The term “swedesplaining” is commonly used in the country by those of us who have observed residents’ tendency to explain in condescending detail how Swedish society works to foreigners who have lived in Sweden for decades. But now the country seems to have lost control of its narrative.
As with any loving relationship, mine with Sweden is multidimensional and complex. I’m Nigerian American, and I’m a naturalized Swede based in Stockholm. I speak the language, and I’m raising its next generation. I was not surprised that some valid criticism of the country’s history was quickly dismissed by Swedes. At the same time, I understand the Swedish defensiveness.
I know what it feels like to have your narrative crafted on your behalf by strangers. To have people make assumptions about who you are based on stereotypes. To have people paint you as stingy and selfish, despite how open and generous you feel you are.
It is infuriating. I get it. I’m a Black woman in Sweden.
Here, my narrative continues to be crafted by others without my input, based on predefined notions and harmful stereotypes. There’s the insulting “angry Black woman” trope, the reductive “strong Black woman” label and the constant overlooking of the fact that we also need to be taken care of emotionally, mentally and physically.
Sweden has a history of remarkably progressive public policy. But two things can be true at once.
The country, like many others, also has deep integration and inclusion issues that it must address. I often say that it is the most open society, run by the most private people. The cultural tropes it is praised for play a part in this: Lagom stipulates that we must take care of our individual needs first, without aggravating others in the process. This creates a society of interiority in which people are open-minded enough to allow their neighbors to do whatever they want, yet keep very close bubbles around their own lives to avoid stress, discomfort, and the unfamiliar. This is a part of why we have a segregated society where ethnic minorities congregate in subcommunities in order to feel accepted and listened to.
So I view Swedengate as a blessing in disguise.
It’s an opportunity for a country I love to finally exhale, shed the self-imposed burden of perfection, take itself less seriously and acknowledge its weaknesses. That doesn’t mean it can’t proudly celebrate its strengths — but it means admitting to not knowing everything, and projecting to the world that there’s a lot that can be learned from others, as well.