Ever wondered why all of Finland’s history is white? Ever wondered why you probably never heard of Rosa Emilia Clay (1875-1959), Finland’s first black citizen?
According to Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s oldest daily established in 1824, Åbo Underrättelser, ran a story of “a mulatto girl born in Africa and baptized there [in Amboland in northern Namibia].” Then thirteen-year-old Rosa Emila Clay was traveling to Finland with Finnish missionary Karl Weikkolin. She described her first impressions according to a biography published in 1942 by Arvo Lindewall:
“Immediately when the Turku archipelago came into sight, I started to like the environment for some unknown reason, and when the mainland came into view, I immediately fell in love with this new home country of mine in the far north, although I knew that being an African, I might suffer from much derision and scorn.”
Clay studied to become a teacher in 1898 and got her Finnish citizenship a year later. Her first job as a teacher was in the Northern Savo village of Mustinlahti, located 67km south of Kuopio.
An interesting question is how a dark-skinned teacher got along in a small rural Finnish village at the turn of the century. We know that when she arrived at Mustinlahti a farmer had spat at her and stated: “Did they send this kind of black Negro hag to us as a teacher? Even the kids would be afraid of a devil like that.”
Clay moved to Tampere and taught there for three years until she migrated to the United States in the summer of 1904.
Her acceptance by the local Finnish community in the United States was made easy thanks to her perfect Finnish. Clay joined the Finnish socialists, directed a choir, plays, sang and performed at Finnish community halls, according to Helsingin Sanomat.
Her grandchild Normalee Johnsson wrote in a letter dated June 2009: “When mother died, we learned her secret: we had African blood in our veins! Finally we understood why mother always wore a bonnet and long sleeves in the summer. What we could not understand is why she kept our African, Arab, and English heritage a secret. For a while it was shocking that I didn’t know who I really was.”
It doesn’t matter who Clay was ethnically whether African, Arab or English. One matter, however, is for certain: She was a prominent member of our culturally and ethnically diverse society, which Finland denied existed.
A blog called Sielunmaisema correctly points out that there were black people living in Finland before the nineteenth century.
She writes: “The story of Africans in Finland goes back to the 19th century, when the country was a remote Grand Duchy under Russia. Which is true in a way because there was no Finland as we think of it before that time, but also a big fat white washing lie, because there most definitely were Black people in these parts of the world throughout the history, even if we’re not taught about them in school. It had never even crossed my mind that we get taught a white washed version of our own history, except in regards of the erasure of Sami and Roma peoples, but it seems obvious now that I think of it.”
Clay is a perfect example of how white Finnish privilege is taught at schools. It means that visible minorities, never mind migrants, have no official history. Everything important that took place in Finland during independence was done by whites or people who hid their backgrounds.
This myth and social construct of the white Finn is what has killed cultural diversity.
We must not allow this to happen any longer. We must start writing Finland’s Other history.
- Defining white Finnish privilege #1: I have it and you don’t
- Defining white Finnish privilege #2: Third culture children versus “pupil with immigrant background”
- Defining white Finnish privilege #3 No history, no doctrine, no heroes and no martyrs
- Defining white Finnish privilege #4 Holding the short end of the stick
- Defining white Finnish privilege #5 It’s ok to be a racist
- Defining white Finnish privilege #6 Not having a voice and the media
- Defining white Finnish privilege #7 A definitive guide
- Defining white Finnish privilege #8 Underrated and less intelligent
- Defining white Finnish privilege #9 Mohammad Ali’s insight
- Defining white Finnish privilege #10 I can victimize and make up any story I like about migrants because I’m white
- Defining white Finnish privilege #11: Case Teuvo Hakkarainen
- Defining white Finnish privilege #12: Case Tom Packalén
- Defining white Finnish privilege #13: Case Matti Putkonen
- Defining white Finnish privilege #14: Losing sight of the real issue
- Defining white Finnish privilege #15: Case Halla-aho and the PS