Racism tells you over and over again: don’t bite the hand that feeds you

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.

E.B. White (1899-1985), USAmerican writer

Being an immigrant and Other all my life, researching and especially writing about racism regularly, or daily for the past three-and-a-half years, have taught me a thing or two about this social ill. Some may ask why I write about racism on Migrant Tales. The answer is simple: Finland would be a near-perfect country if our society were more inclusive. 

If I made a video clip on the devastating impact of racism, it would first show a happy community that would end up being consumed by hate as it became more culturally and ethnically diverse. Like adding more fuel to a fire that you want to extinguish, instead of finding effective solutions, anti-immigration political parties would emerge and start to play on people’s fears. Those who could, the more skilled people, would move to other cities and companies would follow suit. It would be a vicious cycle: loss of jobs and impoverishment.

But there are many good people in this country that won’t allow Finland to be fed to the dogs by anti-immigration parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS).* It’s their bravery and example that inspires and gives us hope.

In the same way there are good examples there are also bad ones that cannot be accepted. One of these was reported by YLE Monday about a Nepalese woman who was ordered by security guards at the Rockcock festival of Kuopio forced her to leave the premises because she was collecting empty bottles. Apart from asking the woman in an allegedly demeaning manner why she came to Finland to collect empty bottles, the security guard said that they had a police order to prohibit foreigners from collecting bottles at the festival.

The Kuopio police have denied ever giving such an order.

The Finnish husband of the woman is considering bringing charges against the Rockcock organizers for ethnic profiling. The case has interested human right watchdog Amnesty International.

Racism is a big issue in Finland. We know it’s a big issue. Dead giveaways are our collective denial and our near-silence concerning this social ill.

While our reaction to racism should be first and foremost a reaction, we need a fundamental change in thinking and education beginning at schools and at home.

Racism is a pernicious force that destroys instead of strengthens a society. Just like in some parts of the United States after the Civil Rights Movement (1955-68), it should be clear that there is not only a new era of respect but that racist behavior should be pointed out fearlessly as something shameful.

I had the opportunity in June to hear Swedish Feminist Initiative MEP Soraya Post speak at an European Network Against Racism assembly in Brussels. She said that the problem that minorities face in Europe is due to weak institutions that don’t defend their rights.

Sweden’s Feminist Initiative MEP Soraya Post speaking at Enar’s general assembly in June. Photo by Enrique Tessieri.


Why are those institutions that Post speaks of so weak?

One of the most incredible matters about racism is its selective memory and that it denies, among many other matters, what we are by cooking new narratives and myths.

Every human being was once or has some relative that was a migrant. Since it is a fact that humankind has always been on the move and migrated to new lands, why is this important fact about ourselves conveniently forgotten?

One possible answer to the above question is that when we forget that we were migrants, or have relatives who were migrants, we are entitled, like white privilege, economic, social and political power to rule over others who are more recent migrants.

Time Wise defines white privilege in the following terms:

White privilege refers to any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy.

In the 1920s and 1930s Finland forged a social construct like Finnish national identity, which was meant to be exclusive, not inclusive.

And it’s exactly that, the exclusive nature of national identity, that makes it so perverse and problematic today to create a socially just society where equal opportunity is the norm, not the exception.

How are we supposed to promote inclusive Nordic values to newcomers if our national identity is so exclusive? This exclusivity has been forged in a backdrop of over 1.2 million Finnish emigrants who left this country between 1860 and 1999.

One way of starting to challenge this exclusive national club, where being white and speaking perfect Finnish is one of the many requirements, is by biting the hand that feeds our racism.

* 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. Yossie


    “why is this important fact about ourselves conveniently forgotten?”

    What you are conveniently forgetting is that immigration has not always been in the best interest of the native population. History has plenty of examples how native population mostly died off or their culture getting totally wiped off.

    Now of course you start moaning how this is fear mongering. However it is very easy for you to risk finnish language, culture and people because after all, like you said yourself, you are an immigrant and other. What if your social experience fails? What if multiculturalism is a horrible mistake? Plenty of evidence to go around how diverse countries have different ethnic and religious groups fighting each other. Finns are left with the problems when you do what? Most likely doing what you always do when things get too hot, leave for greener pastures. That’s what immigrants like you do.

    “White privilege refers to any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy.”

    The name victimizes whites. Frankly, it is incitement against whites. Does whites have white privilege is Africa? In Asia? Does my whiteness give me edge if I try to get a job in pizza place owned by a non-white immigrant? I would not be surprised if people would prefer to hire people from the same ethnic/religious/whatever group they belong to. Calling it white privilege however is flat out wrong.