"It's not enough to just be a good person" - reflections on how to manage racist experiences as a person of colour

It’s time to admit it: I experience racial prejudice every single day in Sweden. I have never had the same experience growing up in Canada, not even as a Filipino youth in a predominantly white high school. Maybe it’s because my high school was mostly made up of kids from the Jewish community, Italian community, and Serbo-Croatian community that all settled in Winnipeg to start anew. Today I live in a predominantly white community, conservative and in the heart of Sweden where the country’s nationalist anti-immigrant political party resonates with everyday folks. I have to admit that even as an educated, Swedish-speaking, tax-paying member of this community, I am second class because I am not white. I am tolerated, but not equal, and my experience is shared by many others, even if we self-identify as Swedish. As persons of colour in Sweden, we are tolerated, but not equal. TOLERATED. Not equal.

This means that the simplest of activities - like going to a nice restaurant after work, shopping the local design store on the weekend, changing tires at the garage - all involves a conscious effort on our part as people of colour to represent the part of an upper middle class citizen in order to receive the same level of service and respect as an everyday white person. This also means that in general, as a person of colour, I might choose to avoid going to aforementioned nice restaurants and design shops on my own or with other non-white folks, simply because it’s clear that white folks around me take a different tone, different body language, and different demeanour when I try to engage in their inexplicitly reserved public space on my own, vs when I do so in the company of my white Swedish friends.

If there is one thing that is clear to me, Sweden is not about assimilation. Sweden is about the tolerance of outsiders, and there is no interest from its population to make an effort on integrating. We may pay the same taxes and contribute to this community just the same, but I will never be “as equal” as the others.

If that statement triggers you - a white person living in Sweden - I urge you to read further to see what you can do if you do not agree that immigrants to Sweden should merely be tolerated and not integrated. If you do feel that tolerance is as far as it goes, and that “Sweden must remain Swedish”, then we agree to disagree and I will continue to live as best I can as a responsible member of my community and you will do the same, but we may not see eye to eye on some principles.

“You guys don’t have to DM me - especially white people - to tell me that you’re a good person. The reason I’m doing the work that I do is because I do believe that goodness lies within us all but I also understand that being a good person does not automatcially mean that you are not interacting with racist structures. You have to understand that as a white person even if you are the best white person that you can be - and I think you are - you will still interact with racist structures because these structures do not need your permission. They do not even need you to be aware of them; that’s how they operate. So these structures that harm people that look like me, people that are different: people that are gay, people that are muslim, jews, trans people - all of that - they don’t  need your OK to operate. The structures have been in place for 300, 400, 500 years so you - your generation - may not be responsible for putting these structures in place, but you’re still benefiting from them. And being a good person does not mean that you will stop benefiting from them; educating yourself, making a change, using your voice and your privilege is what makes a change. It’s not enough to just be a good person.” - Lovette Jallow, 13 February 2019, Stockholm