Finland’s integration law is exemplary in many respects because it aims to integrate newcomers as equals in our society. No law is, however, written in stone and is only as good as the institutions and people that enforce it. One of the matters that some have a difficult time grasping is what two-way adaption, or integration, means and implies.
Integration is the opposite to assimilation, which is one-way integration. Those who are in favor of assimilation, believe that most if not all of the adapting to cultural diversity will be done on their terms. One of their favorite arguments is: “Why should I adapt to them if they are in my country.”
Assimilation is a lazy and convenient way to exclude and keep others corralled with the help of our suspicion. This integration model is one of the reasons why intolerance is still the rule instead of the exception in many European countries.
Assimilation not only is a lazy model and sustains itself with the help of ethnocentrism, prejudice, white privilege, outright discrimination of whole groups and, worse, by defensive and repeated denials that we don’t have any issue with intolerance.
Take for example Finland’s Romany minority, which have suffered the greatest hostility in our society. They are a good example if any of outright social exclusion.
A US state department human rights report stated recently: ”Groups of Roma have lived in the country for centuries, and Roma are classified as a ’traditional ethnic minority’ in the ombudsman’s report. The Romany minority was the most frequent target of racially motivated discrimination, followed by Russian-speakers, Somalis, and Sami.”
Some Finns are still waiting after 500 years for the Roma, which number about 10,000 in Finland, to turn “white.” By turning white, I mean giving up their traditional dress, identity and ways of life in order to gain greater acceptance.
The paradox, however, is that if they gave up their identity they’d be in worse shape then they are today. The aim of intolerance and the victimization of groups like the Roma, is to wipe them off the Finnish cultural map.
One matter we should be careful to avoid when promoting two-way integration is exclusion by default. The best of example of this is when elementary schools continue to call third-culture children as students with immigrant backgrounds (maahanmuuttajataustainen) irrespective that they were born and have lived all their lives in this country.
Living in a culturally diverse society where two-way adaption, or integration, is the rule is the most effective and less-expensive way to adapt newcomers.
Even if our society promotes mutual acceptance, our laws and human rights play important roles.
The greatest integrators of all are social justice and equal opportunities – the very values we promote in our laws.