Sunday, October 3, 2010

Swedish Profiling

"Vikings Strike Fear Again." That was the headline in our local newspaper, accompanied by an ample-sized photo of students wearing fake steel helmets with plastic cattle horns protruding from the sides. This costumery is, I assume, a larkish attempt to depict a Viking, the mascot of Niles North High School. The foolish, hurtful, mockery sits heavy on the hearts of Scandinavian people. People of Swedish descent, like myself, are not ruthless warriors to be feared. It's wearisome being portrayed in such a fashion and adds to the burden of being a Swedish person in a country full of Swede-loathers. All too often, I've witnessed women clutching their purses to their sides and crossing the street when they see me walking towards them. It's quite apparent what they're thinking: "Oh my word, here's one of those fearsome Viking warriors, I'd better scurry away." And who can blame them; it's not their fault, what with being barraged by the popular media portraying us as uncivilized pillagers.

It's a wonder how the Swedish bakeries in Andersonville, Chicago's old Swedish neighborhood, stay in business with all the scurrilous imagery heaped upon them. The other day, while trying to quickly eat some Swedish pancakes at Ann Sather's restaurant, I spilled lingonberries all over myself, and then, so as not to draw attention to my Swedish condiment, I exclaimed out loud, "Darn, these RASPberries are slippery!"

Quite often I ponder pretending to be full-blooded Swiss, just so people won't judge me by preconceived, stereotyped notions. Actually, I'm half Swiss, half Swedish, a half-breed, just like that Cher song. But its been a long time since I've let that cat out of the bag. Since high school, in fact. I was a proud member of my high school Swiss club until the day I wore my lederhosen to English class, and the perfectly-coiffed Shari Silverman wondered out loud why a herd of goats wasn't following me and why I didn't yodel and play the accordion. She got a big laugh at my expense. For the remainder of high school, it was jeans and a leather jacket and the refuge of a crowd that Shari Silverman wouldn't dare approach. The lederhosen remain tucked away in the back of my dresser drawer, and I've been all-Swedish ever since.

Another unsettling nettle is the police. As much as I'd like to think the police are fair-minded, they have far too much discretionary power, and it's plain as day what's really happening when I get pulled over for a traffic stop: Swedish profiling. It happens so often that I've come to expect it, even on my bicycle, with the officer offering the trumped-up excuse that there's been a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood. Translation: Swedish profiling. And I know what they're thinking when they're looking at my driver's license and checking my record: "What god does this guy worship, Odin or the regular one."

And its been a wearisome twenty years of apologizing for the ABBA craze (which, really, was entirely out of my hands). Sometimes I entertain the thought of leaving my furry vest and battle sword at home, just to avoid the uncharitable attention and the tiresome explanation that I am not one of the much-feared pillage people.

I like to say, "Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my clogs."