Finns are adamant that there is no racial discrimination in their society.
Josephy Wandera Owindi*
For some white people it’s difficult to comprehend how a black woman could be treated in a small city like Mikkeli, located 230km northeast of Helsinki. Is she a victim of microaggressions and/or of outright sexism and racism?
The aim of a microaggression is the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group like disabled people, sexual minorities, migrants and their children. A microaggression can be a comment that may sound as a compliment but hides an insult to the person and his or her group.
Read more about microaggressions here.
A black person could be born in Finland and speak the Finnish language perfectly as a native. Even if the person is a Finn and speaks Finnish as his mother language, he’s complimented on his Finnish language. The seemingly innocent comment, which is done unconsciously and subtly, implies that the person isn’t a true Finn but is made to feel like a perceived foreigner in his own country.
Some of the treatment that the young black woman receives in Mikkeli aren’t only microaggressions but outright sexist and racist. Russian women can be placed in the same group since some Finnish men label all of them as prostitutes.
“I’ve lived in Mikkeli for a number of years and every time I leave home usually middle-aged men approach me in public,” she said. “Some think I’m a prostitute and others think that I live off social welfare and am unemployed. They ask me in English why I don’t speak Finnish, which I do, or tell me to go back to the country I came from.”
Her treatment by other men has made her especially conscious about how she dresses in public.
“If I wear a short skirt and use makeup men approach me with greater ease and start talking to me and ask uncomfortable questions,” she said. “I don’t like to go outside alone but feel safe when I’m accompanied by a friend. As I mentioned, some men are very rude and don’t care if they insult me.”
“Sometimes I answer back,” she continued, “and tell them that I don’t live off welfare and study and work in Finland.”
The young woman believes that young black people of Southern Sudan, Turkey and members of the Romany minority suffer the most discrimination in Mikkeli because of their ethnic background.
The woman has a child who is still too young to attend school. She believes that her child will suffer at school because of ethnic background. When her child was a baby, she remembers a group of fifteen-year-old teenagers at a fast-food restaurant who commented: “Look at that monkey.”
“When I’m with my child I feel that people give me angry looks as if asking ‘why did I have a child with a [white] Finn,'” she said. “How do I deal with this type of treatment that I get on a [near-]daily basis? I try to forget what happened, even if it’s difficult. It’s a horrible situation.”
The woman said that Finland should do more to educate people so that they’d learn to treat people who are different from them with the respect they expect to receive from others.
* Kato, kato nekru. WSOY. Porvoo 1972. p. 47.