- Implicitly White:Right-Wing Nihilism and the Politicizing of Ethnocentrism in Multiracial Sweden
We sat at a café in Stockholm's sleepy northern district on a snowy March afternoon. Johan and I had tried to find a secluded table where we could speak freely, but we had to settle for a spot in the center of the crowded room. As we began to talk, those around us grew quiet. Some stared. Some gathered their belongings and left. We were accustomed to this and knew there was no point trying to edit our conversations. Besides, Johan had something important to tell me this afternoon, about a folk rock concert in the city the previous summer. He described the event:
I was very surprised. There was free admission, true, but I was still very surprised by 'the turn out.' As it so happened, this very concert had the public attendance record. There were 6,000 people there. And there was an unbelievable … ah … it's kind of a political term … but a feeling of a 'people's community.'1 There were 6 … I struggled to get pictures. There were people everywhere, absolutely everywhere. … But of those 6,000, who were really engaged in the concert—there was a lot of Swedish music—and of those 6,000 there wasn't one—not one—from, like, Somalia. There might have been one who looked like you [author]. 6,000. And unbelievable fellowship and enthusiasm, and people sang along at times, and it was all quite telling in a way.(Interview, Johan, March 4, 2011) [End Page 159]
Johan belongs to a dynamic ideological scene in the Nordic countries that scholars refer to variously as "organized racism," "right-wing extremism," "neo-Nazism," and "neofascism," but which today often calls itself "nationalism." These actors may rage against Jews, Muslims, non-whites, liberals, or cosmopolitans, and they conduct their activism through militancy, party politics, journalism, or expressive culture. They are united in their opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, as well as their commitment to the preservation of racial, ethnic, or cultural purity. Likewise, nationalists typically share the status of being the most despised political actors in their respective countries.
I have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork among Swedish nationalists since 2010.2 Throughout the course of my research, I have noticed that a particular brand of activists—those openly advocating ethnic and racial separatism—were eager to talk about a phenomenon they called "implicit whiteness." These ethnonationalists described instances when mainstream white Swedes living in racially diverse urban centers segregated themselves in public. In contrast with so-called white flight—where city-dwelling whites relocate to predominantly white neighborhoods—the segregation they spoke of was often temporary, its community ephemeral, with participants congregating briefly before scattering back into a racially undifferentiated mass. Nationalists allege that the pure white gatherings provide participants with a vital sense of comfort and belonging. But because of the social stigma attached to white solidarity in Western liberal democracies, those involved will never openly tie their behavior and sense of satisfaction to race.
During our conversation at the café, Johan described the audience at the concert as an example of this implicit whiteness—naming the concept toward the end of our conversation. The concert was part of a free public summer performance series held in Stockholm's vibrant Söder district, and it featured the blond-haired folk rock singer Sofia Karlsson. While the event was open to all, Johan claims it attracted a racially homogenous audience. Those in attendance were hardly nationalists; Johan suspected they were more expressly anti-nationalist than average white Swedes. But he claims that the tranquil atmosphere [End Page 160] achieved during the event relied upon the absence of non-whites in the audience and, consciously or subconsciously, those in attendance understood this. He explained that the event cultivated
a sort of belonging and a community built on something that doesn't need to be verbalized. So in a way it is the power of music, that music picks up where words run out and says that which perhaps cannot be said.(Interview, Johan, March 4, 2011)
Often tense, curt, and even evasive during our...