Defining white Finnish privilege #21: Who can be a Finn?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

A Finn is anyone with Finnish citizenship, right?  Citizenship can be obtained through birth (jus sanguinis) or naturalization. Even if this should be clear as day, certain public services like the police continue to group Finns according to their so-called “foreign” or “immigrant” backgrounds.

I don’t have any problems with my foreign background even if I am a Finn. However, labeling me in such a way in such an anti-Other environment puts matters in a different context.

Is the label person with foreign or immigrant background an inclusive word that promotes social equality with white Finns? If it doesn’t what is it’s role then? Is it to rank non-white Finns as second- or third-class Finns?

Finns learned white privilege at school from a very early age when learning the alphabet. Saamis were called “Lapps” and an example of the letter “n” was the n-word. Source: Suohpanterror

A good example of who is and who is not a Finn is the Helsinki Tapanila gang-rape case where the police stated that the suspects were teenagers “with foreign backgrounds.”

What is even more surprising is that when Migrant Tales contacted the police officer in charge of the rape investigation, he said that their Finnish nationality was not important since it had no bearing on the case.

Does the police speak in code when it labels publicly “people with foreign backgrounds” who are Finns?

According to Michael McEachrane, a researcher and anti-racism activist, said that in neighboring Sweden the public uses labels such as person “with immigrant background” as well.  Such a term is code for people “with a non-European background,” or non-whites, according to McEachrane.

Does the same occur in Finland?

The Ingrians could shed light on the latter question. When the Ingrians were given Finnish citizenship all of them and their families had lived many generations in Russia.

Why are Ingrians more Finnish than those Finns with African backgrounds?

Is it because the former are white?

Definition #21

Identity is a personal matter. You are who you think you are. If the majority of society, in this case white Finns, exclude and classify you as second- or third-class members of society because you’re not white or Finnish enough in their opinion, then that is plainly called discrimination and racism.

It is shameful that in this day and age in Finland, a country that saw over 1.2 million of its inhabitants emigrate between 1860 and 1999, we’re having a discussion about who is a “real” Finn.

But as Finland becomes more culturally and ethnically diverse matters will become more complex on the identity front. That doesn’t matter but what is important to keep in mind is that every person irrespective of his or her background, is equal with the same rights, opportunities and obligations.

Minorities and non-whites will not be respected as equals by white Finns in this country as long as we expect them to do it for us. They will never treat us equally until we form a social movement and challenge white Finnish privilege.

Disagree? Why not ask the Romany minority that have lived in this country for about 500 years.

In the meantime don’t let anyone, no one, ever define who you are. That’s your right and never give it away.

See also:


  1. Yossie

    There is people who are finnish citizen and then there is a ethnic-cultural group called Finns. Most of the time they are the same but not always. You can sign up as finnish citizen but you can’t just join a “ethnic group” by your own will. I can’t just magically became Japanese or minority group S [your moderation sucks] even if I wished.

    “Immigrant background” simply tells we are not talking about “ethnic group” Finns. People want to make distinction of it, but there is nothing like 2nd or 3rd class members in it.

    “It is shameful that in this day and age in Finland, a country that saw over 1.2 million of its inhabitants emigrate between 1860 and 1999, we’re having a discussion about who is a “real” Finn.”

    What does this have to do about who is a finn?

    • Mark


      There is people who are finnish citizen and then there is a ethnic-cultural group called Finns.

      This is incorrect. First, ‘immigrant status’ is not an ethnicity by itself, so differentiating between immigrants and ‘ethnic Finns’ as you put it is basically differentiating between ethnic Finns and non-ethnic Finns. The absolute consensus is that such distinctions in public policy are discriminatory.

      The reason is clear – the ‘cultural’ grouping you describe as Finns also includes those who are born and raised here in Finland and many naturalised Finns who have spent a great deal of time in Finland. They are equally entitled to regard themselves as ‘sharing’ in Finnish culture. In this view, culture is not ‘owned’ by anyone or any group, it is a shared set of practices, habits, and cultural activities and expression.

      This is an extremely important distinction to make if we are to avoid the ridiculous notion that culture is something ‘owned’. You cannot tell a person born or brought up in Finland that they cannot identify with being Finnish, whether that is 1% or 10% or 100%, whatever the individual themselves feels. No-one has the right to dictate another person’s identity in this way.

      What you are suggesting is that ethnicity is some kind of genetic code, that you either have this ‘Finnish gene’ or you don’t. And that is obviously a total crock of shit.

      If you were born in Japan, or lived there most of your life, I think most people would be quite happy to say that you were entitled to ‘feel’ Japanese or identify yourself as Japanese, even though you have origins elsewhere.

      Anyone that would deny you that privilege does not understand culture, does not understand basic human rights, does not understand political freedom and certainly is not to be trusted. Theirs is an agenda of hatred masquerading under the banner of ‘culture’, while it is far from being ‘cultural’.

      Ethnicities have always mixed and changed. It is a ‘socially defined category’, not a genetic category. There are ancestral components, but there are not genetic components. Ethnicity is a cultural matter for the most part. Shared ancestry is only one component and not a prerequisite.

      If you grow up living in Finland, then you are partaking of a way of life lived by many other Finns before, and they are equally your cultural ancestors as a person who is biologically related to those ancestors. To claim otherwise would be to set up a ‘pure blood’ definition of ethnicity, which would require you to seek out all ‘external’ biological influences from some ‘source group’ way back in history in the ‘Finnish bloodline’ in order to ‘remove’ those who were disqualified from the ‘pure bloods’ by having intermarried with groups outside or on the fringes of that blood line. Such an approach to ethnicity is generally understood to be depraved and an ideological sickness.

      Of course, there are many ignorant lay persons who mix exactly such a depraved notion of ‘cultural ethnicity’ with rampant nationalism and fascism.

  2. Yossie

    Well, having said that Mark, who do you think are saami? I understand the discussion there is pretty heated up by the fact that saami want to have group recognition for anyone wanting to be a saami. Basically you would not able to be a saami unless recognized by some saami authority to be on.

    • Mark

      Well the Sami are who they are. Their language, traditions and geographical spread are fairly well known. The issue I’m referring to is how people who do not necessarily share the ancestry of the Sami nevertheless grow up in a Sami culture to the point where they identify more closely with that culture than any other. It’s clear that telling that person that they do not qualify to call themselves ‘Sami’ is ridiculous. Then again, culture does not prescribe identity – we can all share in the cultural traditions of Finland while liking some and detesting others, and it doesn’t make us more or less ‘Finnish’. It is an accumulation of factors, including language, practices, relationships, networks, education and work that together define one’s cultural environment and influences. At some point, it just makes sense that regardless of one’s ancestral origins, one can identify with being Finnish.

      In the old days, people in the UK might speak of being ‘half Irish, half English’, or some such combination. While the notion of precise percentages is clearly ridiculous, it does capture something of the reality, that identity is not an ‘on/off’ switch, where you either belong to a group or you don’t. At the end of the day, nationalistic and language-based identities are far from being universal categories. They are arbitrary differences in a universal language of culture, built around work, home, beliefs, justice, public life, the arts and our relation to nature. In other words, we are united by far more than divides us. That is almost always forgotten in these identity discussions.

      The problems for the Sami are to be able to continue their way of life and to be represented and respected politically and linguistically. History is littered with situations where a dominant language group has squeezed out or abused the basic rights of minorities. Often it’s done in the name of ‘democracy’, as if the right of the majority, being a majority, is therefore to penalise the minority and deny them equal status according to the standards that the majority itself applies. Of course, there are problems ensuring this if the minority is small.

      Well the devil would be in the detail, wouldn’t it. I have two questions, what is the significance of ‘recognition’, because you seem to imply that this is some kind of legal definition. While ethnicity is recognised as a cultural grouping, it is not a nationality. Second, what would it mean to be recognised by this authority and what would be the criteria for recognition? If it is a political grouping within Sami culture that is seeking to claim or gain authority to decide who can and cannot identify themselves as Sami, I’d say they are no better than other nationalist groupings that try to politicize culture and identity.

      I’m sure there is more to this than you are sharing here.

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