Challenging Swedish Exceptionalism and White Privilege: Media Discourses on Rummet

Shades of Whiteness

The aim of this chapter is to challenge Swedish exceptionalism, the nationally specific white identity that constructs Sweden as antiracist, gender equal and detached from a colonial past. We will analyse the discursive representations on ’Rummet, a separatist online-platform for ‘racialized’ antiracists and feminists, which received critical reactions in Swedish news media, when launched in 2014. Rummet enables discussions on racism in the everyday and exposes racist structures concealed within the processes of racialization in Sweden. To analyse the responses to Rummet, we engage theoretically with critical whiteness studies and postcolonial feminism and methodologically with critical discourse analysis. Our chapter draws on chronicles, editorial blogs, TV and radio programs, which together constitutes the media response to Rummet. We examine whiteness as a structural privilege through two interrelated processes: the first, ‘possession of rooms’ reinstates the normativity of whiteness by dispossessing non-white bodies. This orientation, arguably, is connected to a (post)colonial discourse, which facilitates the normative accessibility of white people to certain ‘rooms’, while disallowing others. Thus, the white room is constructed as neutral, while the nonwhite is seen as exclusionary and racist. The second process relates to the ‘privilege of interpretation’ whereby white bodies take precedence in interpreting reality, while the experiences of non-whites are marginalized and rendered invisible. The established media, we will argue, uses its discursive power to delegitimize experiences other than white, and inadvertently sustains Swedish exceptionalism. Through constructions such as ‘victim-cardigans’ and ‘buzz word’, white privilege reinforces its moral high ground and depoliticizes the issue of racism. Furthermore the white logic is positioned as the only valid ‘voice’, which deflects and dehumanizes ‘racialized’ experiences in the Swedish context. The presence of an alternative room such as Rummet agitates, provokes and creates friction with the status quo within which Swedish exceptionalism is embedded.