Bildpolitiken: YLVA HABELBildpolitiken: YLVA HABEL – Images of a Raceless Nation? …


4. Teil der Ringvorlesung Bildpolitiken der Fakultät Null und Interflugs Lecture Series:

Ylva Habel

“Images of a Raceless Nation? Cinema, Visual Culture and the Black Presence in Sweden”

23. 06. 11 – 19:30 – UdK Berlin – Hardenbergstr. 33 / Raum 110

Several scholars have argued that Sweden images itself as a race-less country, allegedly less affected by postcolonial relations than other nations by virtue of its welfare politics, and its democratic, tolerant and egalitarian principles. Even as this national discourse – situated within a larger discursive framework of Nordic exceptionalism – has been contested in cultural as well as academic writing, it is forcefully reproduced, and repeatedly posits attempts to address racism on a structural level as biased. Furthermore, despite the somewhat belated rise of intersectional, postcolonial, critical race and whiteness studies in Sweden, liberal color-blindness more often than not constitutes the default value of our media production. Speaking with Toni Morrison, “the habit of ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, even generous liberal gesture. To notice is to recognize an already discredited difference.” Considered a “sensitive” question, or even as a non-issue in public discourse, the social significance of racial difference tends to be associated with naturalized, yet unnamed, bodily coded markers of “ethnicity” and “culture”.

In accordance with recent scholarly writing on Nordic exceptionalism, I would claim that a particular dynamic of collective amnesia characterizes the Nordic countries relationship to our share in the colonial past. In Swedish public discussions and cultural representations, discussions on race constantly need to be rebooted and kept on a comparably low level of problematization in order to be accepted, and the particular category of skin color is often subterfuged.

However, making such a claim does not mean that cultural negotiations around racial issues are scarcer in Swedish media than elsewhere. Rather, in accordance with a Foucauldian understanding of disciplinarity and power, images of, and discussions around race are differentiated, disseminated and mobilized according to parameters of genre, medium specificity and political context. Taking my point of departure in this problematic, I will consider how Blackness signifies within a range of contemporary filmic representations where an ethics of tolerance is thematized. Following the argument of Wendy Brown, I ask what particular political/cultural operations “tolerance discourse” serves to enable within a larger arena of media production, and in what ways it situates issues of skin color.


Ylva Habel is Assistant Professor and Research Fellow at the Department of Media and Communications Studies at Södertörn University College. She defended her dissertation Modern Media, Modern Audiences: Mass Media and Social Engineering in the 1930s Swedish Welfare State in 2002. Her current project, with the working title ”Black Impulse: The Stockholm Reception of the African-American artists Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson”, focuses upon the media discourses on stardom, race and gender in this context. Her resarch interest revolve around the intersections between critical whiteness studies, postcolonial perspectives, media history, and cultural studies.