Every now and then there are critical voices that shine through fearlessly. One of these is that of Aminkeng A. Alemanji, a Cameroonian researcher who defended successfully in October 2016 his doctoral dissertation on anti-racism education.
Migrant Tales spoke to Alemanji on anti-racism education and Otherness in Finland. Why should anti-racism education be the standard at our schools versus multicultural and intercultural education?
“When racialized victims cannot name their experiences of racism as racism, then racism, does not exist,” he writes in his dissertation, “the scope for local anti-racism activities becomes very limited, as it prevents antiracism efforts from flourishing or persisting.”
Alemanji’s dissertation got a lot of media attention in newspapers like Jyväskylä daily Keskisuomalainen.
It is a paradox but when we spread catchwords like social equality to minorities we play into the trap of Finnish exceptionalism.
“The issue in Finland is that we’re officially told that we are all [irrespective of our background] equal members of society but unofficially it is another story,” he continues. “If we claim that we are all equal, issues like racism cannot be tackled.”
According to Alemanji, a good example of the latter is the “appalling” treatment of minorities like Somalis, who were born in Finland and are Finnish citizens and other non-white children who are often asked to go back home – when paradoxically their only home they know is Finland.
He says that the denial of the existence of racism through claims of equality – we’re all equal members of society – means that minorities are stuck in a no man’s land where they support the present order of things or what he refers to as “the imperfection of the Other.”
“There are traces of non-white immigration to Finland as early as the 1970s,” he writes in his dissertation. “However, the 1990s are when large numbers of non-white immigrants [Somalis] started coming to Finland to establish and maintain the hierarchies that put the dominant group at the top and the Other at the bottom.”
Alemanji continues: “[Ta-Neishi] Coats reminds us that ‘a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below,’ and in Finland it is the OTHER (especially the non-white other) as a result of his/her ‘imperfection’ (his/her non-white) that is below – the valley necessary for the mountain [the dominant group] to be a mountain.”
According to the researcher, all of these racialized experiences that visible minorities experience at Finnish schools are inflicted to the pupil at a very early age. Such children are taught that being a Finn means having a certain name, skin color and religious background.
“Despite this, such kids are taught that they are equal members of society,” he adds.
The term “pupil with migrant background” is a good example of how children boxed in at Finnish schools.
“In my opinion, that label should be stricken because it’s exclusive, not inclusive,” he adds.
Alemanji has lived in Finland for over eight years and, as a protest and conscious of his Otherness refuses to learn the Finnish language.
“I have made a career in Finland with English even if it isn’t easy but it’s not impossible,” he continues. “One indicator that is used to measure success in Finland is how well one speak the language. Speaking Finnish is not the only important variable for success in Finland. Language is racializing tool used to discriminate and maintain the imperfection of the Other”
Alemanji hopes that the findings in his dissertation will help teachers in Finland to understand themselves and the Others better.
“I didn’t do my doctoral dissertation for the media attention although it is important that these issues are given a space in the media as a platform for more discussions” he concludes. “I did it so the institutions in this country would do something in earnest to better the lives of those children who do not have a place in “traditional” Finnish institutions and spaces.”