Exposing white Finnish privilege #40: To whitewash or to disenfranchise

by , under Enrique Tessieri

If we wanted to give an extreme picture of how people are “integrated” into society, we could go back to the 1940s when Jews, the Roma and other undesirables of the Nazi regime were transported in boxcars to death camps. Just like those that were separated and sent to go the gas chamber or would be worked to death, migrants face the same process but in a different context. 

Instead of sending people to their deaths or keeping them alive for a while, the system separates migrants into two general lines: whitewashing potential and disenfranchisement.

A good example of systematic whitewashing that took place in Finland happened right after the turn of the last century and in the 1930s when the dark shadow of fascism descended over Europe.

Suomalaisuuden liitto (the Association of Finnish culture and Identity), whose chairperson is today none other than Sampo Terho, boasts on its webpage that in 1935-36 there were over 200,000 people (about 6% of the population) that changed their surnames into Finnish ones. The Association of Finnish Culture and Identity claims that it “has played a remarkable role in Finnish cultural life.”

True, they have played a remarkable role in whitewashing and destroying diversity in Finland.

The document below shows how my grandparent’s family changed their surname in 1931:

“In light of the petition made by military instructor Harald Vilhelm Handtwargh, the governor of the province of Mikkeli grants his family permission to change their  surname to Harvo; this is backed by statements from the vicar [of the Lutheran church], Suomen Sukututkimusseura [Finnish Genealogical Society], and the Suomalaisuuden Liitto [Association of Finnish Culture and Identity.”


In my opinion, this form of whitewashing was an aberration and did nothing more than leave question marks for future generations to answers.

I sent an email to Finnish Genealogical Society and asked on October 14 how they define Finnish identity, cultural and ethnic diversity.

I am still waiting for a reply from them.


An unanswered question from the Finnish Genealogical Society.


White Finnish privilege #40

One of the problems with Finland’s so-called integration program is that white Finns make the most crucial policy decisions. Migrants and minorities are told from people who have never faced the type of social exclusion and discrimination as some groups in Finland on how they should adapt to their society.

One of the matters that worries me most about our “integration” program in Finland is who dismantled those very structures that permitted whitewashing and disenfranchisement to happen so efficiently in the past?

When I moved to Finland in 1978, there were about 10,000 foreigners in the country. We asked ourselves about racism and often concluded that it depended on your skin color. The darker skin color, the more racism you’d experience.

While we cannot generalize, few will disagree that Finland isn’t a racialized society where you face two choices: whitewashing or disenfranchisement.

In many respects, its the same option given to asylum seekers today: Do you want to return to your wartorn country voluntarily or by force?

White Finnish privilege makes many things possible.

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