It cannot be overstated that many people of African, Roma, Arab and Muslim descent endure shocking manifestations of racism on a daily basis in Finland. Some victims choose to stay put and weather the storm while others relocate - in the interest of their children and perhaps their sanity.
According to Migrant Tales, an African mother (named Sara) relocated from Mikkeli, eastern Finland to Helsinki because her child, 8 years old, was subjected to continuous racist bullying at school.
The story strikes a chord and is hard to ignore partly because it is not the first time a mother living in Finland is forced to relocate in a bid to protect her child from racist abuse.
In December 2012, the story of Umayya Abu-Hanna was published (in Finnish) by Helsingin Sanomat (read article in English, here) and sparked a storm both online and offline. Abu-Hanna, a woman of Palestinian origin and her adopted daughter of African origin relocated from Finland to the Netherlands in December 2010 as a result of what she termed "Finnish racism". According to Abu-Hanna, she moved to Finland in 1981 and as an immigrant she experienced racist name-calling. But she never guessed that black skin is - in her words - such a big "hate magnet" in Finland, until she adopted a child of Zulu origin born in South Africa. Her daughter was allegedly racially abused (verbally) in public on numerous occasions.
Although Sara's plight in Mikkeli has not grabbed headlines like that of Umayya Abu-Hanna, the two women have something in common: they were forced to relocate because of racism. Abu-Hanna left the country while Sara relocated internally. Both of them aspire to raise their kids in an environment free of racist abuse.
Racism is taught
According to Sara, her 8-year-old son was bullied by the majority of his classmates and at one point he asked why he was not born white like other children at his school. Nobody wanted to play with him at school and one day he did not want to go to school.
People who choose to downplay the prevalence of racism in Finland would argue that the bullies were children, hence did not know what they were doing. Rather than discuss the bone of contention, some would find a way to criticize the victim or the person who brought the story to light (like Abu-Hanna was criticized). Attacking victims who dare to speak out is part of the problem in Finland.
In my opinion, the bullies at Sara's son's school in Mikkeli did not just wake up one morning and decided to be racist. Racism is taught. Society or someone must have taught the children to hate.
Finland has many values that should be inculcated in the next generation, racism is not one of them.
Like Nelson Mandela wrote, "no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love..."
Parents and teachers have a moral duty to teach children to respect everyone - irrespective of race, color, origin, gender or religion. Failure to do so is a disservice to Finland and society as a whole. Children are Finland's future and the country's leaders of tomorrow. Raising kids who could be aptly described as "next generation racists" is bad for Finland and the world in general.
Racist bullying in schools in reprehensible. Parents and teachers have a major role to play to nib it in the bud before it spirals out of control and develops into a more sinister societal problem.
Stories like these do not help the reputation of Mikkeli. In October 2012, stickers with racist messages were posted on municipal election posters in the city and the picture of candidate of immigrant background was vandalized. Go figure.
Read Sara's story in Finnish, here, here, here and here.
Correction: Umayya Abu-Hanna is Christian, not Muslim as erroneously stated previously. Not that it matters.
Photo source: BCG
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