“I want us to trade our skins and our experiences”

Een open brief van de Zweedse auteur Jonas Hassen Khemiri, verschenen in het dagblad Dagens Nyheter, aan minister van Justitie Beatrice Ask, vertaald door Rachel Willson-Broyles voor het tijdschrift Asymptote. De brief van Khemiri werd al snel een van de meest gedeelde teksten in de Zweedse geschiedenis. Lees de brief helemaal, en je zult zien waarom. Behoorlijk heftig. En behoorlijk relevant. Enkele citaten:

I am writing to you with a simple request, Beatrice Ask. I want us to trade our skins and our experiences. Come on. Let’s just do it. […] For twenty-four hours we’ll borrow each other’s bodies. First I’ll be in your body to understand what it’s like to be a woman in the patriarchal world of politics. Then you can borrow my skin to understand that when you go out into the street, down into the subway, into the shopping center, and see the policeman standing there, with the Law on his side, with the right to approach you and ask you to prove your innocence, it brings back memories.


Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Being twelve and going into Mega Skivakademien to listen to CDs, and every time we go there the security guards circle like sharks, they talk into walkie-talkies, they follow us at a distance of only a few meters. And we try to act normal, we strive to make our body language maximally noncriminal. Walk normally, Beatrice. Breathe as usual. Walk up to that shelf of CDs and reach for that Tupac album in a way that indicates you are not planning to steal it.


We sat in the police van for twenty minutes. Alone. But not really alone. Because a hundred people were walking by. And they looked in at us with a look that whispered, “There. One more. Yet another one who is acting in complete accordance with our prejudices.”

And I wish you had been with me in the police van, Beatrice Ask. But you weren’t. I sat there alone. And I met all the eyes walking by and tried to show them that I wasn’t guilty, that I had just been standing in a place and looking a particular way. But it’s hard to argue your innocence in the back seat of a police van.

A certain Minister of Justice explained that this had nothing to do with racial profiling but rather “personal experiences.” The routines of power. The practices of violence. Everyone was just doing their job. The security guards, the police, the customs officials, the politicians, the people.


And tonight in a bar line near you, non-white people systematically spread themselves out so as not to be stopped by the bouncer, and tomorrow in your housing queue those with foreign names are using their partners’ last names so as not to be dropped, and just now, in a job application, a completely average Swede wrote “BORN AND RAISED IN SWEDEN” in capital letters just because she knows what will happen otherwise. Everyone knows what will happen otherwise. But no one does anything.

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