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She Found Her Voice in a W.N.B.A. Locker Room, Then Used It in Sweden

  • July 15, 2020

Zahui B.’s mother, Ann-Sofi, who was born in Sweden and settled in Stockholm after a nomadic childhood, helped start Sara Bokhandel, which claims to be the first Kurdish bookstore in Europe. Zahui B. recalled rifling through children’s books translated into Arabic, like the Swedish classic “Pippi Longstocking.”

But as she grew up, Zahui B. found that the diverse environments she was raised in were largely ignored in much of Sweden.

As an example, she pointed to media representations. There is the popular show “Svenska Hollywoodfruar” (“Swedish Hollywood Wives”), which features a cast of blond-haired and blue-eyed women. And in televised games of the Swedish women’s national team, Zahui B. said, broadcasters flock to her over teammates with darker complexions.

“We don’t really promote people of color out here, and if we do, we are very light,” Zahui B. said.

Sofia Ulver, a marketing professor at Lund University in Sweden, agreed that race was seldom talked about in Sweden. She helped write a study submitted for peer review earlier this month that examined racial and ethnic representation in Swedish television commercials.

Ulver noted a history of legislative efforts in Sweden that have sought to negate race as a concrete source of bias to be considered in lawmaking — an approach that some critics argue ignores the existence of actual racism.

“We have huge integration problems in Sweden,” said Ulver, who added that before World War II, Sweden openly promoted the concept of genetic superiority among certain races. “We have not been good at integrating new multicultural groups that are coming in. It’s hugely segregated.”

Zahui B. said her family always encouraged open dialogue, but it wasn’t until a May 2016 trade to the Liberty that she became comfortable with expressing vulnerability.

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