Using the term “immigrant background” in a bigoted country

by , under Enrique Tessieri

In a country like Finland, where even politicians can make political careers with their bigotry, what impact does the label “immigrant background” have in reinforcing intolerance and prejudices? 

This question is an important one because, like racism, the label rarely if ever affects white Finns.

The tragic rape of a woman this week by a group of teenagers in the northern Helsinki neighborhood of Tapanila is a case in point.

Even if the police apprehended the five suspects and they were in custody, they labeled them in a statement as having “immigrant backgrounds.” The police said that the ethnic label used in the statement was necessary since they needed more eyewitnesses.

Helsingin Sanomat used the term “immigrant background” in a first take of a story. In a column the daily explained why it took out the ethnic label in a newer take but admitted that it could have been left in the story since the police were trying to get more eyewitnesses.

Even if the daily posed some good questions about the problem in using such a label and if it is ethical under the circumstances that all of the suspects were apprehended, Helsingin Sanomat contradicted itself in another story where it highlighted in a headline that it later changed from “every third sentenced [for rape] was a foreigner” to “Tapanila gang rape suspects have been jailed.”

Näyttökuva 2015-3-14 kello 10.45.14

The whole ongoing debate on whether it is correct to use an ethnic label in the first place reveals a lot more distressing matters about our society and how people with so-called “immigrant backgrounds” are seen and treated in the eyes of the media and police.

I would have expected some explanation from Helsingin Sanomat  on what is the impact of using the term “immigrant background” in a country that is rife with bigotry if social media is one of many indicators.

In Sweden, Finns too were blamed for almost all crimes in that country in the 1970s. It must have been a terrible feeling being nearly constantly stigmatized by the Swedish media and carrying such a label, en finne igen. New Finns in this country are suffering the same fate.

Another matter that this week’s tragic events show is that the term “immigrant background” is in my opinion a label used by the police and the media to deny New Finns from being treated as equal members of society.

Has anyone asked if those five suspects that are suspects aren’t Finns?

What does “immigrant background” mean. Is it code for some ethnic and national group?

Another matter that the persistent use of labels on migrants and minorities in this country is that they are outsiders. This should be changed.  The term “immigrant background” serves white Finnish privilege but does not serve migrants and minorities who are struggling for equal recognition.

There are still many unanswered questions.

One of these is why is the public and social media so interested in this particular case? Is it because it was committed by teenagers with “immigrant backgrounds” or because it vindicates their bigotry? Why isn’t anyone raising a fuss about why certain groups that promote racism in this country published the names of the suspects on social media?

Why hasn’t anyone spoken up for the woman victim and all women who are victims of a heinous crime such as rape?

Using the term “immigrant background” in a bigoted country is irresponsible and only promotes an “us” and “them” mentality.

The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings. 

  1. okkelipokkeli

    It’s relevant to identify the suspects as “immigrant background” to the extent that it sheds light on the question :”Why did the suspects’ family and friends laugh and smirk at the victim of a gang rape at the courthouse?”

    It provides context to this horrifying behaviour, as it explains that there is a deep rooted misogynistic, victim blaming attitude towards women in a certain community living in Finland. The horrific, behaviour of these people raises doubt on the “isolated incident” crowd, as the supporters of the rapists number in the hundreds, as entire families have mobilized to mock the victim in a public place.

    Being honest about what’s going on is the only way to find a solution to a very real, deep rooted hatred of Finns and Finnish women. You claim these people are excluded, well, not every Somalian is, and not every one of the laughing ones either. Yet, they too laugh and mock the victim of a vile crime. A crime they find funny. Do you find anything wrong with the behaviour of these laughers and mockers, or are they also simply the product of not playing enough football?