Du kan gå nu.

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 15, 2013

The celebrated Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri has written a powerful open letter to the Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask (original in Swedish, English translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles). Following an interview in which Ask allegedly said that what people claimed to be racial profiling was merely a matter of “personal experience”, Hassen Khemiri gave his account of how it is to grow up in Sweden in a skin that’s darker than pale white, and with black hair. And what the new law that is leading to this racial profiling does to (some) people, including some Swedish citizens.

This is powerful stuff. Do read it.

“Du kan gÃ¥ nu.” Without apologies.



NickS 04.15.13 at 8:57 pm

Thank you for that link — very well written.


Robert P 04.15.13 at 10:45 pm

This problem isn’t restricted to Sweden. It seems so easy for societies to rationalize race based heuristics. I say whatever safety such a strategy might afford, the cost to acheive it is too high.

We in the United States have a very similar problem.

I am under the impression universal health care is so hard to acheive because of some similar strain of marginalization. Its a lot easier to sympathize with people who are culturally similar. Remove that and all of the sudden its “we would love to provide health care but its fiscally irresponsible.”

So these problems present themselves in many forms, but the ones sanctioned by institutions are the most reprehensible.


stostosto 04.16.13 at 1:38 am

Thanks, Ingrid. One sort of knows these things. Still, one doesn’t really *know*. Khemiri puts it into sharp focus. Really well done.


js. 04.16.13 at 1:52 am

That was brilliant (and a bit wrenching). Thanks.


John Quiggin 04.16.13 at 4:22 am

Also, it’s good you can to link to such material not originally published in English, and therefore easier (for Anglophone monoglots) to miss.


Johan Anglemark 04.16.13 at 8:56 am

Very happy to see that excellent piece of writing translated for a larger audience. As Robert points out, this is of course not restricted to Sweden (alas).


stostosto 04.16.13 at 11:06 am

I gather from the Asymptote site that this has made a big splash in Sweden, as well it should. The most linked-to story ever, no less.

I genuinely wonder why we haven’t had Kheremi’s excellent and highly pertinent piece presented to us here in Denmark. First I thought it was brand new, but I see it dates from more than a month back.

I just checked the sites of the five national broadsheets and (bar deficient search functions) none have run it. Really strange, I think.


stostosto 04.16.13 at 11:15 am

… of course, part of the explanation may be that Danish media have lately been running full with the debate following a DPP politician’s inexplicably (though not unexpectedly from that corner) unreflexive supremacist remarks about Maoris in New Zealand: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/8517466/Danish-politician-slams-Maori-welcome


NomadUK 04.16.13 at 11:20 am

This is all beginning to sound like an episode of Borgen


bjk 04.16.13 at 12:44 pm

Aren’t there any immigration stories with a happy ending? Or do they always devolve into distrust and dislike? Immigration needs better PR.


Coulter 04.16.13 at 12:57 pm

“”But how can we simultaneously combine a broad social safety net with welcoming everyone?” And we shuffle our feet and clear our throats, because to be completely honest we don’t have a clear answer to that. ”

Yes, Jonas is one of the lucky, previledged few who can complain about discrimination in Sweden. Unlike a few million others denied entry from Afganistan, Persia, or Africa. This is NOT an attempt to silence his criticism, but rather broaden it. What is the European response to multicultural expansion? Is there a model of integration that will not weaken social cohesion? Or is integration a false goal that shouldn’t be expected? What norms and expectations can Europeans have of immigrants? What norms and expectations can immigrants have of the counties they visit?


Kaveh 04.16.13 at 11:25 pm

@2, 10, & 11, I think most immigration stories have happy endings, eventually. I’m inclined to be whiggish about this. Like, the Inquisition and various troglodytes could try very hard to persecute scientists, but the underlying forces were too strong for them and their world-view–same with immigration. Eventually, immigrant groups do stake out a place for themselves, the question is what kind of resistance they face in the process–how much do already-established groups use their position to inflict sadistic, needless hardship on the newly-arrived? They can’t stop the immigrants from coming or from assimilating, they can (usually) just slow it down.

Also I find myself very skeptical about the idea that immigration undermines social cohesion and/or the support for social welfare policies like universal healthcare. It seems like something that would be extremely hard to support with strong evidence, with anything more than speculation. And although there’s all kinds of factors in play here, within the US at least, I’m not under the impression that states with more immigrants are less likely to support UHC or other social welfare policies–if anything, the opposite.


Dan Simon 04.17.13 at 6:26 am

This is all so depressingly familiar–Ellis Cose should sue for copyright infringement.

Here’s a suggestion: Swedes should crack down heavily on crime and welfare dependency. Crooked Timberites and their ilk will scream blue murder, of course, but within a decade, the new atmosphere of physical safety and self-reliance will inject such vibrancy into minority communities, and spur such unprecedented levels of mutual tolerance and integration, that the violence, hostility and polarization symbolized by this essay (not to mention the factors that so swiftly and effectively mitigated them the last time around, on the other side of the Atlantic) will be all but forgotten.


krippendorf 04.17.13 at 12:46 pm

“And although there’s all kinds of factors in play here, within the US at least, I’m not under the impression that states with more immigrants are less likely to support UHC or other social welfare policies–if anything, the opposite.”

There’s a reason why the southern border states regularly go for the most conservative Republican candidates, even though in many such states (e.g., Arizona), the voting demographic is skewed toward old people. The discourse in these states often entails vehement opposition to welfare policies and other expenditures that might help immigrants.


Infamous Heel-Filcher 04.17.13 at 1:56 pm

Jeebus, that was a gutpunch. Thanks for sharing.


Random Lurker 04.17.13 at 2:44 pm

@Robert P 2

“I am under the impression universal health care is so hard to acheive because of some similar strain of marginalization. Its a lot easier to sympathize with people who are culturally similar.”

I don’t think that the problem is sympathizing, I think the problem is more structural.

Here in Italy there is a lot of illegal immigration, and the right leaning parties are strongly anti-immigrants (most obviously the borderline racist, but very populst, Northern League). Many people believe that immigrants are “stealing our jobs” (haven’t we got enough unemployment?). Most people also dislike the idea of extending the welfare state to immigrants (isn’t Italy enough in debt?).

However those arguments are based on the “lump of labour” fallacy: If immigrant get a job, they also get a wage that they spend on stuff, so that [under some conditions] immigrants create their own jobs (yes, this is a variation on Say’s law). In the same way, immigrant workers pay taxes and/or produce profits, so that they fund their own welfare.

But, in Italy at least, immigrants are often forced in illegality*, and in those conditions they are forced to accept very low wages “in black” (without paying taxes), and so push down wages for those jobs where they compete with italians (usually manual jobs were few education is required, even if many immigrants have good education).
Those italians that face competition from immigrants then become fiercely xenophobic and vote for parties that harass immigrants, negating welfare and generally pushing immigrants even more into illegality.
The end result of this is that those people who employ illegal immigrants can make big profits on their backs (although, on the medium term, many similar businesses that exploit illegal immigrants will pop up, thus reducing the profitability of those classes of businesses and making them depending on the illegal status of immigrants).
I think that those dynamics happen in every country with significant immigration.

So in pratice the policies that legalize immigrants and rise the wages they are able to negotiate also tend to reduce unemployment and make their welfare more affordable, while perversely anti-immigrant laws make welfare less affordable and create unemployment among locals (who are forced to face the much worse competition of illegal immigrants), but locals generally can’t see this and tend to blame immigrants and create their own problems.

*In Italy, only a limited quota of immigrants a year is allowed. Illegal immigrants that already reside in Italy and who get an employer who is willing to “legalize” them can apply, and also would be immigrants can apply if they can locate a future semployer who is willing to declare that he/she is going to employ them.
But the quota is fixed, and is obviously much easier to find an italian employer if you already reside in italy, so the easiest way to become a legal immigrant in Italy is to enter as an illegal and then find a job and then apply for legalisation, thus “stealing the place” of those people who would like to enter legally. This very smart law has been produced by Bossi, the founder of the xenophobic Northern League party.


Kaveh 04.17.13 at 3:13 pm

krippendorf @13
Well, no, there’s not a reason, there’s lots of reasons and lots of complicating factors. Like, NM and CA are southern border states, but elect Democrats, vs KY, TN, and recently WV being nowhere-near-the-border states that elect wacky conservatives… and what about FL?; immigrants don’t just stay at the borders, and being a transit point, as AZ and TX are, creates a whole lot of different issues; are white people in highly diverse states like NY, NJ, CA, and IL less likely than white people in other states to support social welfare? Would that finding still hold if you control for where they live? (White down-state IL farmers have different politics from white Chicago-area residents in a lot of ways, the latter have a lot more interaction with immigrants, & probably are *more* in favor of social welfare policies on the whole, or that would be my guess…).

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture…

I get the point that racism is exploited to turn certain demographics against UHC and other social welfare, but direct interaction with immigrants and other minorities tends to undermine that very same racism…


Robert P 04.17.13 at 4:33 pm

@Kaveh 12 etc.

Well interaction could breed sympathy (ie they aren’t just immigrants they’re fellow Californians). At what point do we see people as illegals gaming the system or contributing members of society with substantially lower standards of living. There is a reason conservatives have a world view including the former and liberals the latter.

You are absolutely right to say that it is a very complicated question which will probably won;t be explained by even a handful of factors.

But tribalism is still a very large part of our social order and many state institutions are very exclusionary. While they may not be exclusionary in writing (it is ilegal to discriminate based on race in USA) many are exclusionary in practice.

The truth is there are large swaths of the domestic population who are under represented and marginalized. Most of these fall into the minority category. Is it such a far reaching conclusion to say racist overtones may still exist?


CarlD 04.18.13 at 2:02 pm

Interesting to track the discussion, e.g. – http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/sweden/5429/


stostosto 04.18.13 at 9:47 pm

How a Saudi spectator in Boston who was hurt by the bomb was an immediate suspect.



Coulter 04.22.13 at 4:59 pm

Interesting comment on the Saudi spectator, now that stories are coming out that the individual had terror connections, in addition to being at the wrong place and the wrong time:


Comments on this entry are closed.