Monday, 9 May 2011

Fatim Diarra: Why I'm afraid to walk the streets at night

I came across an opinion piece by Fatim Diarra, a Green youth member from Finland titled Why I'm afraid to walk the streets at night

Yesterday we spent the day in Amsterday, admiring the peculiar architectural details of the city and the canals, adrift with tourists in the red afternoon sun. One of my travel companions noted that Umayya Abu Hanna, a journalist and a writer with Palestinian background, had recently moved to the Netherlands after a long stay in Finland. I took little notice at the time, but somehow my friend's comment stayed with me, in the back of my mind.

Today at the European Youth Forum summit in Antwerpen, I've heard many a discussion concerning the True Finns and got many condolences for their success. I recently read an excellent opinion piece in Helsingin Sanomat concerning racism in Finland, which stated: Enough is Enough. That's right.

Enough is indeed enough.

I've lived all my life in Finland and have of course faced my fair share of racism. I've been spat on and I've been called a nigger whore, as I was making my way to school. I've been told to go back to Africa and 'climb up a tree because I'm a monkey', and ridiculous things of that nature. These have always been separate unfortunate happenings rather than a persistent pattern, and years have gone by between incidents. Recently the atmosphere has changed for the worse however, and for the first time I'm frightened because of the colour of my skin.

During the past year I've noticed people on streetcars, buses and trains staring at me for a longer time than they used to. I get hostile looks. Explaining to someone why I speak such good Finnish has become a weekly occurrence. For the record it is because I was born of a Finnish mother in Finland, and have lived here my entire life. This doesn't always stop people from wondering. Sometimes these people claim to notice a hint of 'bad Finnish' in my speech. These people actually believe the color of your skin affects your ability to learn to speak your mother tongue.

About a month ago things came to a head as I was running away from a drunk in Helsinki who screamed I was a 'nigger whore'

The week after the parliamentary elections I was walking to the University from the student village of Kortesniemi, as I was stopped by a man. He told me in a very aggressive tone of voice that in my area at least 50 people voted for the True Finns and that he was one of those people. I decided not to be provoked and tried to carry on walking, but the man started pestering me for my opinion on the matter. I said I think our differences of opinion are indeed huge, but that we're all entitled to our own opinion. This was clearly not enough for the man, who kept shouting at me until I jumped on board a bus passing by. Thankfully the man stayed  at the bus stop.

This May Day we were having a good time at a local bar. Our student group had two people whose appearance differs from that of your typical Finn. We took seats at the Karaoke side of the bar, and were quickly noticed by a large, bald white man. He proceeded to perform a karaoke favorite "I am a Finn", while glaring angrily at our direction. His girlfriend was duely impressed. I was disgusted. Now, when I walk home alone in the dark and a dark figure walks towards me I get shivers and I'm scared, because I'm not white.

I'm not going to give in to fear or curl up in a corner.

I've been often asked about my opinion as to the origin of the so called 'immigration criticism', and outright racism in Finland. I believe the root of the problem lies in a general rise in poverty levels and income inequality. The parties have failed to maintain the welfare state, and we as a people have failed to keep the parties responsible for their failure. We've let the income inequality rise to record levels, resulting in a polarisation of its ill effects. Our housing policy has been atrocious, and as a result, immmigrant ghettoes have formed. At the same time we've failed to raise people out of unemployment and let the public services disintegrate to the extent where they are no longer used by people who can afford an alternative.

Make no mistake, there is no silver bullet. A good place to begin is starting a discussion for halting the rise in income inequality, how to improve the desirability and quality of public services, what kind of housing we need to build where everyone can live together and what kind of language is acceptable in the public arena.

I'm f*cking pissed off, but I will not surrender. I'm going to keep on walking down those dark streets at night, even though I'm afraid. I'm also going to keep on working to build a Finnish society based on the principle of equality and justice for all, a society that nobody needs to be ashamed of.