Is your attitude towards racism determined by your upbringing and where you grew up?

by , under Enrique

Some immigrants and visible minorities fight against intolerance their own way. Others, however, shy away from such a challenge by preferring to live in denial. Is the way you fight against intolerance dependent on what you learned at home and in your home country? 

If a white Russian learned to hate blacks and Muslims in his society, why would he start defending this group in Finland? What about those immigrants that come from countries where questioning authority is a no-no?

What about if you lived in a society where your ethnic group had privileged status but now you’ve lost that status? What about if you make a deal to accept that you’re a second-class citizen in your new home country as long as you are not relegated to third- or fourth-class status?

Just because a person is an immigrant doesn’t mean that he or she understands never mind is against racism. Those prejudices that you learned could be reinforced by the new home country.

While some white Finns try to justify their racism by claiming that some immigrants are racists, one can never compare the two.

Writes Migrant Tales in January:

“The fact that white Finns are the standard of everything in Finland is enough proof that they wield real power. White Finns don’t have to understand racism because they simply don’t have to. It’s not an issue because they are the standard of this society, the norm. Everyone else has a prefix attached to them like immigrant, immigrant descendant, black, Roma etc.”

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One of the great figures to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King Jr. He said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The most important matter that the Civil Rights Movement taught me was that you can challenge a social ill like racism and beat it at its own game even if such a social ill believes that it is all-powerful and unbeatable.

If I use myself as an example, it’s clear that the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the United States  (1955-68) had a lasting impact on my life. It not only taught me how important it is to challenge a social ill like racism, but fight for change in a non-violent manner.

Images and my direct experience with that period lives on so strongly that I bring them up in talks in Finland.

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 Malcolm X is another exemplary fighter of the Civil Rights Movement. He said: “Racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.”

Racism leaves deep scars in some people. It has left such wounds in me.

One open scar was left by our elementary school’s first black pupil in the mid-1960s. He was bullied to such an extent by his classmates that the black child lasted about two weeks at our Hollywood, California, school.

I don’t remember his first name, but his last name was Brown. How can I remember such a fact about a classmate I knew briefly such a long time ago? One of the jokes that was made by one student went as follows: “What’s the color of shit? Brown!”

Imagine the power or racism to destroy another person’s self-esteem. My classmates were all children who came from so-called middle-class homes. Together they acted like a school of ferocious pirhanas attacking their prey.

Even if the principle of the school spoke to all of us about how we should treat the new black student with respect, he never spoke to us about our behavior.

How is racism perpetuated and reinforced in Finland? By denial and in so-called normal Finnish homes.

The Perussuomalaiset (PS) and its leader, Timo Soini, are good examples of the bullying and victimizing of immigrants and visible minorities in this country. As everyone knows, Soini is the so-called good cop of the anti-immigration party.

One of the PS’ biggest loose canons and racists, MP James Hirvisaari, was expelled from the party after he invited a friend to parliament, whom he took a picture of making a Nazi salute.

If it weren’t for the PS, and specifically because of Soini, it is doubtful that Hirvisaari would have ever been elected. As a member of the far-right Muutos 2011 party today, nobody is any longer interested what Hirvisaari thinks.

So yes, Soini and the PS are responsible for making racism and intolerance more acceptable in Finland. Letting him off the hook is a mistake. He is the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

We must remember, however, that it’s not only the PS that has issues with racism but every party in this country. The PS would have never obtained so much power without the complacency and cowardice of other mainstream parties.

  1. D4R

    Enrique, i strongly believe many elders influence their children with racism, i know i can say so, because i grew up in Finland and grew with Finnish children. It all starts at home. Many Finnish elders make fun of black people infront of their children and children pick up that attitude when growing up, but i have to say, there’re those good Finnish parents who raise their children properly and teach them to respect themselves and others, those children are the ones who will succeed in life, and ive seen them, unfortunately theiy’re few in Finland. Many negative attitudes carried by Finnish children are no doubt learned at home.

    • Mark

      D4R

      i strongly believe many elders influence their children with racism

      I can see why you would believe this strongly, because it’s absolutely correct, adults do influence children to adopt their prejudices.

      I recently spoke to someone openly admitting to having racist opinions and blaming her parents, and talking about the struggle she has to get rid of those opinions, because she sees they are well engrained.

      In that situation, dealing with people with prejudice, it’s important to remember they are the ones with the problem, even while they try to justify why they think black people or immigrants are the problem. And the biggest clue is in their unhappiness, their difficulty, their ‘hatred’, or their fear of foreigners.

  2. D4R

    Doesnt common sense say that if immigrant is racist then isn’t that a reaction to racism that they receive continuously? sometimes it just makes me laugh when i hear someone say immigrants are racist. Even if some immigrants acted racist, is that a justification to be racist towards immigrants? now, racism is wrong no matter who’s practicing it, wether immigrant or a native descnedant….it’s very stupid to say immigrants are racist, racism by immigrants are ignored and laughed by majorities,the majority is looking us down, not seeing us equal, majority think we’re not smart as they’re, comparing majorities racism and minorities racism is like comparing a child and a adult fighting with eachother, who has more advantage position to cause damage and harm? i say adult has more advantage, dont’t you agree with me?

    • Mark

      D4R

      Doesnt common sense say that if immigrant is racist then isn’t that a reaction to racism that they receive continuously?

      You would say that it’s certainly likely to be a it’s very stupid to say immigrants are racist, racism by immigrants are ignored and laughed by majorities,the

      majority is looking us down, not seeing us equal, majority think we’re not smart as they’re, comparing majorities racism and minorities racism is like comparing a child and a adult fighting with eachother, who has more advantage position to cause damage and harm?strong factor. Intolerance tends to beget intolerance. And no population is immune to thinking that way.

      Clearly, the effects of that racism are very different, at least at a societal level, but the individual effects of ‘being a racist’ might not be so different – the effects that this person can have on society can be very different. It would be interesting to see a political party in Finland set up with the stated wish of kicking the native Finns out of Finland, or even of limiting expat Finns from returning. Would cause an outcry, I imagine.

      There is no equivalence and no balance in arguing immigrants are racist. It’s like saying, well, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, as if that takes away the issue of responsibilities. The whole argument is a very powerful device designed to dismiss racism or the disproportionate negative effects of racism on minorities.

  3. D4R

    Ive lived Finland all my life and i can tell you all that no other ethnicity has faced more challenges in Finland than any other ethnicity except Romany minorities. Im from Somalian and we’re the most hated minorities, the most outspoken minorities living in Finland, second comes Romany minorities, during my life time in Finland, not once i heard other ethnicities speaking for us against racism , they just don’t care, some even bash us and demean us with racist natives, thinking they’re scoring points, i don’t see many people participating Migrant Tales, i just don’t get it. I want to thank all the other ethnicities who speak for us, i really appreciate you guys, and the ones who don’t, it’s all right, you don’t have to, what if the tables turned? wouldnt you want someone to speak up for you?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      D4R, a lot of people may know about us but it is another step to be where you are by participating and debating. We have grown and are what we are today because we have a place in the ongoing debate on Finland’s ever-growing cultural diversity. You are part of that team, D4R.

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