Don’t Mention the War

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After weeks of profound gender-awareness, usually surrounding International Women’s Day, Diversity & Inclusion fatigue is almost tangible. I should know better than test the readers’ patience and move on to a more novel topic. Yet I can’t quite let it go. I can’t shake off a guilty feeling: the realisation of being extremely ill-equipped to face the herd of elephants in the diversity room.

It is not just me, of course. Up here in the Nordics, our notorious reluctance to approach any aspect of diversity, apart from those related to gender-equality, borders on squeamishness. Just go ahead and mention ethnicity, race or religion if you want to see squirming in a meeting room. That said, Nordic netizens tend to be rather ‘woke’; quick to embrace, say, Black Lives Matter and passionately support the anti-racist movement raging across the ocean, on social media and from a distance at least. Home turf, however, is a different matter.

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Nowadays it is difficult to invoke our region’s homogeneity as a valid explanation anymore. In Sweden, for instance, almost 20 % of the citizens were born outside the country. Yet no matter how many reprimands we get from heavy-weight organisations like the United Nations or the European Council, we keep avoiding the issue of D&I in a broader sense. We are embarrassed, of course, we might even apologise (I should know, having done it on a couple of occasions just this past week) and then we go back to our unspoken understanding of treating the subject as a ‘no-go zone’.

Denial is a common, if seldom successful, reaction to complexity. And this is a complicated matter indeed. On the one hand, I do sympathise with the Nordic reluctance to label people based on externalities such as country of origin, skin colour or religious beliefs. Those are often irrelevant, some might even say non-existent[1], differentiators. Reducing individuals to a group, defined by such arbitrary common denominators, is hard to justify, even when the noble objective is to avoid discrimination against them.

On the other hand, my guess is that the Nordics are just as afflicted by biases and prejudices as any other part of the world. Never mind Olof Palme’s hopeful statement that “murky racial theories have never found a foothold here. We like to see ourselves as open-minded and tolerant.” Alas, plenty of anecdotal evidence shows that it is not always the case. And how are we to ever know the current state of D&I in our corner of the planet if we don’t dare talk about it, let alone measure it properly?

As I see it, we have a choice. We can keep bragging about our top-notch gender-equality standards (not that we are anywhere near to solving this ‘easy’ part of the equation, mind you) and pretend that other D&I aspects do not exist. Or we can create an inclusive environment for openly discussing even sensitive issues like racism, integration or just ‘mentioning the war’. By the way, if you are too young to recognise the tile’s quote from 70’s British sitcom ‘Faulty Towers’, you are in luck. Only recently, BBC-owned streaming service UKTV decided to reinstate the episode which includes the famous quote, after taking it down earlier for containing “racial slurs”. At least somebody opted for facing those elephants.

[1] Just a few years ago, in 2014, the Swedish government announced that the word ‘race’ should be erased from all existing legislation, arguing that race does not exist.

 

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