If we look at the ongoing one-sided debate on immigration, immigrants and Finland’s ever-growing cultural diversity, one matter is for certain: It does not help dispel prejudices that encourage racism and social exclusion.
While I am certain that most Finns are willing to make immigration and cultural diversity work, it is a totally different question how they think this should happen.
Finland has few immigrants compared with other European countries. In 2010-11, our foreign population stood at 167,954 (3.1% of the total population), up from 155,705 (2.9%) in 2009-10, according to the Population Register Center.
Our small immigrant population explains in part why a social ill like racism is still not seen by our society as a serious problem. Other factors discouraging action and debate on this front are ignorance and apathy.
When some Finns speak of language as the key to integration, only half of the issue is being debated. Stating to a newcomer that all he or she needs to do is learn the Finnish or Swedish language to be integrated is leaving out a crucial issue: acceptance.
I am always sadly surprised when I know an adolescent who speaks and writes Finnish proficiently but still feels like an outsider. The person in question has done part of his elementary and all of middle school in Finland.
A Somali who has lived two thirds of his life in Finland told Migrant Tales recently in perfect Finnish: “The worst thing in Finland is that if you have a different religion, culture and language, you are left on the fringes of society. No matter how much you try to integrate you are always left outside.”
Certainly the exclusion that some second-generation Finns feel is partly due to the person but it does reveals where our integration program fails miserably as well as our propensity to colorblind racism.
Instead of accusing some immigrants of not wanting to adapt, being welfare shoppers or other insulting terms, shouldn’t we shift debate in a totally new direction that would promote real integration?
If racism and other social ills faced by immigrants are not debated seriously by our society, the biggest losers are the children of these newcomers.
For them we have nothing to offer except our ignorance and arrogance.