Covid-19 pandemia and closing borders prompt questions about food production in Finland. As many countries in Europe have closed their borders, among the few international flights that continue to operate are charter flights with workers from Eastern Europe.
In 2017, several activities were organised in both Denmark and the US Virgin Islands to commemorate the centenary of the end of Danish colonialism in the Caribbean. 100 years had passed since Denmark sold the three islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas) to the US, which marked the end of over 200 years of Danish colonial rule on the islands.
As a panelist in an antiracist seminar in Abo Akademi University in Finland recently, with participants from the faculty and students, a question was posed to me. I considered it key for anyone with interest in understanding the centuries old human problem of race and racism. The question was: “What is the right way to anti-racist work?”
Several students and researchers who are racialised as non-white have raised critical questions about racism in the Finnish academia and pointed out the lack of existing practices to tackle such problems in recent years. In a RASTER blog post, published in December 2017, Njoki Githieya identified the domination of one identity – whiteness – in ascribing value to persons treated as ‘others’ and urged for a discussion of the various forms of systemic de-legitimization of Blacks and Africans in the Finnish academia. A few months earlier in another blog text, researcher Leonardo Custódio had analysed the silencing force of whiteness in the Nordic academia.
Under the Act on Equality between Women and Men, Finnish universities must aim to “prevent discrimination based on gender, to promote equality between women and men, and thus to improve the status of women, particularly in working life”. Since 2014, under the same Act, universities must also work to prevent “discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression”. Finnish universities are also obliged to conform to the Non-Discrimination Act for which the aims are “to foster and safeguard equality and enhance the protection provided by law to those who have been discriminated against in cases of discrimination”. Discriminatory treatment based on “age, ethnic or national origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics” fall under the scope of the Act. While there currently is little research written in English on racism in Finnish academia, cases of institutional and individual racism in universities have been documented in Finnish media.
Grace I-An Gao
Taiwanese architect Hsieh’s installation during Helsinki Design Week 2017 changed my views about the racism debate and the imagination of borders. Although the installation has ended, the implication is profoundly valid and still worthwhile to help us discover the power embedded in the community. It engages people to ponder the important questions from the refugee communities: ”Whose life is worthy? Whose suffering is recognized? Who counts as human?” (for related discussion see Näre, 2018). There is no one universal answer to these profound questions, but a constant attempt to engage, negotiate and redefine. Specifically, Hsieh’s architecture installation enables me to get to know the people from the Right to Live demonstration.
The antiracist research network RASTER supports the criticism and demands raised by SahWira Africa International towards the recent award-winning PLAN International Finland campaign “Maternity wear for a 12-year old”. We also encourage other organisations to continue the critical discussion about the repetitive gesture of speaking on behalf of and “saving brown women”.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon, let me begin by a disclaimer: I am an Angry black woman in the making.” This was the line I used to open my presentation at the Challenges to Migrant and Racialized Researchers in the Nordic Countries workshop during the recently organized ETMU days in Jyväskylä. As a young black immigrant researcher in Finland, I am confronted by inequality more often than I’d care to disclose, but, for the purpose of this paper which is a representation of my short presentation at the seminar, I will try to address my thoughts holding the larger black community as a whole.
In the first week of June, I participated in the workshop “Racism and Anti-racism in the Nordic Societies”, at the Södertörn University in Sweden. It was the first time I attended an academic anti-racism event. As a black newcomer to the field, I felt the discussions were rich and enlightening. However, I also felt how whiteness in the academia can be silencing. Based on my experience in the workshop, this text is a reflection about the silencing force of whiteness in the academia and how it can affect the participation of black scholars in predominantly white groups, environments and debates.
Whiteness is not a matter of skin pigmentation or phenotypical traits but a structural system of advantage that grants privilege to white people. Whiteness as a system of supremacy and privilege is based on exclusion of other groups, and hence, becomes a site of struggle for people who don’t meet the social ideal of whiteness, such as, for example, Russian-speakers in Finland.