What do Emil in Lönneberga, Anders Zorn’s ”dalkullor”, and Kalle on Kalles kaviar have in common? They’re all Swedish, blond, and blue-eyed. Being blond and blue-eyed is something very strongly connected to ”Swedishness”. But is it a true image? In a new book called ”Blond och blåögd” (Blond and blue-eyed), the myth is examined.
In the fall of 2011, journalist Patrik Lundberg caused commotion because of his article about the predjudice against Asians. The example of so-called Kinapuffar candy (Chinese puffs) and the bright yellow Asian man with a coolie hat, quickly turned into a debate. Fazer, the brand that produces the chocolate, then pulled back the logo.

What about Kalle on the tube of Kalle’s kaviar then? One sarcastic debater on Swedish Television called that a ”racist caricature of a typical Swede! This was folloed by Stina Wirsén’s cartoon characters, then came Tintin in Congo, and Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Roth’s pie scandal.
A storm in a teacup? Think what you may, it led to Jeff Werner, Professor of Art History at Stockholm University to write a book.
”It’s been a great debate the past few years, and it is strange how all the time it is about the ’other’. Nobody asks about the norm, the white people,” Werner says. In his new book, ”Blond och blåögd: Vithet, svenskhet och visuell kultur” he states that the image of the Swede as blond blue-eyed is fairly new. In the 18th century, for instance, Benjamin Franklin described Swedes as a non-white, swarthy people, while the Swedes themselves at least not viewed themselves as either blond or blue-eyed.

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”The image of the Swedish appearance came with nationalism,” says Werner. ”Before that, people talked more about customs and practices, rather than skin tone. Only at the end of the 1800’s , the view that you can actually tell a real Swede by looking at him, is developed.” Because of artists like Anders Zorn and Carl Larson, the national romantic image of the blond Swede is established. And what has it all led to? Today, people who look like their ”not Swedish” are being controlled, says Werner. ”In ads, films, and pictures the image of Swedes as white, blond, and blue-eyed is kept alive. What’s so unpleasant is that all statistics show that it is getting harder to get a job and housing if you don’t look ’Swedish’.” The director Osmond Karim’s new documentary ”Raskortet” (the Race Card) deals with black Swedes and their experiences of modern racism. That the image of the Swede means something for the person who deviates from it, is something of which Karim is convinced. ”At my children’s school there’s a teacher who speaks English with me, even though I always answer in Swedish. Her mind is completely locked, herimage of me is not consistent with what I really say. So how will this image affect people when I apply for a job?” In ”Blond och blåögd”, Sweden is described as becoming more and more blond every decade, the stronger the image of a ”Swedish” appearance becomes. In the book the thesis ”Svenska latinas” (Swedish Latinas) is mentioned, in which sociologist Catrin Lundström describes Swedish immigrant girls who bleack their hair and get blue contact lenses in order to appear more Swedish.
”Werner’s book is important since it hightlights an image that is not true. Somewhere the ideal got so strong that we cannot determine whether or not it is true anymore. Is your reflection different? Then bleach your hair,” Osmond Karim says.