A debate about historical racist stereotypes and colonial traces in children's literature was a hot topic in Sweden last month. The removal of Tintin books from a children section because of colonial stereotypes caused a heated debate in the press and on the internet. The discussion about the Swedish children's film Little Pink and the Motley Crew also caused a stir.
In an interview with the Guardian and Africa is country, Afro-Swedish Nathan Hamelberg explains the discussion and its wider implications in Swedish society. Hamelberg is a member of The Betweenship group, an organisation which probes racist structures from a young, mixed-heritage perspective.
Guardian/Africaisacountry: Do you think Sweden is finally waking up to its colonial heritage?
Hamelberg: I don't think things will change in the short term. Still, the fact that non-white voices are entering the debate is amazing, and necessary ...
The widest implications of this whole affair must be about the cultural establishment. It needs to be de-segregated! It can no longer be the case that only white voices are allowed to define what is and isn't racist.
Guardian/Africaisacountry: How is Sweden different from other countries when it comes to stereotypical racist depictions.
Hamelberg: Sweden's national identity is interesting. We've got this view of our country as being fundamentally anti-racist at a deep level. This has almost become the big official Swedish ideology. And yet our anti-racism is different from that of the UK, France or the United States because their anti-racism has been framed against a backdrop of an awareness of the crimes of colonialism, and as a response to them. Sweden has a colonial history as well. It participated in the slave trade and was the last of the Western European countries to abolish slavery. Yet people here know almost nothing about it! It's just a note in history textbooks, and there are almost no efforts to commemorate the victims.
Up until the Second World War, Sweden was a pioneer state when it came to eugenics and scientific racism, and continuing a programme of forced sterilizations way after. I had a discussion with my uncle — Sierra Leonean like my father but living in the Netherlands — and he was shocked to learn that the left-leaning social democratic country he held as an ideal was actually sterilizing citizens as recently as in the seventies. I had to correct him, "Harold, Sweden is actually still sterilizing transsexual people in this very day and age…"
Read the full story "Tintin racism row puts spotlight on children's literature" at the Guardian