Is silence an effective response to racism?

by , under Enrique

One of the questions we should ask ourselves is what should our response be to those that are hostile to migrants, visible minorities and our ever-growing cultural diversity. Should silence be the answer? 

One of the matters that I have learned through my many years of studying and writing about cultural diversity, is that silence should never be the answer to intolerance. What, then, should our reaction be?

Here’s a good answer: Our reaction to intolerance of any kind should be first and foremost a reaction.

There are many ways to react to racism and intolerance. On Migrant Tales we do it by writing.

Here are some things to take into account when you formulate a response:

  • Intolerance enjoys silence and intimidates people to be quiet. Silence is the water that feeds intolerance. Cut off its nourishment by cutting off its supply of silence.
  • React to intolerance in a firm but civil manner. Start of the discussion by stating, I disagree with you…
  • You’d be surprised how people change their views (at least publicly) when you make it known to them that racism is shameful and unacceptable.
  • Be informed by reading as much as you can about cultural diversity and intolerance.
  • Learn the language and arguments of those who promote intolerance. It’s not very difficult to figure out their arguments, which are simplistic and appeal to the racism of the listener.
  • One common argument used by racists is pointing out and grossly exaggerating “migrant problems” without offering any solutions.
  • An absolute favorite argument of the racists to justify their racism is: “They are so different from us that they will never adapt to our society.”
  • Racists like to generalize. It permits them to exaggerate and fear-monger.
  • No matter how much of an anti-racist you consider yourself to be, ask yourself “dumb questions” over and over again like why is racism bad.

It’s clear that some Finns are having a not only having a hard time accepting the fact that we are becoming a more culturally diverse society, but believe naively that newcomers who move to Finland are supposed to somehow become white like them.

Some denigrating terms and sayings used by the majority to impose their rule on minorities include maassa maan tavalla, or in Rome do as the Romans do. Other ones are maahanmuuttajataustainen, or person or pupil with immigrant background, and mamu, the nickname for maahanmuuttaja, or immigrant. 

There are two good ways to figure out if a label for a certain group or minority is ok:

  • Is the label to identify a group or minority made up by majority to single out the minority or by the minority to identify itself?
  • Does the label promote social equality or inequality?

What we are seeing in Finland and elsewhere are microaggressions on a much wider scale against migrants and visible minorities. These microaggressions are nothing more than the unwritten rules imposed by the majority on different minorities.

Derald Wing Sue’s defines microaggressions as occurring unconsciously and underline inclusion-exclusion and superiority-inferiority. They are the everyday putdowns, insults that aim to undermine the dignity of those who are marginalized.

So what should our response to racism be?

It should be first and foremost a response.

What kind of a response?

We live in a democratic country. Use all the means open to you to create change.

Be brave.




  1. D4R

    I want to urge all immigrant to come to Migrant Tales and speak up what every discrimination they face in Finland. Silence is a big mistake. Migrants, especially colored migrants must share their stories, that’s how we’re able to make changes. Enrique, i maybe late but i agree with you, silence will only enforce those who wants o do wrong to others.