Colorism/Shadeism Project

Nandi: Being Biracial in Sweden

I grew up in a medium size city in Sweden in a pretty multicultural area. I don’t remember when I realized I was “different” from most of the other kids because I had light skin and straight hair. I just remember wanting to have bangs like the other girls in daycare; this lead me to cut my bangs myself at around age 4 or 5. I was very disappointed when my bangs did not lay down over my forehead like the bangs of my friends, but instead stood up reaching for the sky.

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Having a white mother (from Germany) and a black father (from South Africa) wasn’t strange to me; my parents had several friends that were couples with the same constellation so I grew up with plenty of other biracial kids around me. The issue of race as such wasn’t really addressed by my parents, it wasn’t anything to talk about. As they were active in the anti-racist movement and I joined them to meetings and at demonstrations I grew up always knowing that racism existed. It wasn’t until I started school when a lot of questions came from children around me about why my father was so dark and why my hair was the way it was. I remember kids saying my hair was like the fur of a poodle which made me upset.

There was a big lack of people that looked like me in all aspects of society; TV, books, teachers, etc. Sweden is very much a predominantly white country. I had my first black teacher in grade 9 and he was a gym teacher. I think there were just not enough biracial people older than me for me to see them frequently. When I meet biracial children now I realize that I’m that adult biracial person that I never saw, and sometimes I see it in the child’s eyes, they stare as if to say “You look like me!”

Though I’ve visited my mother’s side of the family frequently and have lived in Sweden for most of my life, there’s always been a sense of not belonging here and that is amplified by the subtle (and sometimes very blunt) racism that exists in Sweden. Being biracial (black/white) is classified as being “mulatt” (the Swedish word for mulatto). For a long time this was the only word I ever heard to describe my biracial identity. When I found out the history behind this word I stopped using it. Most people still seem to use it and don’t want to understand why they shouldn’t use it or the n-word – they just claim it’s not a big deal even if we (people of African descent) tell them not to use it. A lot of people also want to label you when you are biracial in Sweden, putting you in whatever box they think you should be in saying things like “But you aren’t dark like them.” meaning I’m not dark skinned so I’m not African or implying I’m better than my darker skinned brothers and sisters because I have a white parent. Or “But you are half” meaning I’m half white, half black, something that still bothers me as an adult because I’m not half, I’m one whole person.

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Having a biracial child is also seen as something sought after, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard things like “I’ve always wanted a mulatto baby, you are so cute” like we are some kind of “thing” you aquire as an accessory. It’s clear that these people never stop to think about the complexities that come with being in an interracial relationship as well as raising a biracial child in a world where brown skin is still seen as inferior.

I’ve also had to deal with an incredible amount of ignorance when it comes to my parents still being together. So many people I meet assume that my parents are not together. Unfortunately I think this comes from the fact that a lot of interracial relationships don’t last. I think it is because people haven’t thought about the ramifications that come along with dating someone from another race and culture and the issues you may face.

Being biracial you can sometimes feel like you don’t belong anywhere and people don’t want to “claim you” and I felt that way a lot growing up in Sweden. But as an adult and after I became a parent I’ve realize regardless of what people say I define me so I can be both biracial and black, I can be both African and European. I think people should have a right to define themselves and not be labelled by others. 

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