By Enrique Tessieri
Some Finns argue today that they are automatically labelled racists if they speak out too strongly against immigration. The statement resembles very much the atmosphere in the United States in the early 1970s, when blacks started to win legal as well as social rights after the civil rights movement.
The fact that some openly question racism in Finland should be seen as a welcome and positive matter. The knee-jerk reaction of different anti-immigration groups show that society openly questions their agendas.
Such a debate in the 1990s and before would have been impossible on such a scope since the racial ideology of the country was different due to the underwhelming size of Finland’s immigrant population and far-flungness.
If the United States awoke from its segregated deep sleep thanks to the civil rights movement led by men such as Martin Luther King, Finland is also awakening to the same reality. I remember very well the new USAmerica that the civil rights movement had helped forge. We too were sensitized into a new way of thinking and interacting with blacks and other minorities. For many of us, our old views and fears of other groups had been thrown into the trash can of history.
Contrary to the civil rights movement of the United States, the ever-growing immigrant population in Finland is awakening the country to a new century. At least today racism is being questioned when before it was normal, accepted and even promoted openly as something “Finnish” and “patriotic.” In post-civil rights United States, racism got a hard blow. Such behavior became shameful and socially inappropriate.
What is important about the shift in social behavior in the United States and Finland today is that it ushers in and questions old stereotypes that are based on racism.
One of the greatest achievements of the US civil rights movement was that it started to do away with the racial stigmas labelled on different groups by whites. With respect to the blacks, this happened almost overnight in some parts of the country. Seeing is believing today: President Barack Obama.
Whenever a Finn uses the “fear-of-being-labelled-a-racist” argument because he/she is against immigrants, immigration and/or refugees, it should be seen as a knee-jerk reaction of an ever-dwindling minority.
Openly and vociferously questioning our racism is unique, courageous and a watershed in our society. It is the brave new face of Finland in the new century.