Defining white Finnish privilege #16: Rosa Emilia Clay and my history versus yours

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Ever wondered why all of Finland’s history is white? Ever wondered why you probably never heard of Rosa Emilia Clay (1875-1959), Finland’s first black citizen? 

According to Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s oldest daily established in 1824, Åbo Underrättelser, ran a story of “a mulatto girl born in Africa and baptized there [in Amboland in northern Namibia].” Then thirteen-year-old Rosa Emila Clay was traveling to Finland with Finnish missionary Karl Weikkolin. She described her first impressions according to a biography published in 1942 by Arvo Lindewall:

“Immediately when the Turku archipelago came into sight, I started to like the environment for some unknown reason, and when the mainland came into view, I immediately fell in love with this new home country of mine in the far north, although I knew that being an African, I might suffer from much derision and scorn.”

Clay studied to become a teacher in 1898 and got her Finnish citizenship a year later. Her first job as a teacher was in the Northern Savo village of Mustinlahti, located 67km south of Kuopio.

An interesting question is how a dark-skinned teacher got along in a small rural Finnish village at the turn of the century. We know that when she arrived at Mustinlahti a farmer had spat at her and stated: “Did they send this kind of black Negro hag to us as a teacher? Even the kids would be afraid of a devil like that.”

Clay moved to Tampere and taught there for three years until she migrated to the United States in the summer of 1904.

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Her acceptance by the local Finnish community in the United States was made easy thanks to her perfect Finnish. Clay joined the Finnish socialists, directed a choir, plays, sang and performed at Finnish community halls, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Her grandchild Normalee Johnsson wrote in a letter dated June 2009: “When mother died, we learned her secret: we had African blood in our veins! Finally, we understood why mother always wore a bonnet and long sleeves in the summer. What we could not understand is why she kept our African, Arab, and English heritage a secret. For a while, it was shocking that I didn’t know who I really was.”

Definition #16

It doesn’t matter who Clay was ethnically whether African, Arab or English. One matter, however, is for certain: She was a prominent member of our culturally and ethnically diverse society, which Finland denied existed.

A blog called Sielunmaisema correctly points out that there were black people living in Finland before the nineteenth century.

She writes:  “The story of Africans in Finland goes back to the 19th century, when the country was a remote Grand Duchy under Russia. Which is true in a way because there was no Finland as we think of it before that time, but also a big fat white washing lie, because there most definitely were Black people in these parts of the world throughout the history, even if we’re not taught about them in school. It had never even crossed my mind that we get taught a white washed version of our own history, except in regards of the erasure of Sami and Roma peoples, but it seems obvious now that I think of it.”

Clay is a perfect example of how white Finnish privilege is taught at schools. It means that visible minorities, never mind migrants, have no official history. Everything important that took place in Finland during independence was done by whites or people who hid their backgrounds.

This myth and social construct of the white Finn is what has killed cultural diversity.

We must not allow this to happen any longer. We must start writing Finland’s Other history.

See also:

  1. Yossie

    “Clay is a perfect example of how white Finnish privilege is taught at schools. It means that visible minorities, never mind migrants, have no official history. Everything important that took place in Finland during independence was done by whites or people who hid their backgrounds.”

    More your lies to attack whites again. Stockmann, Finlayson, Fazer, all immigrants or a son of an immigrant. They are very well covered in finnish history. Do you know why? They actually made something to write about! It certainly is not white’s fault if a handful of blacks did not do anything worth writing about. Or should they be written about only because they were non white?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Lies? That’s a very strong word and accusation. All those people you mention are WHITE. Rosa Emilia Clay was Other. I consider Clay’s story highly significant. Imagine a woman like her coming to Finland, facing the racism that was so prevalent in Europe and Finland at the time and teaching at a small rural school in Northern Savo. That takes guts. Once again: Finland is not only a “white” country. It never was and will never be. That’s the point.

    • Yossie

      “Lies? That’s a very strong word and accusation.”

      You talked about migrants, there you had them. If you are unhappy they were white, its not my problem. I find it insulting that you make it out that lack of non whites in finnish history is because of some sort of “white washing” when the most likely situation is that blacks did not do anything worth mentioning. Unless of course you want to see just being black making you the most prominent member of society.

      This is one more of your attempts to blame whites for treating non whites unfairly. Of course lack of blacks must mean whites are doing white washing! To me it looks you are just blaming whites for everything you can think of. Trying your best to get immigrants hate whites?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      You find it “insulting” that Finland did a lot of white washing. If you look at how Finnish national identity was forged in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s clear that that was what was in the pipeline. And if you think of it, that’s the reason why some Finns are having such a difficult time accepting others as Finns like Muslims, blacks, Roma and other minorities.

    • Yossie

      a lot of white washing? So what was white washed then? What it is the hidden, secret history if Finland that had to be white washed? That there was a black person that lived in Finland for some 16 years and moved to US. That is best you can do? Somehow I´m not surprised that did not make it to history books. To me its clear what is in your pipelines: to make Finland black! Even rewrite history to fit your agenda.

      Why people are having hard time with “others” is the current trend of looking down on finnish culture and language and your attempts to destroy and replace finnish culture and language.

  2. Enrique Tessieri

    –To me its clear what is in your pipelines: to make Finland black! Even rewrite history to fit your agenda.

    Really? Do I have such power? Is this a secret agenda that we have? “Finnish culture and language” never were your exclusive ownership and never will be. I consider a hostile act one where one group thinks they have the monopoly of culture. Maybe such people thought they had it and are not losing it, which explains why they’re so hostile to culturual diversity.

    • Yossie

      Luckily you don’t have such power, it doesn’t stop you from trying though. And most certainly that was the case should you have the power to do so. Also, let me point out that one group does have monopoly of their own culture! I find it seriously arrogant that you, a foreigner, think you can come here and start telling us what should belong to our culture and what not.

      I see you failed to tell what exactly has been white washed. You just come up with these sound bites in effort to make non whites think they have been oppressed by whites. Maybe you miss the US where you could recall the slavery and oppression? Here you just have to make up your own fairy tales to incite non whites against whites.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      I know the power of the pen and of not hating. What is the problem, Yossie? National self-esteem of some white Finns? Is that why people like you who hang around a peep show like Hommaforum? You got it totally wrong: This country was never yours. It never was, isn’t, and will never be yours to claim.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Yossie or Boack, read my lips and this sentence is dedicated to people who are challenged in cultural diversity: This country was never yours. It never was, isn’t, and will never be yours to claim. This land belongs to everyone and not to a single group of people who think they speak for the majority.

      Get it?

    • Yossie

      Not hating? Like we all do, you think you are doing something special? And let me tell you, country belongs to those that live there and have made it a good place to live in. They have all the right to decide who should be allowed to come live there. That is how the world works, no matter what you wish. It is rather obvious you wish to open the flood gates and let everyone in that wants to come. You are the biggest threat to our welfare state!

    • Enrique Tessieri

      One thing, Yossie or Boack is what you imagine I say and the other is what I actually say.

    • Yossie

      What are you saying then? What do you mean when you say Finland belongs to everyone? To me it sounds like you want everyone in the world to be able to come here with no limitation and finnish culture and language should be reduced to just one among many.

    • Yossie

      Come on Enrique! How would you want to have the immigration? What would your policy be? Everyone can come? What would be the place of finnish language, finnish culture?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Yossie, that is SUCH a anti-immigration cliche question. There are many ways to do it like with a point system, for example. Everyone doesn’t come to Europe never mind Finland. Why are you so paranoid about Finnish culture being eaten up by others?

    • Yossie

      It is a good question, and a one you should answer better than just one sentence. Share your view. You have your blog here. Surely after telling how awfully finns are handling the immigration, you should be able to produce solutions more than just a few buzz words.

      Why am I paranoid? Finland is a small country with very few people. Only way for finnish language and culture is to survive in a huge world is that it remains the most dominant in its own area, in Finland. Reading your blog makes me feel there are people who want to undermine my culture and my language in Finland and at the same time their existence.

  3. intternetnetsi

    So history of north america isnt indian/inuit history because vikings visited there 1000 AD and history of australia isnt history of aboriginals because people from holland came in 1600s. Got it.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Hannu, it works this way: There is no-one that can claim something as their own. Your aim is to deny that others live here and have the right to their culture, religion and to be treated with respect. Got it?

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