©Zak Keith 2016
Some words should never have been normalized as ways to describe people, such as the centuries-old term “mulatto,” which originates from mule and refers to the sterile mix-breed offspring of a horse and a donkey. And now, in 2016, thanks to the FI (Sweden’s Feminist Initiative political party), many Swedes who are traditionally left-leaning “champions of human rights” and who consider themselves to be enlightened antiracists, are casually referring to all people of color as “rasifierad” (racialized).
racialize [rey-shuh-lahyz] : to impose a racial interpretation or ascribe an ethnic or racial identity to an individual or a group that does not necessarily identify itself as such.
Just about every dictionary and website detailing the origins of the word “racialized” will explain that race has been disproven as having a biological basis, that it is purely a social construct, and that to be racialized is to be stereotyped, discriminated against and judged on the erroneous social construct of race. However, in Sweden, the term is gaining popularity in casual everyday contexts and may not necessarily refer to any specific incidents of racialization whatsoever:
“While you were out at lunch, a racialized man came by to ask for you.”
“We’re so proud of our diversity. We have 11 racialized employees in our company.”
“Twenty people came to the party, of which 10 were racialized and we all had such a great time!”
Hats off to Sweden! On a per capita basis, Swedes are by far the most generous nation in terms of international aid and refugee intake. There is no mistaking their good intentions. However, they do teeter between extremes and come up with some very quirky methods of dealing with issues of race and gender equality.
On one hand: feminists claim to speak for women and fight for their voices to be heard. In what is known as the Interpretive Prerogative principle (see below), feminists agree that ultimately, only women can and should speak for women.
One the other hand: feminists want to rid the world of genderized identities completely, and they will achieve this by overriding the right of every individual to determine their own expression of gender.
The World Economic Forum may have designated Sweden as the most gender-equal country in the world in 2010, but for feminist Swedes, gender equality is not enough — true utopia is achieved only when the nation is fully gender-neutral. They are pushing for the gender-neutral pronoun “hen” to replace “he” and “she” in all schools and children’s books, official documents, etc. Gender identity is supposedly a superfluous social construct that causes more harm than good. The Green Party proposed placing Thought Police gender pedagogues at every preschool in the capital. One preschool removed “free playtime” from its schedule, because when children play freely, “stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion and the seed to bullying.” Apparently, hen proponents do not see any problem with micromanaging every detail of children’s interactions, or problematizing minute aspects of their lives, from how they form friendships to what games they play and what songs they sing.
Was the slate forever wiped clean with one well-intentioned hammer of the gavel? Will there ever be any recourse for the victims of race-based crimes instituted by Sweden? With the word “race” removed and official documents sanitized, the actions of the State Institute for Race Biology — which directed acts of genocide against the indigenous Sami, and which developed ideas eugenics and ethnic cleansing that were subsequently adopted by Nazi Germany — will never be addressable on a national level.[4-7]
On one hand: the removal of the word “race” is supposed to magically make racial problems disappear. In 2014, the Swedish government outlawed the word “race” from all legislation. Although the idea was to acknowledge the absence of any biological basis for “race” and to prevent race-based ideology from fomenting racism or being entered into the constitution, the National Association of Afro-Swedes pointed out, correctly, that the motion served only to deprive the public of a tool for addressing legitimate issues, such as institutionalized racism and discrimination.
One the other hand: the race label is casually being imposed on all nonwhites. FI explains “racialization” as something that occurs to anyone who is perceived as nonwhite due to their physical appearance or name. Their literature habitually uses the term “racialized” as a normalized descriptor alongside male/female, young/old, white/nonwhite, etc.:
“FI has succeeded in mobilizing an impressive list of parliamentary candidates comprising 9 racialized women among the top 20 candidates. FI has the best representation among all the parties, in terms of youth, racialized, women and low-income earners.”
“This argumentation guide was created for racialized feminists, but serves excellently as an insight guide for white feminists too.”
Another major proponent of the term is rummet.se, a feminist-antiracist online forum that excludes whites with the aim of creating a safe space and undiluted platform for “the racialized” to define their own experiences of racialization. Not surprisingly, “rasifierad” was easily criticized by racists as a term designed to create polarity between white and nonwhite groups, and to isolate and demonize the entire white ethnic Swedish demographic:
“It is obvious to me that the term is a form of vengeance, an inversion of the term ‘Negro,’ and it was created with the aim of offending others. Instead of defining and delimiting one group among many, everyone is defined as belonging to one group, with the exception of just one specific group (in this case, white, ethnic Swedes). In this manner, they naively believe that they can circumvent the conflict that a racist definition would entail, while claiming to be antiracist.”
So, which way do you want it, FI?
As I understand it, one of two things is happening here. We can’t have it both ways. Either:
If it’s A., then, by that logic, are white people “raceless?” Are they never racialized? Can we also casually refer to all white people as “privileged” and insist that there’s no negative undertone to it?
If it’s B., then are we at liberty to stigmatize people with their daily negative experiences? Should we also be allowed to casually replace the word “female/women” with “sexualized/objectified?” How about “sexually objectified?”
“We confront images of women as sex objects daily.”
—FI political platform 
Tolkningsföreträde — interpretive prerogative
One of the main pillars of FI ideology is known as tolkningsföreträde — interpretive prerogative.[12-14] It is akin to self-determination and refers to the preferential right of interpretation. It means that those who belong to a particular demographic are entitled to speak for themselves and that their expressed experience should take precedence over the interpretations of anyone outside of that demographic. Essentially, men may try to speak for how women feel, but ultimately, a woman’s interpretation of the female experience supersedes his opinions. This is an important point, or men could claim in court that women “enjoy being raped” and that they’re just being “hysterical” about it when “no actual harm” is done.
So, do I get to exercise my interpretive prerogative?
Or do other people get to define me according to their interpretation of my experience?
I am probably not alone in this, but speaking for myself, I can think of nothing more insulting than to be casually referred to as a racialized man (when not referring to a specific racist incident): “Oh, I was watching a racialized guitarist play last night.”
The FI’s stated assumption is that any nonwhite person is inescapably victimized by racialization. As much as Ibattle ignorance and confront daily racism, as much as I get racialized from time to time, I do NOT want to automatically be assigned a “victim” badge, thanks! I believe in the good in people and that a lot of regular normal nonracist interaction takes place in my life without crossing into the realm of racialization. I will only say I have been racialized on a case-by-case basis, if a specific incident warrants it. I never want that to be my default description.
For the record, I’m about as pro-women’s rights and pro-environment as can be, but the Feminists and Greens have completely lost me here!
©Zak Keith 2016