Migrant Tales insight: I would like to personally thank Muhammed Shire and Johanna Ennser-Kananen for shedding light on some age-old myths surrounding migrants and minorities in Finland. As sensible people interested in the best proactive solutions that are in line with our Nordic welfare state values, we should not only look at ways of challenging such myths but replacing them with effective solutions.
Like most problems facing our ever-growing culturally diverse community, myths and blame are placed on us for not “trying hard enough” or “for not knowing enough” to land that job. Even our integration act, which came into force in 2011, makes no mention about racism and discrimination as obstacles to adaption because it plays down the impact of such social ills. Thus the burden of proof continues to be unfairly dumped on migrants and members of the minority community.
We must change the order of things not only because discrimination and racism ruins lives and are costly, but because we must live up to our Nordic values concerning fair and equal treatment. Not doing so or leaving such matters to chance is synonymous to shooting oneself in the leg.
If you are a migrant who has applied for educational programs or jobs, chances are that you have heard some of the following myths. In this article, we debunk them by explaining their racist nature.
Finland has one of the highest disparities between EU and non-EU citizens. For more information go to Eurostat
Myth #1: “Your Finnish is not good enough for alternative options.”
Of course we can’t and don’t want to deny the important role language can play in integration and participation processes. However, the common belief that high proficiency in the socially dominant (in our case Finnish) language will automatically open doors to professional or educational success is overly simplistic and ample research exists that debunks this myth (see, for example, Ennser-Kananen & Pettitt, under review; Krumm & Plutzar, 2008). When migrants apply for jobs, language oftentimes becomes a substitute for race, ethnicity, or other social factors like gender and religion. This happens, for instance, when employers argue (and even convince themselves) that qualified applicants with migration backgrounds “do not meet their language demands” without adequately assessing their (often multilingual) language skills and without considering or supporting their language development on the job. Arguments based on “insufficient Finnish proficiency” are easy to make because they appear to be more politically correct than those based on race, religion, or gender. In addition, they are difficult to assess for the average person without training in language acquisition, so that applicants are often left with arguments that are not valid or not convincingly supported by linguistic evidence.
If you are faced with such an argument (“your Finnish is not good enough”), ask for exact explanations of the linguistic demands for the job or program you are applying and, importantly, ask for evidence of your failure to meet them. In other words, someone needs to explain to you what the Finnish language requirements are and why they are sure that you don’t meet them. Your (former) language teachers can be excellent allies in this process. They understand language assessment, especially of multilingual language learners, and usually have experience in assessing and advocating for you. Most importantly, they understand language proficiency in the context of your overall experience at school and in Finland. In addition to your teachers, the co-author of this article, Johanna Ennser-Kananen (firstname.lastname@example.org), is also happy to advise you in such situations. When you request explanations and evidence from an employer, you might also want to inquire about the possibility to develop your language skills on the job. Employers who are genuinely interested in you will sometimes find ways for you to to develop your Finnish as part of your workload. (Yes, it happens! And it should happen more.) In case you do not receive all the information you ask for, consider contacting Migrant Tales (email@example.com) for advice on this matter and potentially filing a report on discrimination.