On Thursday night, around thirty to forty people staged a protest in sinister welcome for a bus full of asylum seekers arriving in Lahti, Finland. The protesters hurled rocks at Finnish Red Cross workers who were there to receive the around fifty people most of whom had fled the war in Iraq. The group of protesters, comprised mostly of white Finnish men, also threw fireworks towards the bus, that exploded with loud bangs. Fireworks are frequently cited as triggering PTSD in people who have survived war. One of the protesters was clad in the unmistakable white robe and hood of the White Supremacist terrorist organization the Klu Klux Klan. Many waved Finnish flags.
Even though many Finnish politicians and members of the public have already done so, we must keep condemning the actions of these racist people. Naming racism, shaming racist behavior and staying alert does not polarize people, as Finnish politician Stubb falsely claimed in his interview Thursday night, just hours before the protest. In an interview to Iltalehti, Stubb voiced his understanding towards [white Finnish] people “who are afraid of change”. He stated (translation mine): ”Too much tolerance can lead to intolerance” and urged people (who, like myself, are “too tolerant” [of asylum seekers]) not to condemn groups of people that have gathered to harass asylum seekers and march on the streets, flaunting their xenophobia for months now.
For Stubb, the protests that followed just hours later, and adorned many international news sites with pictures of the KKK clad man and Finnish flag, could not have come at a more inopportune time. He literally expressed understanding for fear-based racism hours before some jackass donned a KKK robe and took to the streets. Yet Stubb’s ill-timed interview and the KKK-firework-stoning incident are by no means isolated. The subtle public petting of racists by Finnish public figures has led to a political climate in which someone dares to pose for the cameras in the Klan robe. The Klan robe with its white hood is the most overt symbol of racism. It stands for the killing, lynching and raping of black people.
Us white Finns, who benefit from racism solely because of our skin color, cannot stay silent when shit like this continues to go down in Finland. “Too much tolerance” needs to lead to intolerance, because the only appropriate reaction to racism is zero tolerance. From lunch break conversations to political speeches, I want to see the conversation in Finland around “tolerance” take two turns:
People, especially our elected leaders, need to understand that using the words “racism” and “racist” will not ruin their political careers. If someone exhibits racist behavior they need to be called out on it: the behavior needs to be named. In a social construct and system of oppression where one group of people holds undue power over the other based on skin color, that shit is racism. Call it that.
In Finland the conversation needs to take a shift towards analysis of racism to the analysis of the system of white supremacy. Our society is white supremacist. Speaking only about racism posits the burden or oppression as the problem of people of color. By shifting the focus from racism to white supremacy, the inherent complicity of white people is exposed. This exposé mandates action to actively denounce white privilege. Without action the exposé of white supremacy leads only to white complicity. Complicity = the fact or condition of being involved with others in an activity that is unlawful or morally wrong.
White supremacy in Finland is part of a legacy of what Finnish postcolonial feminist scholars call “colonial complicity”. We have adopted colonial hierarchies that have been used to justify the subjugation of groups of people based on racist fables for centuries. In Finland, we speak of complicity because many Finns hide behind “but we didn’t have slavery/colonies”. Yet the ideology of white supremacy has been a fundamental building block of Finnish national imagery for decades. If you don’t believe me, check out the message in my dad’s elementary school ABC book from the sixties. Under “N” you fill find N for n******. N****** pesee kasvojaan muttei valkene ollenkaan. The n***** washes his face but doesn’t get any whiter.
The white supremacist ideology that has been woven into Finnish national imageries and the violence enacted on people of color in Finland contribute to the overt and more subtle racisms that now reign in Finland. Politicians like Stubb create space for white supremacist violence and terror because they lack the political integrity to name racism.
Zero tolerance of racism mandates that white people disrupt each other’s racism every time by naming it. Racism thrives in homogeneous spaces and sows seeds of violence in the way we use language. Our complicity with the system of white supremacy can only begin to end once we unmask each other and the rest of the hooded cowards.
For an excellent guide for white Finns on confronting their white supremacy see Ruskeat tytöt -blog in Finnish.
For astute commentary on Thursday night's events see Lotta Aarikka's blog in Finnish.