Friday, August 29, 2014

The plight of Finland's black taxi drivers

Manifestations of racism and discrimination in Finland keep surfacing. Hence anti-racism and anti-discrimination efforts in the Nordic country must continue, and perhaps intensify.

Helsingin Sanomat (HS) published a disturbing and damning article (in Finnish) on 22 August 2014 about suspicion and direct racism faced by dark-skinned taxi drivers in Finland, precisely in the nation's capital. According to HS, taxi drivers with so-called foreign background encounter suspicion as a result of language skills and lack of local knowledge, but also as a result of direct racism. The newspaper tells the story of Masawud Magagi, a Ghanaian-born taxi driver who waited in vain for customers at a taxi post -- although about ten customers waited for a taxi at the same taxi post. None of the customers got into his taxi. They waited for another taxi.

The taxi driver told HS that in his view, racism explains it all.

Another taxi driver of Ghanaian origin, Stanley Aboagye, corroborated the claim. He narrated an experience in which a customer got into his taxi, called him the N-word, then left his taxi.

In my view, Finnish language skills and limited local knowledge have nothing to do with the way dark-skinned taxi drivers are treated. Perpetrators of discrimination and racism in Finland often point to language barrier in a bid to justify discrimination, but personally, I do not buy it. Many taxi drivers who face racism and discrimination at taxi posts across the country have at least basic Finnish language skills required for the job. Local knowledge is also no issue since taxi drivers, including drivers of foreign origin take a course and pass a test before they qualify to drive a taxi. Besides, taxis have satellite navigation systems, which drivers, including ethnic Finnish drivers, use if they do not know a particular location.

I have lived in Helsinki for a long time, and I once boarded a taxi chauffeured by an ethnic Finnish driver who did not know my destination. He used a navigation system to get me there.

It is prejudicial to think that dark-skinned drivers do not know their job simply because they look different. Unfortunately there are many people in Finland who think that way, including people in the country's parliament. In fact, an MP declined to take a taxi allegedly driven by a dark-skinned driver -- in front of parliament.

Ethnic Finnish taxi drivers, I feel, also promote discrimination and racism by accepting customers who reject dark-skinned drivers on taxi queues. Normally, taxis queue and customers are required to respect the queue -- by boarding the first taxi on the queue. Ethnic Finnish taxi drivers become part of the problem when they welcome customers who violate queuing regulations on grounds of race.

I have no doubt that dark-skinned taxi drivers are treated differently by some of their colleagues and by customers because of stereotypes related to something they have no control over: color of their skin. Blatant despicable treatment of people of African descent persists in Finland, I believe, because perpetrators -- from parliament to the streets -- know they can get away with it, since the public and people in power do not speak out strong enough against racism and discrimination. Finnish media also lets perpetrators off lightly. The situation will change, I think, when attitudes towards perpetrators change.

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