The Tapanila gang sexual assault case last week revealed a lot of ugly things about our society like our lack of willingness to help people in distress, and racism. The debate has raged on with the media and social media leading the charge.
The violent reaction we have seen on social media to what happened isn’t surprising since the aim of the crime in Tapanila appears to be to strengthen our prejudices of other groups and bolster our sense of “us” at the cost of “them.”
An extremely important question that the case has revealed is who is considered a Finn by this society and who is not. In Finland we consider a person a Finn if he or she has Finnish citizenship. Why are we, or specifically the police, calling these five suspects people “with foreign backgrounds” if some of them are Finns?
Is the police using a code word that means “you have Finnish citizenship but you’re not a real Finn?”
In the statement above, the police claimed that the suspects were “five persons with foreign backgrounds” even if the majority were born and grew up in Finland. Is a person with “foreign or immigrant background” anyone we don’t like and do we use the term to reveal that we are a pretty exclusive white society?
Migrant Tales spoke with the policeman, Jyri Hiltunen, who is in charge of the Tapanila sexual assault case. He confirmed that some of the suspects are Finnish citizens.
“I don’t know exactly if all of them are citizens or not because this isn’t an essential piece of information in the case,” he said. “But some are [Finnish citizens].”
Not an essential piece of information? I disagree.
Saido Mohamed, chairperson of the Finnish-Somali Network, confirmed to Migrant Tales that all of the suspects had grown up in Finland and that most were born in Finland and are Finnish citizens.
“If they were born and raised in this country and that person is called a ‘person with immigrant background,” certainly that raises a lot of questions and conflicts within a young person,” she said. “Is such a label used to help society wash its hands of the problem and to strengthen ‘them’ versus ’us?'”
And adds: “In other words, it’s your problem but not society’s, which it is.”
Not one media publication in Finland has asked if the suspects are Finns. Is this surprising? Doesn’t it permit society to sweep the problem under the rug and place the blame on “them?” It shows as well that Finland is still a racially exclusive society.
In neighboring Sweden, the public uses as well the label “with immigrant backgrounds.” Many have pointed out that the use of such a term is a code word for people “with a non-European background,” or non-whites, according to researcher and anti-racist activist Michael McEachrane.
He adds: “Yes, where ‘us’ is defined in ethnic and cultural terms, but at the most fundamental level in racial terms, so that what you have is a ethnically, culturally and most fundamentally a racially exclusive conception of what it means to belong to Finland.”
We have asked the Finnish police to define what person with “immigrant or foreign background” means. This is the response we got:
“…in police statistics a person with ‘immigrant background’ is anyone who has moved to Finland from any country and then became a Finnish citizen.”
A person with foreign background is anyone who has Finnish citizenship but was born abroad.
If this is the case, and there’s little to no difference between both labels, was it used correctly and fairly by the police when it identified the five suspects?
I doubt it.
You can read the same story in Finnish here.