The historical construction of Swedishness can be traced to the pre-eminence of the Swedes, along with the Norwegians and Danes, in the construction of the white race as the elite of homo sapiens. In a scientific discourse hegemonic for almost 200 years, the Swedes and other Scandinavians were considered the most physically and aesthetically perfect people on earth.
The nation’s scholars excelled in and contributed substantially to racial science: Carl Linnaeus created the first modern scientific system for race classification in the mid-1700s; Anders Retzius invented the skull or cephalic index – which became the principal method for racial science itself – in the 1850s; and the Swedish government founded the Swedish Institute for Racial Biology in 1922.
In the mid 1930s, Sweden also installed one of the most effective sterilization programs ever, a eugenicist project that was both racialized, heteronormative, gendered and classed, and that affected more than 60,000 Swedes before being dissolved in the mid-1970s.
However from the 1960s and 1970s, Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries arguably became the leading (western) voice and (white) supporter of decolonisation and anti-colonial, anti-segregation and anti-apartheid movements. In the process, the world’s most radical proponent of social justice and gender equality transformed racism into a non-Swedish issue.
In a feat of national branding, “good Sweden” was promoted as more tolerant and liberal than any other (western) country and (white) people in the world. One result was, for example, that Swedes have adopted proportionally the most children of colour from former colonies than any other western country... Sweden imagined itself as a non-racist and post-racial utopia with no colonial past.
Third World solidarity and antiracism has, in other words, gone hand in hand with white superiority and white homogeneity[…]
A central aspect of the construction of “good Sweden” has to do with the generous welfare state and achievements in gender equality. Along with other Scandinavian countries, Sweden has been regarded as exceptionally “woman-friendly” and ranked among the most gender-equal societies in the world. This ideal has been exported to other (Third World) countries through international development aid. However, the institutionalised gender equality discourse carries with it a sense of national identity that is intimately intertwined with whiteness and racial hierarchies, and that excludes migrants as Others.
In order to maintain the supposedly uniquely [Scandinavian] construct of gender equality, non-whites are depicted as the “gender non-equal”, in conjunction with a discourse of the “oppression of the Other”. For Swedish white gender equality to exist, some-body is needed that is not Swedish, gender-equal and white.
This might explain why two of Scandinavia’s far-rightwing leaders are women, and why the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was obsessed by gender and sexual issues.