An image of white race performativity in Sweden: “Slave evening” for the group, 1949


1200 dpi scanned printable image (7961 x 5768 pixels) from original anonymous 12.5 x 17 cm. size photograph





Backside text of photography: “Slave evening” for the group, 1949


“…Race performativity in Sweden prior to the post-war era was a more or less permanent feature of Swedish culture, both in formal and informal settings, and among different social classes, during a period when few non-whites from the colonies visited, let alone lived permanently, in Sweden. Irrespective of being a masquerade ball at the court, or festivities among the peasants, one can assume that it was neither unusual nor problematic that white Swedes dressed up as Turks, Arabs, American Indians, Africans, Persians, Asian Indians, Chinese or Japanese, or, for that matter, as more familiar
minorities who lived within the national borders of Sweden such as Saamis, Jews, and Roma. Examples of such race performances can also be found in both textual and visual source material, and must be seen as a pan-European phenomenon at a time when Europeans had to psychologically process and take in the numerous new encounters with different peoples around the world. For example, in the 1600s, French noblemen in Paris would sometimes dress up as American Indians and, during the heyday of Orientalism in the 1800s, it was fashionable in Europe to alternately dress as up a Turk, Arab, Indian,
Chinese or Japanese. In the US, at the same time, whites staged a grotesque form of blackness in so-called minstrel shows, and the story of how Virginia Woolf and her friends in the Bloomsbury Group performed as East Africans in order to trick the British fleet into believing that they were Ethiopian princes as part of the successful practical joke in 1910, known as The Dreadnought Hoax, is well-known (Lott, 1993). In Sweden, it was popular among majority Swedes during the same time period to dress up and pose as Saamis in photo studios, and in films from the inter-war years, majority Swedes also played Saamis, Jews and Roma with the help of clothes, make-up, accent and bodily mimicking (Gustafsson, 2007; Wright, 1998)….”

We argue that beyond the ambivalence between a sincere interest and an outright contempt present in race performances from white to non-white in contemporary Sweden, there is also an underlying and mostly unconscious will to overcome the alienation that racial differentiation and a racial order creates, and a desire to be with the Other, which may take different forms. The mundane practices of race performativity, such as when white Swedes play and mimic non-white migrants in private settings, reflect this desire to overcome the unpleasant and uncanny feelings of lack and alienation which derive from racial segregation, and which produce so much pain and suffering for the white subject. It must also be mentioned that the contemporary Swedish context wherein all these
aforementioned examples of race performativity take place, is marked by an extreme racial segregation pattern in all aspects of life including the residential sector, the labour market and the cultural sphere, and our analysis is therefore perhaps particularly suited for the Swedish case and for Swedish whiteness. Thus, the pleasure, excitement and enjoyment that is almost always evoked and lived out when whites stage and perform as non-whites, be it in the public sphere or in private settings, can in our interpretation be traced back to that which the colonial and racist order prohibits and disavows, that is, a desire to get to know the Other and to be with the Other, perhaps even to become the Other, as a way of finally eliminating the spectre of white melancholia that has haunted
the white psyche ever since the beginning of the colonial project 500 years ago….”

Source: “Race performativity and melancholic whiteness in contemporary Sweden, Tobias Hübinette & Lennart E.H. Räterlinck, Multicultural Centre, Tumba, Sweden, Department of Sociology, Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala University”

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