Saturday, 23 July 2011

Helsingin Sanomat on everyday racism in Finland

A well written post about everyday racism in Finland in today's Helsingin Sanomat
Dog faeces in the pram of an African-Finnish family. A working woman who's lived in Finland for 18 years told to go back to Africa. Helsingin Sanomat asked their readers to write in about their experiences with everyday racism in Finland.

"I saw a drunken woman harassing a Muslim woman and her child on the bus stop. Nobody there interfered so I got off the bus. The drunken woman was shouting 'Get the hell out of here, welfare leeches! You should be fucking killed' I threatened to call the police, and when she saw I meant business, she left."

A dark-skinned Finnish woman told us she'd been a victim of harassment due to the color of her skin. "I was sitting in the bus, reading a book when two men sat next to me and across from me. The one next to me leaned in close, practically onto my breasts and asked what I was reading. When I tried to leave, he grabbed me to keep me sitting there. The other one said 'You cunt. Where is your bomb vest? Did you leave it in Afghanistan?' What shocked me the most was that nobody raised a finger to help me."

Researcher and activist Sirkku Varjonen wishes people were more willing to act when they see racism. "Ignoring racist harassment creates an illusion of silent acceptance, which can be just as devastating to the victim as the attack itself," says Varjonen.

True Finn MP Tom Packalén wrote in to remind us that racist violence is rare in Finland. "I think Finland is not a racist country by any means. For example in Helsinki one finds very little racist violence in relation to population, when compared to any other country." Packalén says he doesn't want to disregard people's experiences of harassment, but says that commonly these attacks are such that almost anyone could fall victim. "These cases are due to a different appearance. There is just as much harassment of this kind among the native population. Commonly the attacks are also drug related."

Children also face racism in their daily lives. A reader writes in. "When my Somalian husband comes to pick up our child from kindergarten, she gets laughed at by other children. One time my daughter told me, she and another ethnic girl were not invited to a themed birthday party, because 'black girls can't be princesses'."

Mohamed Xadar Ismail, a project worker for youth organisation Kanava says parents need to think about if they are passing on prejudice to their children. "Racism and prejudice are easy to spot. If a child is raised to be able to interact with people from different cultures from an early age, they will grow up to be a functional adult that gets along well with people. Finland needs more of these skills in the future."