One wonders how Sweden’s embattled migration minister, Tobias Billström, could make his “blonde, blue-eyed” comment on asylum seekers and get away with it without losing his job. Here in Finland we give prime television time to representatives of racist association like Suomen Sisu, whose views on cultural diversity don’t vary greatly from the U.S. American Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.
To add salt to the injury to Suomen Sisu’s enemies, immigrants and visible minorities, the association thanked the media for its “accurate coverage” of its annual meeting this month.
Billström got into hot water after an interview with DN. “Sometimes we have this image that people in hiding live with a nice Swedish lady in her fifties or sixties who wants to help,” Billström was quoted as saying on The Local, citing DN. “But that’s not how it is. Most of them live with their countrymen who aren’t at all blonde and blue-eyed.”
After his comment instigated a storm of criticism even from Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Billströn apologized publicly for what he said.
Should we seethe migrant minister’s comment as an isolated case or an indication of a much wider problem gripping our Nordic societies?
Like the Perussuomalaiset in Finland, the rise of the xenophobic and anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in the polls is hardening opposition to immigrants and cultural diversity in that country. More and more politicians are pointing their fingers at immigrants for the country’s economic problems. Anti-immigration sound bites are a quick way to get support from voters and media attention.
Intolerance, which has raised its head in Sweden and especially Finland, reveals how blind our societies are to European history. If there were a class on racism at our schools, most would probably fail. Stiffening attitudes have emboldened visible racists, a new political class that capitalize on invisible racists’ fears and xenophobia.
The most worrying matter is neither the visible nor invisible racists in our society, but the silence of the majority. Silence isn’t always silent, however. It can manifest itself at a talk show with two representatives of Suomen Sisu or when a migration minister makes a racist comment.
Since too many journalists and politicians haven’t been victims of racism, they simply don’t get it. In order to help them understand what is at stake and what is being debated, we could replace terms like immigrant and visible minority with women.
How many would go public and denounce women in the same way that immigrants are today? Few, if any.
Because women have fought and gained greater gender equality.
Contrarily, too few have stood up for immigrants and visible minorities. Even so, the long path towards ethnic equality has begun and there’s nothing that can stop it.
The reaction of anti-immigration groups and parties in Finland or outrage sparked by a minister’s statements about asylum seekers are the best indication that that battle is taking place today in earnest.