Finnish Internet policeman spreads stereotypes on Twitter about the Roma

by , under Enrique

Finnish Internet policeman, Marko Forss, has been criticized for spreading stereotypes on Twitter about a Roma who tried to steal a frozen chicken from a market, according to tabloid Iltalehti. Shouldn’t Forss, who monitors hate sites and was named policeman of the year in 2011, know better? 

If it is surprising that Forss can make such a joke publicly, what is even more surprising is his excuse: ”I don’t see any racism in such a joke.”

What did Forss tweet? “Some funny things happen in police work, and for some reason these incidents often involve gypsies. In the best one a gypsy woman drops a frozen chicken from under her clothing in a shop. When police take the group into custody one of the men loudly objects: ‘come on, own up! Who threw that chicken at our Ally?’”*

The issue is not what he thought but how others could interpret and be offended by his so-called joke. Does Forss think that the Roma in Finland are so weathered by racism and social exclusion that they can take a joke that reinforces prejudices that they shoplift for a living?

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Finnish Internet policeman would be working for the Metropolitan Police in London and would make a similar joke about an ethnic group like Pakistanis.

Would he be able to get away with a I-didn’t-think-it-was-racist excuse?

I doubt it.

While we should be careful not to label all Finnish police as public servants who lack cultural sensitivity and savvy, Forss’ comment shows how few visible minorities  there are in the Finnish police force.

* Many thanks go to Justice Demon for the translation.

  1. Mark

    So, a person employed by the police to monitor internet hate speech doesn’t appear to know what hate speech is? I wonder what training or qualifications he has for this post?

    The fact that he’s falling back on the same tired arguments for defending prejudice (i.e. saying people who are offended are too sensitive) is somewhat surprising.

    The ‘joke’ is only funny in a context where the negative stereotype is assumed to have some truth, thus perpetuating the stereotype. Simply saying ‘it’s funny’ is another way of saying, let’s enjoy making use of this negative stereotype to lampoon a minority group in Finland.

    The fact that this ‘humour’ relates to criminal activity is particularly worrying. Imagine as an employer that you have spent an evening reading about Roma jokes involving criminality and the next day, you have to recruit someone for a job, one of the candidates being a Roma. Is it likely to influence you, either consciously or unconsciously? Probably yes. Enjoying the joke demonstrates the same kind of laziness that is often the basis of concrete discrimination.

    Should a person whose specific job it is to identify hate speech be able to understand why they are a form of discrimination and the wider consequences of that discrimination? Absolutely yes.

    He’s basically demonstrating why he’s completely unqualified to do his assigned task. Is that a mark of the ‘sad times in which we live’? It’s a mark of the fact that there are standards required of public servants and that they demonstrate they are qualified to do the work they are paid to do, serving ALL citizens of society, and in this case, ESPECIALLY marginalised citizens.

    Sad that he doesn’t understand this. Sad too that 95% of Iltalehti’s readership are likewise ignorant about even basic discrimination, based on their online poll.

    I think that when people say ‘it’s ‘a joke’, it’s a kind of powerful social defence. People don’t want to be seen or accused of not having a sense of humour, because it’s such an awful social put down. So they go along with racist and bigoted jokes. As for Roma having a sense of humour about this, it appears they have little choice, because when they don’t, they are accused of being ‘too sensitive’.

  2. Toiset Soundit

    What was his (so-called) joke? I do’nt speak sufficiently well Finnish to understand the Ilta-blabla. Could be relevant though. After all humour is not perceived by everybody in the same way.

    So what did he tweet?

  3. 3541Sultan

    Finns arent as racist as people think.

    Im a Turk running a reindeer kebab shop, and they are all very nice to me.

    sure, people make jokes about Turks and other immigrants, but those are just jokes, not hate

    my best friend always jokes around with me too, but I know he doesnt mean it.

    love

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Hi 3541Sultan, welcome to Migrant Tales.

      –sure, people make jokes about Turks and other immigrants, but those are just jokes, not hate

      Why should they make any jokes about a person’s ethnicity? Public officials, especially policemen, have different standards. Isn’t it their job to defend immigrants and minorities like any other member of this society?

    • Mark

      Hi Sultan

      Welcome to Migrant Tales.

      Finns arent as racist as people think.

      How racist do you consider that people think Finns are? And if so, why is it like that?

      sure, people make jokes about Turks and other immigrants, but those are just jokes, not hate

      While it’s admirable that you don’t take the jokes seriously, for others, it may have a deeper and more lasting effect. Can I ask some of the jokes that you have heard from Finns? I take it your best friend is a Finn?

      I do have some experience of this kind of ‘banter’. I had a lot of Taffy jokes when I was younger, because I’m Welsh. My name is also the same as a famous person, and so I got a lot of jokes because of that. For some, jokes are just a lazy way to say ‘hello joke fodder!’ Yes, that is how it feels at times.

      Yes, I laughed a lot of it off or gave as good as I got, but the effect of the Welsh jokes was constantly to remind me that I was ‘not one of them’. I didn’t think that it was making me feel more welcome. Fuck, it’s not like I looked different, just born in a different British postcode, but that was enough to have a constant cascade of sheep-shagger jokes following me around like, well, bloody sheep!

      The sensible approach here is that if someone finds a joke offensive, then they can say so without fear of ridicule or retribution and the other person is polite and honest enough to recognise and acknowledge that it might not always be funny, or that, yes, the jokes can be quite negative, and that a person is not being a kill-joy when they express their frustration with those jokes. Indeed, you might only make one of those jokes once a year, but the person hearing it might be hearing it ten times a day!

      If the response is ‘you don’t have a choice but to listen to these because they make US laugh at YOUR expense, and we don’t give a shit and you are just being too fucking sensitive if you don’t find them funny too’, then clearly that’s not exactly being treated with even basic respect and more than likely a sign of a pretty arrogant and hostile attitude.

      For a policeman whose duty it is to police hate crime on the internet to not understand the negative ramifications of being seen to perpetuate those negative stereotypes through jokes about Roma is fucking unbelievable to be frank. But maybe he’s just a thick ignorant twat that shouldn’t be anywhere near the police force! A joke, of course! The fact that 95% of Finns reading the article are sticking up for him makes me angry and sad! I only hope that is just the Iltalehti readers and not Finland as a whole! Somehow I doubt it!

  4. Make love not racism

    Do you want to make Fobba pay for his racist hate speech? Then come and sign this petition to make Fobba resign from his duties as an internet police:

    http://www.adressit.com/eroa_fobba

    At the bottom of the page, put in your details as following:

    First name
    Surname
    City/town
    Country
    Email
    Do I want my signature to be visible to everyone (Y/N)

    We can do this! Let’s show the Finnish police force that we the people will not tolerate racism and indiscrimination amongst their ranks!

  5. purjopora

    I, too, do think that publicly visible people should choose their words carefully, but in my honest opinion this issue is being blown out of proportion. It’s just an isolated comment, which originated from someone else’s mind, which Fobba found amusing and innocently wanted to share with the world via his personal Twitter account. Turns out that there are people who were offended by that because of racist content, which very likely wasn’t intended to happen, considering his past actions, the lack of previous racist comments and the very intention of his job. It’s not like he’s one of the True Finns MPs with an apparent vendetta against anyone not from a first-world country. Should we really get on (or even start) the lynch mob bandwagon when someone famous makes a comment, which inadvertently contains material that offends someone?

    If someone is rampantly racist all the time, I’m all for chewing him out in public and considering whether it’s allowable to let him continue in that position. But trying to get someone fired from his/her position (yes, someone is actually trying to make this happen) for a single lapse in judgement doesn’t feel justified at all to me. It just feels incredibly childish and kneejerky to immediately label someone as the worst scum to ever stain the police department due to an accidental first offense.

    Besides, the vast majority of offended people belong to the ubiquitous group of ethnic Finns. I haven’t seen a single comment on being offended from the actual Roma people itself.

    • Mark

      PP

      I, too, do think that publicly visible people should choose their words carefully

      What’s the point in even stating this if you don’t actually follow through with it?

      This is such a clear case of the example you offered that I really am wondering what level of contradiction you would actually tolerate? His job is to protect Roma against discrimination but 1) he actually perpetuates discrimination in the public domain through his Twitter account, 2) doesn’t even seem to understand why it would be discrimination, and 3) even attempts to justify the discrimination on the rather pathetic pretext that finding it offensive means you are ‘too sensitive’.

      which very likely wasn’t intended to happen

      But then why doesn’t he acknowledge that content? And if someone whose job it is to police racist content doesn’t even understand what is actually classed as ‘racism’, what hope the ordinary folk?

      the lack of previous racist comments

      So you agree that it was racist? And yet Mr Foss is still to figure that out. Why is it that you can see it, but he cannot? Does that not worry you?

      the lack of previous racist comments

      The distinct impression I got was that passing around Roma jokes was normal behaviour among his police buddies!

      Should we really get on (or even start) the lynch mob bandwagon

      This is not a lynchmob reaction. Condemning his comments, his defence of those comments and pointing out the contradiction with his job description is not ‘raising a lynch mob’. Questioning whether he’s qualified to do that job based on his apparent ignorance of racism seems fairly justified in this case.

      But trying to get someone fired from his/her position (yes, someone is actually trying to make this happen) for a single lapse in judgement doesn’t feel justified at all to me

      Let’s see now, so he apologised did he? He acknowledged it was a lapse in judgement? He expressed sympathy and understanding with the Roma who are subject to these jokes and discrimination on a regular basis? No, none of the above. I really am wondering why you are defending him, to be honest.

      It just feels incredibly childish and kneejerky to immediately label someone as the worst scum to ever stain the police department due to an accidental first offense.

      Those are your words. My concern is simply that he demonstrates he is unqualified to do his job. Simple. Now if he showed a willingness to learn, then maybe I would be less inclined to comment.

      Besides, the vast majority of offended people belong to the ubiquitous group of ethnic Finns

      Well, that by definition is to be expected, as these ‘ubiquitous ethnic Finns’ are the majority in Finland.

      If you are not convinced that Roma are concerned about the prejudice they face within Finnish society and in Europe, then I suggest you do some more research.

    • Mark

      PP

      I haven’t seen a single comment on being offended from the actual Roma people itself.

      Let’s not use the word offended. Let’s follow the sound advice of Malki Rose (a Jewish researcher and media producer who has written about humour and anti-semiticism) who recommends we go for something altogether more honest, like things I should not say because they are hurtful, untrue and damaging. Let’s not talk about people having to tolerate such humour but about people being treated with respect as equals.

  6. Farang

    Mark

    Those are your words. My concern is simply that he demonstrates he is unqualified to do his job. Simple. Now if he showed a willingness to learn, then maybe I would be less inclined to comment.

    Why would he be unqualified to do his work? His work is to interfere with hate speech. Roma jokes are not hate speech. So even if he sees that kind of jokes in public forums, his works is not to interfere it. That’s why it’s absurd to make this claim that he is not qualified to do his work.

    • Mark

      Why would he be unqualified to do his work? His work is to interfere with hate speech. Roma jokes are not hate speech.

      Yes, they are.

      Perpetuating negative stereotypes of minorities is classified as hate speech. Not all hate speech is illegal, Farang. But it’s plainly discrimination. In the pub, you might be forgiven for being too fucking ignorant to realise that the joke goes too far and that discrimination is a daily reality for Finland’s Roma, but for someone whose job it is to identify hate speech to not just fail to challenge it, but to publicly celebrate that kind of humour is just unacceptable in my view.

      So even if he sees that kind of jokes in public forums, his works is not to interfere it. That’s why it’s absurd to make this claim that he is not qualified to do his work.

      Not sure what you are trying to say here, Farang. What do you mean his work is not to interfer with it? You mean, his job is to monitor hate speech, and it probably helps him that he practices his own mild version of it? Give it rest, Farang.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      –I can only wonder what kind of person can see hate in a joke.

      A person who isn’t a Roma?

  7. Mark

    Farang

    I can only wonder what kind of person can see hate in a joke.

    Don’t be naive, Farang. It really depends on who the joke is for and at whose expense. While jokes relieve tension, they also reinforce social divisions. It would take an idiot not to be aware of that, given that most of us like to laugh…but, then again, you seem to find it difficult to understand. What does that tell us, Farang?!

  8. Toiset Soundit

    Again, what did he tweet? For the people visiting this blog who do not master Finnish enough, it could be useful to give a translation of his actual tweet. I mean , I’d like to base my opinion on something tangible …

    • Farang

      The joke translated in English:

      Group of romas were in a grocery store and suddenly a frozen chicked fell to the floor from under the jacket of one of the romas. Then one of the romas reacted and yelled: “Who threw a frozen chicken at Allan, who?”

      (Allan being the name of one person of that group)

    • Mark

      You seem to have got the gender wrong Farang and failed to point out the equally important lead up to the joke.

    • Farang

      These are traditional jokes in Finland. The point in this joke is not actually about the shoplifting but instead it emphasizes the fact that usually romas are verbally quite talented. And that is the part which makes the joke fun:

      While he got caught with the stolen chicken, he immediately created a good excuse and that is the funny part in a joke.

      Here’s couple of examples of roma jokes that are traditionally being told in Finland:

      1) Allan is in court accused of killing someone. Then one of Allan’s friends rises and says to Judge: “Could you just set Allan free and give the dead guy a small fine”.

      2) Allan is driving and breaks a tire. Then he stops and starts to change the tire. Another roma drives there, stops and asks: “Hi, what are you doing?”
      Allan replies: “I’m trying to take out the tire, can’t you see”
      Then this other guy takes a stone and breaks the driver’s window and says to Allan: “Let’s split this: You can take the tires and I take the stereos” 🙂

    • Mark

      Farang

      Well, you just demonstrate your complete ignorance by posting this and expecting it to somehow illustrate how ‘harmless’ these joke are. Calling them ‘traditional’ I suppose reflects the fact that Finns have been abusing Roma people for over half a millenium! Great, that makes it all okay, then!

      These jokes are not going to go away, and of course, you can easily step outside of the prejudice and find the joke funny, but to IGNORE the prejudice in the joke is, how to say it, NOT FUNNY!

  9. Mark

    Toiset Soundit:

    In Finnish: Kerrottiin poliisiporukalla keikkoihin liittyviä hauskoja tapauksia. Jostakin syystä monissa hyvissä letkautuksissa oli mukana romani. Paras juttu, jossa romanilta tippui pakastekana vaatteista kaupassa. Poliisin ottaessa kiinni seuruetta, yksi miehistä tokaisi kovaan ääneen: “kuka heitti meidän Allua pakastekanalla, kuka

    In English: A bunch of police are telling funny stories, and for some reason many of these funny stories involved the Roma. And the best story was “some Roma were in the shop and suddenly a frozen chicken fell out from under the clothes of one of the Roma women. Then another of the Roma shouted in a loud voice: “Who threw that frozen chicken at Ally, who?”

    Notice the ‘for some reason’. This in itself is rather provocative!

    • JusticeDemon

      Mark

      I’m not at all sure that I agree with your translation. Here is my first attempt:

      A bunch of us police officers were telling anecdotes about what happens on the job, and for some reason there is a gypsy involved in many good gibes. In the best one a frozen broiler drops from under a gypsy’s clothing in a shop. When the police apprehend the group one of the men loudly interjects: “come on, own up! Who threw that broiler at our Allan?”

  10. JusticeDemon

    Mark

    You seem to have got the gender wrong Farang and failed to point out the equally important lead up to the joke.

    How did you figure out the gender?

    • Mark

      Yes, Allu is more often a man’s name, but among gypsies it’s also a common nickname for a woman. It is also a common theme among police conversation that gypsy women have large dresses with lots of very big pockets in them that make searches difficult and hiding things easy. I take it you have seen how gypsy men dress in Finland, so it’s unlikely that a frozen chicken would be hidden in a man’s jacket pocket or even under his v-neck jumper. I think it follows naturally from the context of the joke to assume that Allu is here a woman.

      JD

      I would say that ‘gibes’ and ‘interjects’ does not really go with the spoken speech context set up by ‘a bunch of us police…’ And as for ‘broiler’, well that is probably not a good contextual translation into English, as ‘frozen chicken’ is used rather more frequently.

      I think your version would fit the Telegraph audience, though. 😉

    • JusticeDemon

      OK. I did say that it was a first attempt.

      I’ve never heard Allu used for a woman, but I bow to your greater knowledge (especially as I’m not privy to the common themes of police conversations). Hiding stuff under a bulky leather jacket, on the other hand…

      Letkautus doesn’t seem to have any precise equivalent in English, but perhaps these subtleties are not relevant here. Tokaista is also a bit problematic. The remark comes in direct and immediate response to what happens, so maybe “objects” is better.

      I would stress that the opening line of the tweet Kerrottiin poliisiporukalla keikkoihin liittyviä hauskoja tapauksia is a typical use of the preterite passive in the inclusive (first person plural) sense, i.e. not merely “some police officers”, but “we police officers”. It also talks about relevant incidents that occur while they are on duty. This goes some way to explaining why Fobba is in hot water over this tweet.

      Trying again in a more accessible and slightly less literal style (more Reader’s Digest than Daily Telegraph):

      Some funny things happen in police work, and for some reason these incidents often involve gypsies. In the best one a gypsy woman drops a frozen chicken from under her clothing in a shop. When police take the group into custody one of the men loudly objects: “come on, own up! Who threw that chicken at our Ally?”

  11. Toiset Soundit

    Yes, well, it’s a good joke. Makes me laugh, is universal huimour. But I think this Forss is somewhat thick to not understand that there is a difference between the private and the public sphere. He should have not tweeted this, from his position that is a really unthoughtful thing to do.

    • Mark

      I agree TS that there is a universal element to this joke, though I think that the way that Roma women are a ‘visible’ minority through their dresses and the context this has with Finnish police and the unfair and exaggerated reputation that Roma have for shoplifting is something unique to the Finnish context.

      I think you would be a fool to not know that this joke could be offensive to Roma or that it reinforces the sense of them being criminal. The point is, yes, it makes people laugh, but once you’ve stopped smiling, you have to ask yourself, is it accurate, is it hurtful to the people involved, and does it do wider harm. The answer is yes on all counts.

  12. JusticeDemon

    The Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman has mildly reprimanded the police officer in this case, considering the tweet ill judged and pointing out that the publicly stated views and attitudes of a police officer are governed by the propriety provision in section 9c of the Police Act, even when the officer is off duty.

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