That Swedes, Norwegians and Danes are regarded as belonging to 'the white race' hasn´t always been the case. A couple of hundred years ago, when the idea of 'race' entered the discussion about human beings, Nordic people often ended up outside of the category 'white', yet later often came to embody and be the projection surface for an ideal type of pure white people. The historical trends and shifts regarding a today thoroughly refuted concept of race is at the center of a special issue of Scandinavian Studies (2:2017) on 'Nordic Whiteness' edited by the assistant professors Catrin Lundström, REMESO, LiU, and Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, University of Colorado Boulder.
The issue have gathered articles from a group of scholars who have studied, empirically, different notions about 'Nordic whiteness', i.e. how the Nordic relates to whiteness and how ideas on this topic have changed over time, but also in relation to place and ideological context.
The quote in the headline above comes from a letter written by a Minnesota lumberjack in 1901 who tells about his encounter with "stinking" Swedish immigrants. The editors highlight this and the rest of this lumberjack´s story makes it abundantly clear that at that time Swedes were regarded as a lower 'race', quite distinct from white anglosaxons. This image and viewpoint, thus stands in stark contrast to other images and notions of the connection between the Nordic and whiteness, which is also brought up in the issue.
The historical fluidity in terms of what 'white' signifies, is coupled with texts that look at ideas about whiteness today, linked to racist political organisations nostalgic white idealisation. Other texts discuss the notion of whiteness in relation to media and literatur, and how the concept is something most people have to relate to, if you are for example an immigrant or adopted in any of the Nordic countries.
Catrin Lundström sums up the key elements at stake in their thematic issue:
- By and large, the articles in this issue of Scandinavian Studies show how whiteness is a changing, floating and evasive concept, yet very active and living both for those that are not included in the category it creates and those that pursue political mobilisation with it as a guiding principle. We show that whiteness is contextually and historically shifting and that Nordic whiteness have a specific position in the discussion and the images and fantasies of whiteness and races.
Read more about this special issue of Scandinavian Studies