Dismantling Antiblackness in Finnish Higher Education (Call to Action)

In this post, RASTER.FI publishes the call to action ”Dismantling Antiblackness in Finnish Universities”. The document, written collectively by members of the Finnish academic community, describes the problematic persistance of Antiblackness in Finland’s university system, indicates anti-racist actions to improve students’ experience in university, and recommends textual and audiovisual resources for further reading and learning. The call also invites signatures in support and solidarity. Banner on photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash.


suomeksi, på svenska

In light of recent events that have taken place at the University of Helsinki, especially the use of Afrikan Tähti as a game to role play  at a student event, the public and media debates that it generated, which were followed by the sales of the game being multiplied by three in some stores, this call aims to address antiblack racism in Finnish higher education.


To sign the call to action, fill in the form with your information.
Allekirjoittaaksesi Call-to-Action, täytä lomakkeeseen tietosi.


While we take what has happened at the University of Helsinki as a point of departure for our reflections and for this call to action, we assert that racism is commonplace in student events and the ways Finnish universities are run.

Antiblack racism has been reported in Finnish media in the past years and more cases of antiblack racism at Finnish universities have been recently reported. In fact, in 2012, a Nigerian medical student had accused the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tampere of racism. In 2017, Business students at Aalto University organised an office crawl for their employees on the theme of “The Empire of Britain and colonial times” using racist jokes at checkpoints.

In 2018, students at Åbo Akademi University were found to have attended a party on the theme of “Africa” in blackface. That same year, students at Jyväskylä University went to a sitsfest in blackface and chanted songs with Nazi references and the use of the n-word in the lyrics. A few weeks ago, a media investigation raised issues around antiblack racism and labour exploitation at the University of Turku. Racism is not a new phenomenon in Finland or in Finnish universities; however, the increasing reporting of it in national media and social media may suggest less tolerance toward normative racist practices and discourses in Finland.

Therefore, while specific institutions and organisations should be responsive to the acceptance and normalisation of racist practices within them, the discussion on antiblackness should go beyond the walls of a single university and the management of a single student organisation to encapsulate all institutions of higher education in Finland.

Importantly, this call to action draws attention to the ways in which the denial of antiblack racism and its severance from colonial rule leads to reactions that are defined by surprise, shock and unfamiliarity as animating emotions that render incomprehensible the existence of racism in Finland. This is confounded by a failure to examine and take seriously more generally the experiences of racialised people within Finnish society and more specifically how antiblack racism is embedded within institutions of higher education in Finland.

The refusal to acknowledge the heterogeneity of Finnish society is what structures the unfamiliarity with the plight of black and other racialised groups in university settings thus naturalising racism that sustains black and other racialised students’ subordination.

For that reason, we should discuss what this event and the debates that followed can tell us about Finnish history, culture, and society. In doing so, we hope to gesture towards horizons in which racism is actively countered on a political level and not recuperated by depoliticised neoliberal discourses of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “internationalisation”.

In addition, a critique of colonial violence cannot fall into a culturally responsive approach that looks to the diversity of the students, instead racism must be named and confronted by submitting to anticolonial and antiracist pedagogies that implicate Finland in the colonial conquest of the West. To dismantle barriers to anticolonial and antiracist work entails the work of abolishing structures that harm black and other racialised people and to take seriously histories, knowledges and experiences that are grounded in liberatory frameworks.

Substantive dismantling of barriers also means acknowledging the entanglements between knowing and unknowing by paying attention to how epistemic ignorance makes impossible relationality and institutes colonial mastery instead of generative, unresolvable, and uneven epistemologies. This call to action therefore orients our vision towards recognising distinct modes of coloniality happening at the university by refusing to displace racialisation as that which happens outside Finnish borders, to validate and expand black and other racialised people’s presence in Finland.

In the writing of this call, we were inspired by several transnational calls to action to tackle antiblack racism in institutions but also other liberation movements. For example, the Palestine and Praxis: Open letter and call to action and the Scarborough National Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education.

The call to dismantle antiblackness in Finland inscribes itself in a global movement for black liberation and affirmation of black life. It is also deeply connected to other liberation struggles in Finland and transnationally. It is for example not possible to divorce the struggle against antiblack racism from issues related to Sámi sovereignty, border imperialism, xenophobic nationalism, other forms of racisms, migrant labour exploitation and so on. This acknowledgement demands forms of solidarities that recognise these entanglements in order to more efficiently address oppression, dispossession and marginalisation.

In the classroom and on campus, we commit to:

  • Demanding our academic institutions, faculties and departments to create courses that explore Finnish participation in the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, and to include this knowledge in existing courses;
  • Resisting the (re)production of black trauma, and gesture toward narratives of liberation;
  • Challenging the idea that Finland is a white nation;
  • Engaging black scholarship in course syllabi, our writing, and through invitation of black speakers and community members to speak at events, without engaging in tokenism;
  • Acknowledging the heterogeneity of blackness in Finland; 
  • Resisting the liberal categorisations of race, by rejecting the narrative that divides and hierarchizes along axes such as social class, language, citizenship, gender, race, religion and sexuality;
  • Centering critical race analyses in teaching and drawing links to intersectional oppression and transnational liberation movements; 
  • Rejecting the idea that race and racism are imported and newly-emerged phenomenon in the Finnish context;
  • Acknowledge that black teachers and lecturers experience antiblack racism from their students and other teaching staff (ie. racism manifesting in student feedback, in disrespectful and inappropriate behavior in the classroom, in racially motivated complaints, etc.).

In research, we commit to:

  • A practice where research does not stop at academic output, but followed up with a commitment to transformative action that addresses the needs of said community;
  • Building concrete research support practices, including mentorship and supervision with compatible level of skills and experiences on research area, to encourage black faculty thriving through the academic ranks and into positions of research leadership, accompanied by recognition practices for members of historically underrepresented communities bearing disproportionate burdens of the labour;
  • Providing scholarships, funding, bursaries, fellowships and related, dedicated support including increased research opportunities, mentorship and alumni engagement to support black engagement, enrollment, and thriving;
  • For research about black communities or that is likely to affect the welfare of black communities, encouraging co-construction, collaboration and relation building with relevant communities;
  • When collaborating with partners from Africa, ensure that they are involved in all decision-making and planning activities throughout the entire project, and equitable ownership of projects, accreditation and funding distribution; 
  • Reject white saviour partnership arrangements;
  • Engage in ethical research practices and accountability;
  • Recognise and condemn extractive neocolonial academic practices as a form of unethical research practice.

As administrative and support staff, we commit to: 

  • Equitable care and protection of black staff, students and members within the academic environment;
  • Equip student welfare officers, teaching staff, HR personnel, university and occupational therapist to administer appropriate psychological first aid when being first responder to staff or student who have endured antiblack racial trauma;
  • Take seriously and follow up on feedback from black staff on current operational and administrative practices and standards in a transparent manner;
  • Acknowledge that emotional reactions that result from antiblack racial discrimination and dehumanising practices is not a reason to evade institutional responsibility;
  • Develop an official complaint channel that is clear, easily-accessible, transparent and prioritises complainant’s well-being to handle antiblack and racist complaints;
  • Monitoring and reporting of complaints related to antiblack and racist incidents on campus and related to campus activities;
  • Recognise that tackling racism in universities requires a sustainable financial investment. Allocate a budget to this end and communicate clearly and transparently about it;
  • Disengage from marketing and communication practices that capitalise on a supposed “diversity” (eg. using photographs of racialised staff and students for promotional material while institutional racism is still rampant).

As members (research, teaching and administrative and support staff and students) of academic institutions, we commit to:

  • Pressuring our academic institutions to collect racial equality data, with regards to racial discrimination, recruitment, retention, and composition of the institution;
  • Recruit and retain black faculty: this may be through the creation of positions that require expertise in specific areas such as, but not limited to, black studies, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial studies, Decolonial investigations, black feminism, Transnational feminism, social justice and intersectionality. This entails seeking black academics who are not currently based in Finland, while at the same time paying attention to the employment situation and working conditions of black researchers and teachers who are currently in Finland;
  • Ensure that black postsecondary students are financially and intellectually supported in their studies and research and that academic positions are created and made sustainable for them to work in Finnish higher education;
  • Disengage from exclusion based on language. This means ensuring that communication, events, meetings, initiatives use English or a combination of languages that include English so as to not exclude non-Finnish and non-Swedish speakers. This also means holding peers accountable when they use exclusionary practices such as speaking Finnish and Swedish in front of non-Swedish and non-Finnish peers in order to antagonize them.

As application evaluators for funding institutions, we commit to:

  • Requiring applicants who do research with black communities or that is likely to affect the welfare of black communities to report concrete efforts made to co-construct, collaborate, and build relations with members of these communities; 
  • Take into account what is the researcher’s relationship to the communities they research in the selection process;
  • Make transparent the profiles of funding applicants, proportion of successful and unsuccessful applications, especially in social sciences;
  • Select and highlight research projects within the social sciences and humanities that engage with the themes of racism, colonialism, and social justice that go beyond migration and integration narratives. Migration and race are not interchangeable;
  • Expect and require an engagement and practice of research ethics and accountability.

As members of student unions and associations, we commit to:

  • Making an explicit stand and taking concrete action on antiblackness on campus;
  • Interrogating the absence of black and racialised students at events and as service users;
  • Supporting black and racialised students organising;
  • Reaching out to and sustaining engagement with black and racialised students; 
  • Consulting racialised professionals to design surveys that attend to racialised students’ well-being initiatives; and ensuring that data collected can be openly-sourced;
  • End and stop promoting activities that are essentially voluntourism and/or are based on notions of white saviourism. 

Resources

Articles, chapters, magazines & interviews

Reports

Edited books

  • Rasismi, valta ja vastarinta — Rodullistaminen, valkoisuus ja koloniaalisuus Suomessa, edited by Suvi Keskinen, Minna Seikkula & Faith Mkwesha (2021). Gaudeamus. 
  • Antiblackness, edited by Moon-Kie Jung & João H. Costa Vargas (2021). Duke University Press.
  • Feminisms in the Nordic Region Neoliberalism, Nationalism and Decolonial Critique, edited by Suvi Keskinen, Pauline Stoltz & Diana Mulinari (2020). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Racialization, Racism, and Anti-Racism in the Nordic Countries, edited by Peter Hervik (2019). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu & Francesca Sobande (2019). Pluto Press.
  • Relating Worlds of Racism: Dehumanisation, Belonging, and the Normativity of European Whiteness edited by Philomena Essed, Karen Farquharson, Kathryn Pillay & Elisa Joy White (2019). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Locating African European Studies: Interventions, Intersections, Conversation, edited by Felipe Espinoza Garrido, Caroline Koegler, Deborah Nyangulu, & Mark U. Stein (2019). London: Routledge.
  • Dismantling Race in Higher Education Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy, edited by Jason Arday & Heidi Safia Mirza (2018).
  • Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe, edited by Michael McEachrane (2014). Routledge.
  • Whiteness and Postcolonialism in the Nordic Region: Exceptionalism, Migrant Others and National Identities, edited by Kristín Loftsdóttir & Lars Jensen (2012). Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Complying with Colonialism: Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region, edited by S. Keskinen, S. Tuori, S. Irni & D. Mulinari (2009). London: Routledge.

Books

  • Sara Ahmed. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke University Press.
  • Zygmunt Bauman. (2004). Work, Consumerism and the New Poor. Open University Press.
  • Simone Browne. (2015). Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Duke University Press.
  • Judith Butler. (1997). The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford University Press.
  • Aimé Césaire. (1950). Discourse on Colonialism.
  • Fatima El-Tayeb. (2011). European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Frantz Fanon. (1952). Black Skin, White Masks.
  • Frantz Fanon. (1961). The Wretched of the Earth.
  • C.L.R. James. (1989). The Black Jacobins. Vintage.
  • Audre Lorde. (1984). Sister Outsider.
  • Achille Mbembe. (2011). Necropolitics. Duke University Press.
  • Katherine McKittrick. (2006). Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Sherene Razack. (1998). Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Christina Sharpe. (2016). In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press.
  • Christina Sharpe. (2010). Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. Duke University Press.
  • Harsha Walia. (2021). Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism. Haymarket Books.
  • Eric Williams. (1994). Capitalism and Slavery. University of North Carolina Press.

Videos & podcasts

SIGNATURES

Anaïs Duong-Pedica, Gender studies, Åbo Akademi University
Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin, CEREN – University of Helsinki 

Dionysia Kang, Åbo Akademi University 

Monica Gathuo 

Milka Njoroge, Queen’s University, Kingston Canada 

Inka Rantakallio, University of Helsinki 

Sofia Achame 

Nelli Ruotsalainen, PhD Candidate, University of Helsinki 

Hedayat Selim, Åbo Akademi University 

Kim Ramstedt, Tutkimusyhdistys Suoni ry 

Jasmin Slimani 

Caroline Nordenswan, Åbo Akademi

Jana Turk, Doctoral Student at University of Helsinki 

Kris Clarke, University of Helsinki 

Anita Kittery, University of Eastern Finland 

Ulla Laukkanen 

Wilma Staffans 

Margarita Sakilayan-Latvala, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences 

Iida Pöllänen, Tampere University 

Lotta Leiwo (opiskelija, Helsingin yliopisto) 

Johanna Ennser-Kananen, University of Jyväskylä 

Taina Saarinen, University of Jyväskylä 

Iida Kauhanen, University of Oulu 

Johanna Leinonen, University of Oulu 

Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen 

Feven, Abegaz 

Sanna Ryynänen, University of Jyväskylä 

Miika Karjalainen 

Mia Halonen, docent, senior researcher, University of Jyväskylä 

Julia Huang 

Maria Petäjäniemi, University of Oulu 

Theresia Bilola, Turku City Council 

Vanessa Quednau 

Marjukka Weide, University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä 

Vesa Puuronen, University of Oulu 

Samira Saramo, Migration Institute of Finland 

Sabine Ylönen, University of Jyväskylä 

Zahra Edalati , Tampere University 

Magdalini Liontou, University of Oulu 

Jusaima Moaid-azm Peregrina 

Pauliina Puranen, Jyväskylän yliopisto 

Riikka Kunelius, University of Eastern Finland 

Angel Iglesias Ortiz , Tampere University 

Mafi Boby Fortune, University of Oulu 

Susanna Välimäki, associate professor of art research, University of Helsinki 

Magda Karjalainen, University of Oulu 

Kristiina Skinnari, University of Jyväskylä

Leonardo Custódio, Åbo Akademi University

Kristiina Skinnari, University of Jyväskylä 

Samuel Lindholm, JYU 

Reetta Humalajoki, University of Turku 

Martta Myllylä, Doctoral Student, University of Helsinki 

Anna-Leena Riitaoja, University of Helsinki 

Behnaz Norouzi, University of Oulu 

Karoliina Lummaa, Turun Yliopisto 

Juho Kaitajärvi-Tiekso, PhD student (TUNI/TAU/etc.), Planning officer (Uniarts Helsinki) 

Antti-Ville Kärjä, University of the Arts Helsinki 

Patrik Hettula, Åbo Akademi University 

Golnar Gishnizjani, PhD student, University of Turku 

Camila Viana, University of Jyväskylä 

Patricia Carvalho Ribeiro, University of Helsinki 

Jasmine Kelekay, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara

Tytti Pintilä, JAMK University of Applied Sciences 

Christal Spel 

Minni Matikainen, Jyväskylän yliopisto 

Kuura Irni, University of Helsinki 

Heidi Katz, Åbo Akademi University 

Faith Mkwesha 

Sanna Ojalammi, Jyväskylän yliopisto 

Sari Pöyhönen, University of Jyväskylä 

Marianna Ferreira-Aulu, University of Turku 

Nettie, Jyvaskyla University 

Janina Vuoti, Jyväskylän yliopisto

Heidi Niemelä, Oulun yliopisto 

Kaarna Tuomenvirta, PhD Candidate, University of Helsinki 

Lauri Uusitalo, Tampere University 

Hamed Ahmadinia, Åbo Akademi University 

Anne Häkkinen, University of Jyväskylä 

Mona Eid, University of Helsinki 

Saara Loukola 

Vilma Ikonen 

Mira Karjalainen, University of Helsinki 

Elina Oinas, University of Helsinki 

Dusica Ristivojevic, Grant based senior researcher, UH 

Maedeh Ghorbanian, doctoral candidate, Åbo Akademi 

Anna Rastas, Tampere University

Sabine Harrer, University of Vienna 

Ramieza Mahdi 

Elina Turjanmaa, University of Oulu 

Alganesh Messele, King’s College, London University 

Aino Nevalainen, HY 

Maarit Forde, Tampere University 

Pedro Oliveira, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies 

Faranak Halali Luca Tainio, University of Helsinki 

Reetta Ronkainen, Jyväskylän yliopisto 

Ioana Țîștea, Tampere University 

Ulkar Aghayeva, Chair of Fem-R 

Tiina Seppälä, Rovaniemi 

Suvi Keskinen, University of Helsinki 

Minna Seikkula, University of Helsinki 

Monika Keisala, student at Turku University 

Tuuli Kurki, University of Helsinki

Sabaheta Ramcilovic-Suominen, Natural Resources Institute Finland, Luke.

Cecilia Fewster, University of Helsinki

Anne-Mari Souto, University of Eastern Finland 

Sofie Gregersen 

Aino-Maija Elonheimo, University of Helsinki 

Suvi Lensu, Aarhus ja Edinburgh yliopistot 

Sirpa Lappalainen, University of Eastern Finland 

Saara Toukolehto, University of Groningen

Nina Järviö 

Keshia D’silva, University of Helsinki 

Majed Abusalama, PhD Candidate at Tampere University, Director of WeAreNotNumbers, writer 

Annaliina Niitamo, PhD candidate, University of Helsinki

Ylva Perera, Åbo Akademi University 

Derek Ruez, Tampere University 

Behnam Khodapana, University of Jyväskylä

Polina Vorobeva, University of Jyväskylä

Sofia Bettella 

Nataša Mojškerc, Tampere University 

Nia Sullivan, Åbo Akademi University

Jeff Hearn, Hanken School of Economics 

Emilia Lakka, University of Jyväskylä 

Adelina Appel 

Päivi Iikkanen, University of Jyväskylä 

Linnéa Holmberg, Åbo Akademi University (Student) 

Tanja Seppälä, University of Jyväskylä 

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg, University of Helsinki 

Emilia Weckman 

Vanessa Virmajoki, University of Helsinki 

Sami Tanskanen (ISYY) 

Audrey Paradis, University of Oulu 

Matti Pihlajamaa 

Milla-Maria Joki, University of Helsinki