I was speaking today with a woman from an African country who had been in Finland for five years and had never held a job. She said that she had tried to find work as a cleaner but, surprisingly, she said that she could not because her Finnish wasn’t good enough.
We had a short chat about her studies and the difficulties of finding work in Finland. This took place in Finnish.
In my opinion, her Finnish was good enough to work as a cleaner. Why, then, wasn’t a black woman from Africa employed as a cleaner in eastern Finland?
I am convinced that since language plays a special role in this country historically and culturally (mother tongue is even tabulated in the census), it is used in the same context as skin color in the United States.
This may reflect that some Finns feel less bothered by skin color than by non-native Finnish. But if you have the wrong skin color (not white) and do not speak Finnish as a near-native, then you get hit by a double discrimination whammy in Finland.
Hence, when a Finnish employer says that you do not speak Finnish well enough, he or she may be saying that you are an outsider and we do not employ these kinds of people.
If language plays such an important role in the perception some Finns have of non-native Finns, then it suggests that they will never be accepted as an equal in the Nordic sense by our society.
Addressing the issue of language discrimination in Finland may shed light on a totally hitherto-unknown culprit.