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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Speaking Swedish while Black in Norway

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Swedes are almost unambiguously considered White in Norway and, therefore, labeled as non-strangers and non-marked. One of the most striking aspects of studying young Swedish labor migrants to the Norwegian capital is their positioning vis-à-vis the (White) majority and other (Black) minorities; they are immigrants categorized as “not quite” or “not real” immigrants. However, this position is contested in different ways, among other things, by othering processes taking place through the microaggressions of “What are you?” encounters, when linguistic differences are noted. This article argues that Swedes are an invisible, but audible, minority in Norway, categorized as outsiders not through phenotypical difference but through linguistic otherness. This labeling through language takes on extra dimensions when the individual migrants in question do not fit phenotypically with the stereotypical understanding of Swedes as the epitome of Northern European Whiteness. Many Swedes arriving in Norway as migrants are neither blond nor blue-eyed; they may be adopted, be of mixed race, or have Middle Eastern, Asian, or African family backgrounds. This article discusses aspects of the negotiations that take place in the intersection of phenotype and linguistic labeling when Swedes are Black migrants in Norway.

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