(Check out Part II: An Interview with Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom)
“Racial biology taught the general population to differentiate between the superior Aryan race and undesirable others, communication to the public at large through literature, films and cartoons directly.”
-Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, Illustrator & Cartoonist
Last month, I found this article on the Internets that talked about “Gook Humor”—or, more broadly, “Chink Humor”—in Sweden. The article was a response to a long-standing yellowface sketch (think Saturday Night Live) by a popular comedy collective called Killinggänget, co-authored by illustrator and comic book artist extraordinaire Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom and Swedish race and whiteness scholar Tobias Hübinette—both Korean adoptees.
I snapped awake from my drug-like addiction to Swedish noir and Ikea meatball combo plates and was like, what? Racism? In Sweden? Sweden, the homeland of racial biology and eugenics? The Aryan nation that forced the sterilization of thousands of Sami women; expressed delight at eating and mutilating the blackface cake rendition of a woman’s body; has some of the most vibrant ultranationalist and neo-Nazi anti-Muslim movements in the world; supplied the iron shackles and “voyage bar” currency used to capture and trade enslaved Africans, and one of the White nations that divided up Africa during the Berlin conference.
All sarcasm aside, the sketch was a perfect example of the ubiquity of Orientalism, which points to the ubiquity of White supremacy and its manifestation in popular media. The sketch is called “My Singing Korean Adoptive Pears.” Part of the joke is that the informal word for “parents” is “pears” in Swedish, and the “R” in the title is replaced with “L”, also playing with the stereotype that Koreans can’t pronounce “R” sounds properly.
The lazy ass actors on this show don’t even bother with high production value yellowface—I’m talking Cloud Atlas or Flash Gordon style—and instead simply squint and stick their upper teeth out, speaking some whispery lisping gibberish that is supposed to be Korean-inflected Swedish.
As someone who grew up in around Latinos and Asians and some Asian Latinos and Asian Caribbean folk, the diaspora is often on my mind. I reached out to Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom to connect and she graciously agreed to share her experiences and perspective of the Asian Swedish experience, as well as the current adoption trade in Sweden.
“Racism against Asians isn’t really recognized as being racist at all, and even in the anti-racist movements it seems to remain invisible,” Lisa wrote in an email to me. She talked to me about the hyper/invisibility that is remarkably the same to what AAPI’s experience in the U.S. She talked to me about the macro-structural impact of the adoption trade—essentially a “colonial project” that is, very plainly, the “involuntary transferal of hundreds and thousands of non-Western children on a worldwide scale after formal decolonization as a clear reflection of a global colonial reality and racial hierarchy, and a grim reminder of the still existing astronomical power imbalance between the West and its former colonies,” as described by Lisa’s coauthor in another article.
I have long argued that the depoliticization and assimilation of AAPIs are themselves expressions of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. When one considers the forced assimilation of non-White transnational adoptees, in conjunction with Sweden’s famous reputation as a haven of equality—so much so that the government wants to literally erase race from the public record—it’s no surprise that consciousness building is a huge part of the struggle against anti-Asian racism.
Lisa described the situation for the almost 60,000 predominantly non-White children adopted in Sweden during the last half a century: “[T]ransracial adoptees in particular are taught to identify as White and to not see themselves as being different…. The national amnesia regarding eugenics, and Sweden’s colonial past, combined with a radical colorblindness and a deep-seated belief that we are somehow post-race, creates a culture of denial, and an environment where it is impossible to seriously address racism.”
Amen to that, sister. Read the Lisa’s full responses to my questions in Part II: An Interview with Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom.