Kotoutuminen #3: To touch or not to touch

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Many times I wonder where people who work and assist asylum seekers and migrants get their cultural training. If you are a teacher, is it stated, for example, in the national curriculum, how cultural diversity is supposed to work in the classroom? If you are a social worker, how do you promote two-way adaption?

These are important questions. If we do not deal with them properly, our integration program, which claims to be a two-way process, is nothing more than assimilation (one-way adaption).

Another big challenge is the lack of proper oversight. Which body ensures that our teaching or guidance isn’t racist?

After many years of studying and observing integration policies and practices in Finland, I have yet to understand what two-way integration means in practice.

While there are teachers and culturally sensitive social workers who are a source of inspiration to some newcomers, there are still too many poor examples around.

These poor examples of cultural insensitivity and fueled by exceptionalism only serve to confuse and relegate migrants to take their roles as second-class members of society.


Below are four cases that are good examples of a toxic brew: disrespect for other cultures, Finnish exceptionalism, and white privilege.

Case 1: We are sitting at a table with middle-aged Muslim women who wear hijabs (veils). A counselor, who assists and counsels these people, comes to greet them and touches one woman on the shoulder. Those who work with Muslims understand that men do not touch women if the person isn’t his father or brother. Even so, it is the woman who decides if she wants to shake you hand or not.

Case 2: I was told that another counselor mocks a Muslim for noticing that pork was cooked in the same oven he was going to make food. Instead of expressing some understanding for the Muslim’s concern, the worker stated that the state that pays his social welfare eats pork so he’ better get used to it.

Case 3: On planning earlier this year a seminar on hate crime, a social worker brings up the topic of gay rights, which is important. All hate crimes, irrespective of their motives are important to debate publicly. However, the social worker insisted and showed more preference for hate crimes against gays because she probably believes that Muslims are homophobic. Some are, some aren’t. Ninety percent of all hate crimes in 2017 are due to a person’s ethnic or religious background compared with 4.9% due to sexual orientation.

Case 4: Muslims, who are still trying to make sense of their new home country, are given the usual tasa-arvo treatment that “in Finland, women have equal rights.” True in many respects and commendable, but they forget to tell them that our country is one of the most violent in the EU against women. While it is a good matter that women work and become independent, a person has a right to chose his or her lifestyle. If the person stays at home and takes care of her children, wears a hijab, or is an avid Muslim worshipper, these are the person’s personal choices and should be respected.

By forcing our culture and our exceptionalism on migrants, we do nothing more than retard the process of making such people active members of society.

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