The idea of a Scandinavian utopia has become a recurrent theme in American media. Countries like Denmark, Norway or Sweden have better quality of life than the United States, some argue, and many Scandinavians enjoy a better work life balance than Americans. Others point to these countries' more progressive gender equality, affordable education, or their low level of gun crime as examples of Scandinavian superiority.
However, the concept of the Scandinavian utopia hasn't convinced everyone, and as of this weekend the idea has an influential new critic: American rapper Snoop Dogg.
In a series of Instagram videos posted over the weekend, Snoop detailed how he had been briefly detained in the Swedish town of Uppsala on suspicion of possessing marijuana after a show on Saturday. While Snoop was released after taking a urine test at a local police station, he had no kind words for his treatment, accusing officers of racially profiling him.
Snoop told his Swedish fans he would "never be back to your country, it's been real."
Whatever the exact circumstances of Snoop's situation, he isn't the first to suggest that racism is an issue in Sweden. In recent years, the country's attitude to race has sometimes been confounding to outsiders. In 2012, Swedish culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth faced calls to resign after eating a cake that depicted a naked black woman (the artist behind the cake, a black Swedish man, said that the cake had been misinterpreted). Earlier this year, Sweden's Ornithological Society announced it would be officially renaming several birds with racially offensive Swedish names.
As strange as those examples may be, a series of arson attacks earlier this year were a reminder that racism and xenophobia could have very real effects in the country. "We have a feeling that society is turning against us," a Somali-born imam at one of the destroyed mosques told the New York Times in March.
These attacks do seem to suggest a shift in Swedish society. For decades, Sweden has shown a truly remarkable willingness to become a refuge for those fleeing from persecution or war. Officially neutral during World War II, the country accepted Jews and anti-Nazi activists with open arms and this national policy of openness has continued until the 21st century – in 2013, the country was by far the largest recipient of asylum-seekers per capita of any country in the OECD, accepting almost all refugees from Syria, for example.
However, recent electoral results show that not everyone in Sweden is happy with having such an open society. In last year's general election, the far-right Sweden Democrats won 13 percent of the vote, becoming the third-most-popular political party in the country. That party has capitalized on anti-immigration sentiment, and critics say its roots in Swedish fascism and white supremacy – one party candidate had to resign recently after a photograph emerged of her wearing a swastika.
The rise of the Sweden Democrats may conflict with the view many Swedes have of their own society as an open and tolerant place, but some say that viewpoint clouds the problem of racism in the country. "It is our view that the Swedish philosophy of equality and its public and self-image as a country with non-discrimination and liberal democracy blinds it to the racism faced by Afro-Swedes and Africans in its midst," the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent concluded in a report released last year. "No country is free of racism and Sweden is not an exception."
Swedish police officers have been accused of racism before. In 2009, a local Swedish newspaper found that two offensive names ("Neger Niggersson" and "Oskar Neger") were given to imaginary suspects during an official police training exercise. After riots hit the Stockholm suburbs in 2013, there were claims that the officers at the scene had used words like "monkeys," "rats," and the n-word to refer to non-white rioters.
Even so, Swedish officials have dismissed claims that Snoop's arrest was racially motivated, with one police spokesman telling TMZ, "we don't work like that in Sweden." They say instead that Snoop was arrested as his driver appeared to be under the influence of an illegal substance, and the results of Snoop's urine test were still forthcoming.
There may be some weight to that argument: In an interview with Billboard, Swedish 'Idol’ judge and record producer Alexander Bard suggests that Sweden's zero tolerance drug laws were to blame for Snoop's arrest. He argues the arrest was actually part of a Swedish phenomenon of high-profile drug arrests he called "celebrity profiling," with Justin Bieber another recent victim.
If true, it wouldn't be the first time that Snoop Dogg has fallen foul of the surprisingly stringent Scandinavian drug laws: In 2012, the rapper was banned from entering Norway for two years after he was found to be carrying eight grams of cannabis. At the time, Snoop's lawyer said he could "live with the decision."
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