to point out here. First, If you decide to repost or share anything (something you think could be useful information for other people for example), make sure you understand what you’re sharing. Secondly, if you decide to post a black picture, ask yourself WHY you’re doing it and what the desired outcome is, if you can’t answer that, don’t do it. We’re struggling with alot of clutter and alot of mindless reposting. People think they wanna help but they don’t really want to go through the actual trouble it takes, so they settle for a repost of something they don’t understand or truly know why they’re sharing. Notice how there’s nothing wrong with the act of reposting, just make sure you understand. This obviously goes for anyone reposting anything ever.

3. If you’re not initially (and after that still occasionally) completely overwhelmed by the thought of dismantling racism, you don’t understand racism. Simple. The go-to should be learning about all the separate and intricate aspects of racism in part. Because if you think you’re tackling racism head-on and that you’ve figured it out, I’m gonna need you to take a step back. This has been going on for years, if it was as simple as telling people to ”be nicer to black people” we would’ve solved it years ago. Unlearning racism is a journey that takes time, effort and focus. You don’t simply read a 100 books to understand, ‘cause it’ll take you another 10 years to even begin to apply it to your daily life and your line of thinking. To give an example: I check myself every time I do my hair to ask myself why I prefer a sleek bun over a matted one, when my natural hair texture is matted, the desire (and preference) for a sleek bun is internalized racism. The racism isn’t gone until I’m free to wear either without preference based around which one is commonly accepted as ”neater”, and this is just me?! If we’re getting detailed here I’ve got the ”good” texture of the bunch, imagine what it’s like for people with ”heavier” afro-centric features than me (there’s an old system in place judging people favorably based on their proximity to whiteness, I’ll cover that in-depth some other day but google colorism and the paper bag-test for now). Then proceed to think about all the people I meet on a daily who’s gonna see my bun and think to themselves wow like did she even try? She should’ve sleeked it back with gel to make it look straight. Notice how this is also just a minor thing? One. Minor. Thing. That’s how extensive this is. Racism is a system, an indoctrinate teaching, a behavioral pattern and for some a way of life. Racism is mainly subconscious, meaning you won’t really notice that it’s there, making it harder to identify and fight within one self.

4. This is an important one, and I cannot stress this enough. Think for yourself. Please. When you see posts upon posts of people telling you to ”read up” they obviously mean read up, but that also includes this: thinking. I already said this in point 2 but let me repeat it because this is a key-step, PLEASE think for yourself. That’s the work you’re supposed to be doing, apart from showing support and speaking up when it’s needed lawdamercy think. for. yourself. When you see something you don’t understand, don’t just scroll past it and assume you’re good ‘cause you think racism is bad and you’ve got black friends, you’re not good, it’s not fine, figure out why you don’t understand. (Also, if you find yourself motivated to read up but unsure what to read, don’t be afraid to ask, but also, don’t expect a black person to do the work of finding valuable information for you, especially not for free. This is like asking a classmate to do your homework for you. Not cool. >>>Re-read end of point 1 if needed.<<<

5. When somebody goes ”Black Lives Matter”, don’t respond all lives matter, or blue lives matter or my dogs life matters or no life matters (nihilistic edgelord junk). Don’t. Don’t do it. Everybody knows this. Remember what we talked about before? About putting yourself in the center of an issue? May I ask why you feel the need to insert yourself everywhere? Don’t do it. This. This is it. So don’t do it. A great example I’ve seen people use is, if your house is on fire, and you shout ”my house is on fire!” to get it extinguished, and then every other house that’s NOT on fire got a resident stepping out onto the sidewalk shouting ALL houses are on fire, do you realize how stupid that looks? Yes, maybe someday your house too may be on fire, but right now we’re talking about this one. All lives matter, we know this, everyone knows this. However we’re highlighting that black people are unjustly being killed in frighteningly high numbers and systematically oppressed, this is the fire we’re trying to put out. Either you help out or you get out the way. Inserting yourself by asking why not all lives matter, that’s you trying to hijack another movement. If the only time you care about all lives is when somebody else is trying to get their message across, you don’t truly care at all.

This is also what my disclaimer in the beginning of the post is for, I’ve seen that there’s a bad habit in media of making parallels between different social justice movements, between different people or in hopes of making an example to further understand or pick apart an argument. For example, using another gruesome event to try to make the event being discussed seem less bad. Don’t do it. It’s not a competition in who can throw out the most gruesome event or make the most distasteful parallel. If you feel the need to comment on the ongoing violent protests in the USA today, and flip it, switch the colors of the protesters with the people getting hurt or anything like it in hopes of proving your argument, what you’re really doing is erasing the history of the problem itself by isolating one specific event, which obviously will render the event itself nonsensical. The defining history has to be taken into consideration.


6. Last point, this one’s for everyone. A skill you need to acquire when dealing with any and all social justice movements is to be able to step aside and let the people whom the movement is for step forth to speak. Google ‘interpretative prerogative’ or ‘tolkningsföreträde’ in Swedish. This is not just between black vs non black people in terms of the black lives matter movement, but also between black people within the movement itself. For the black people in Sweden taking a stance right now, earlier or in the future and expressing their opinions regarding the actions of black people in for example the US, it’s important to know that at the end of the day it’s not our place to judge their actions. We can comment, share our two cents and debate, but at the end of the day we can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to grow up in America as a black person, even if most of us have our own experiences with racism, identify with the people we see or feel a bond to what could be relatives and even if our own countries are dealing with the same issues, we can’t possibly begin to understand what it’s like to be them because we’re not them. The best we can do is support them in every way we can, share their stories, sign their petitions, donate to their cause, listen to what they need from us and fight our own local issues of racism along side theirs for an overall better future for black people everywhere. (This calls for another disclaimer, take note how I’m NOT saying it doesnt concern us because this is very much our issue too.)

This concludes my list for now, there’s obviously way more I could cover, but we’ll round it up here. Social media is blowing up right now but this is not the first or the last time this is going to or needs to happen, more discussions/fights/protests will be held in the future regarding identity, heritage, cultural ownership and race, it’s needed and long overdue as usual. Buckle up for more, we’re 6 months into 2020 which has come to be the year of exposing everything and everyone.

I’ve personally felt torn about what to write about for this last week. Everyday is history in the making and history is what I do, I naturally cover pro-black topics in relation to that, because, well, I’m black and history needs to be re-written and edited from a non-white western and non-western narrative, this is one of my fundamental beliefs. We need to create our own narrative and space, instead of living in somebody else’s. Thus, I decided to give into my feelings, and sit down, open my brain and write about Black Lives Matter and share some tips on how to approach and assist the movement, because black lives do matter. Everyday. Not just when your feed is a battlefield or my family’s a trending hashtag.







Useful links:

Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn – Currated monthly syllabus to keep you engaged in unlearning racism, and racist behaviour. Self-paced and donation based: https://www.patreon.com/thegreatunlearn

A compiled list of some organizations you can donate to (help with bail, provide support for victims of police brutality, rebuilding etc), petitions you can sign, informative monetized videos who’s revenue will be donated etc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/16VOvHrLcL37OFa9udKks_B05IR9N7V1FCVNM-pFmiXU/edit?usp=sharing

Articles:

Why you need to stop saying all lives matter

Black Riot: The difference between riots and protests has more to do with who and where than what

Blogs:

The Armchair Commentary – Commentary on the intersection of race, culture and faith

Rachel Cargle is a public academic, writer, and lecturer. Her activism and academic work are rooted in providing intellectual discourse, tools, and resources that explore the intersection of race and womanhood.