Multicultural Finns: “Accepting yourself is the first step”

by , under All categories, Enrique

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 
Martin Luther King, Jr.

A guest speaker gave on Friday her recipe on how young adolescents from different countries living in Finland could build a space for themselves in society. Two matters struck me from the twenty-one-year-old young woman’s talk: The first and foremost matter is acceptance of oneself and to reach out — if possible — to those who loathe you.

The woman, whose father is a Black USAmerican and mother Finnish, kept the class mesmerized by these two key points.

She said that in Finland and the United States she was always seen as a foreigner. “In Finland people asked me where I was from and in the United States people thought I was from Finland,” she said. “One day it dawned on me that instead of looking for people’s acceptance, I had to first accept myself. It happened on a chat site when I read a comment by a black woman.”

Some may claim that being white in Finland is easier than being a visible minority. Since visible minorities cannot hide from the sometimes hostile stares of society, visible minorities can. Hiding, even denying, one’s identity can, however, have devastating impact on one’s self-esteem.

If one would want to write a shocking book about racism in Finland, all they’d have to do is find Russians who attended elementary and middle school during the 1990s. Apart from being ridiculed at school for having a Russian background by the classmates, this happened with the silent approval of the teachers.

Even if my mother is Finnish, I am happy that I did all my schooling in the United States from grade two. How much ridicule would I have had to take in the Finnish school system in the 1960s and 1970s? At least my otherness was acknowledged, even respected, in the United States.

    • Enrique

      Hi Boris, great to hear from you! Good point! It’s all a matter of perspective.

  1. Timo Ojanen

    I for one was ridiculed at school in Finland but I only later realized why – I belonged to a semi-invisible minority: a gender/sexual one. I was ridiculed for it even before I knew I belonged to it. Other (male) kids somehow were able to sense it better than I was.

    • Enrique

      Hi Timo, I’m sorry to hear what you said. I hope the experience, although a difficult and painful one, has given you strength to stand on your two feet. It’s a good matter that we are speaking out not for ourselves, but for our children’s and grandchildren’s sake. I hope that they will be able to live in a country that will be more acceptant of them irrespective of their backgrounds.