Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yle acts irresponsibly by broadcasting racist Finnish movie

In the 21 Century, one would expect a state-owned public-broadcasting company to distance itself from racist content, and perhaps fire employees who promulgate racist and stereotypical views. But in Finland flirting with racism comes with little or no consequences -- that's why a state-owned television channel can afford to air a blatantly racist and distasteful movie, and get away with it --  with some public support.

Finland's national public-broadcasting company, Yle, broadcasted a movie titled "Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä" on Yle TV1. The title roughly translates to "Pekka and Pätkä as n*gg*rs" in English.


The comedy with a racist touch features two Finnish actors, Esa Pakkarinen and Masa Niemi, with blackened faces. Besides the horrendous title, the movie taps into deep-seated stereotypes about people of African descent.

In my view, the movie is racist and deeply offensive. The title alone condemns it to the dungeons. There are disturbing scenes in the movie like one where the main actors, with their faces coloured with black makeup, are referred to as "cannibals", and their presence in a room reported to a police constable. In another scene, the actors are depicted as embarrassingly horrible drum-playing black tribesmen.

The way I see it, Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä is a relic of Finland's racist history, which drags on today with misinformed perception of people of African descent.

As if to add salt to injury, Yle aired the movie in a child-friendly time slot, hence children could watch it and be indoctrinated that it is acceptable to, amongst other things, label people of African descent with the N-word.

I have no illusion that everyone agrees with my unequivocal condemnation of the broadcasting of the movie in question. In fact, many people in Finland defended Yle in a Facebook group for airing the controversial movie. It is worthy to mention, however, that most of those who see nothing wrong with the movie are either white or know nothing about being on the receiving end of racism and damaging racial stereotypes. It's easy for people who are part of the privileged majority (or perceive themselves as part of it) to defend the use of the pejorative N-word, and attempt to dictate what should be and shouldn't be offensive to people of African descent and other minorities.

As a person of African descent who has watched Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä, I submit that Yle TV1 acted irresponsibly by airing it. In my eyes, the offensive "comedy" is as good as a racist joke. Such "jokes" that reinforce stereotypes and offend minority groups are not funny, at least in my opinion, and should not be endorsed or promoted. Yle flouts corporate social responsibility by airing a racially offensive and distasteful movie.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The problem with Kenya's polygamy law

Rights and freedoms of women are rarely taken into consideration in many societies across Africa. Many cultures and laws are designed to put men on a pedestal by blatantly discriminating against women and portraying them as unequal to men. Kenya's polygamy law reflects inequality and discrimination against women in many parts of the African continent.

In April 2014 president Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya signed into law a marriage bill legalizing polygamy, and allowing men to marry as many wives as possible without consulting their existing wives. Traditionally, according to the BBC, first wives were supposed to give consent before men could take more wives but the new polygamy law allows men to take more wives without consulting existing spouses.


Male MPs in Kenya supported the amendment. Female MPs on the other hand, together with Christian leaders, opposed the bill and understandably so.

In my view, the polygamy law is repugnant to equity and good conscience. It is blatantly discriminatory against women and promotes male privilege -- since it allows men to take up multiple wives without consulting existing wives but does not give women the same liberty to marry multiple men without consulting their husbands. In addition, the law demeans women by treating them like persons incapable of giving informed consent on matters that affect them.

Tremendous African male support for the controversial amendment is, in my opinion, shameful -- but not surprising. The disturbing truth is that many African men erroneously believe that women -- like children -- should be seen not heard, which is a twisted belief.

Personally, I advocate monogamy, and believe women, like men, should have a say in all matters that affect them. Polygamy laws and customs are mostly discriminatory against women and promote inequality.

Imagine a world where women were allowed to marry multiple men without consulting existing husbands. All hell would break loose.

I'm positive that men would not tolerate a culture or law that subjugates them and benefits women. Men should therefore equally oppose the subjugation of women. That's what good conscience requires. The world will be a better place if everyone respected the Golden Rule: "What thou avoidest suffering theyself seek not to impose on others." [Epictetus]

Kenya is a state party to the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by virtue of the country's accession to the treaty on 9 March 1984. Kenya's polygamy law promotes discrimination against women, and is a clear violation of the country's obligation under CEDAW. The controversial law should be amended or scrapped completely -- if the country is not ready to give women the same liberties ceded to men by the polygamy law. After all "polygamy" includes both polyandry and polygyny.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Racist vandalism is costly for Helsinki city

Perpetrators of racism (racists) give all sorts of reasons in an attempt to justify or explain their twisted perception or treatment of fellow human beings who happen to look different. Sometimes economic reasons are evoked. Some in Finland argue, for instance, that migrants from Africa and elsewhere are "welfare shoppers" who move to the country to tap welfare benefits and deplete state funds. Despite their concerns, many racists go around vandalizing public spaces with racist writings and graffiti -- forgetting that cleaning up the mess will be financially costly for the state and the city they seek to "protect" from "invaders".

The City of Helsinki has cleaned up a bus stop (see pictures) that was vandalized with racist writings and drawings.

In a 2011 blog post, I wrote about the ugly face of racism at a bus stop in east Helsinki. The bus stop, which is next to Edupoli -- an adult education centre in Hertoniemi, was vandalized with a scary, racist text and drawing of the swastika.

Driving past the bus stop in the spring of 2014 - about three years since the vandalism was first spotted - I noted that the bus stop had been condoned off and work was going on there. A few days later I stopped at the bus stop to see what was happening, and realized that the bus stop had been given a makeover. The vandalized glass at the back had been replaced and everything was looking nice, clean and welcoming to all.


In my mind, I wondered when driving off the bus stop how much the City of Helsinki spent cleaning up the mess left behind by a racist. Although unable to confirm how much was spent renewing the bus stop, I am confident the renovation was not free of charge. The city council must have allocated some money that could have been used for something else - if some disturbed individual hadn't vandalized that bus stop.

Mindful of the fact that racist vandalism is not uncommon around Helsinki, it is plausible to conclude that the authorities spend lots of money cleaning up and making the city welcoming to all persons, irrespective of race, color, religion or gender.

Personally, I think the actions of racist vandals cost the city money and gives it a bad name. I welcome Helsinki city's decision to do away with manifestations of racism at the bus stop in Hertoniemi. Although costly, cleaning up makes the city more welcoming and goes a long way to protect the image of Helsinki - World Design Capital 2012. The authorities should get rid of manifestations of racism in other parts of the city. Vandals on their part should do their city (our city) a favor -- stop messing up public spaces and forcing the city to use resources that could be put to better use.

If racists, who describe themselves these days as "patriots", truly love their country and care about its economic situation they won't vandalize public spaces and force city authorities to spend resources cleaning up racist writings and drawings in bus stops and other public spaces.

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