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  • White Like Me:Whiteness in Scandinavian Transnational Adoption Literature
  • Sabina Ivenäs1


In his pioneering work White, Richard Dyer calls for attention to the study of white people within white Western culture: "This is about how white people are represented, how we represent ourselves—images of white people, or the cultural construction of white people" (Dyer 1997, xiii). The Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, mostly consist of a white population and are therefore well-suited for studies of whiteness. The demographics of the Scandinavian countries are impacted by migration; Sweden has the most liberal immigration policy with approximately 10 percent of its population consisting of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Asia, Africa, or Latin America (Pettersen and Østby 2013). The corresponding number in Denmark and Norway is about 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

This paper problematizes the concept of whiteness by applying it in the context of the Scandinavian transnational/transracial adoptee.2 What is unique about the Scandinavian transracial adoptee is that they [End Page 240] almost exclusively grow up and live in white segregated middle-class environments (Hübinette 2007). Nevertheless, Scandinavian transracial adoptees blend in seamlessly with white Scandinavian society in terms of language, culture, and behavior. At the same time, in contrast to transracial adoptees in more diverse countries such as the United States, Canada, France, Australia, and the Netherlands, the Scandinavian transracial adoptee non-white body becomes extremely concrete (Hübinette 2007, 117). In this paper, which conducts a critical reading of Scandinavian transnational adoption autofiction, I consider how Scandinavian transracial adoptees negotiate the fact that they, as non-white individuals are raised in, and thereby indoctrinated into, the whiteness norm. In line with Dyer's perspective on how whiteness is studied within white Western culture, this paper sets out to explore how self-representation of whiteness is depicted in Scandinavian transnational adoptee autofiction. How do the Scandinavian transnational/transracial adoptees represent themselves as white in literary texts?

Whiteness and Scandinavian Transnational Adoption

Transnational adoption to Scandinavia started during the 1930s, when Jewish children first arrived from Germany. During World War I and II, many German and Finnish children were placed in Scandinavian foster families and later put up for adoption. Transnational adoption, defined as the adoption of non-white children from "Third World" countries to white couples in Western countries (Hübinette 2001), began in the 1950s and boomed after the Korean War. Scandinavians mostly adopted children from Asian, African, and South American countries. The practice of transnational adoption to the Scandinavian countries marks a turning point, in Barbara Yngvesson's words, "because the children were obviously 'different' from the adopting parents and because their placement was understood as permanent" (Yngvesson 2010, 21). What specifies this "difference" is marked by the designation of transracial adoptees as transracial, in other words, non-white.

In "A Phenomenology of Whiteness," Sara Ahmed views whiteness as something that "has been received, or become given, over time" and "orientates bodies in specific directions, affecting how they 'take up' space" (2007, 150). In line with Ahmed, I recognize whiteness, alongside other identity categories, as non-essential and nonfixed. In the Scandinavian countries, whose population is homogenously white, [End Page 241] whiteness is not only a question of Scandinavian identity but also a social norm that Scandinavian transracial adoptees are forced to constantly negotiate (Hübinette 2007; Myong 2009; Yngvesson 2010). Whiteness and racialization are processes that are intensively affected by various circumstances, concrete situations, and relations to other people (cf. Twine 2010). In other words, how whiteness is performed or viewed is extremely circumstantial.

Whiteness has been approached by previous scholarship through studies of racialization of the Scandinavian transracial adoptee (Hübinette 2007; Myong 2009, 2011; Andersson 2010; Yngvesson 2010). This previous research will be used as the foundation for my reading of how adoptees also desire to be white. For example, in her book on race, identity, and transnational adoption, Belonging in an Adopted World (2010), Barbara Yngvesson observes that the transracial adoptee experiences a duality because he or she emotionally feels "Swedish," or white, but has a non-white skin color. Making use of Yngvesson's findings, Malinda...


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