I came to this country as a refugee in 1990, at the time of recession and when foreigners where a rarity. As a result, we had become a “Somali shock” overnight. It was common at the time to hear racial slurs, to wake up to the sounds of “perkele”, to drink tea to “mutakuono” and to dance to “vitun neekeri”. People would stop to gawk on the streets, kids yelling “look mommy, a nigger”. Grandmothers would ambush me in the swimming hall shower and scrub me down, hoping to wash the color off. Others, after a few pints, would come over to touch my hair and make inappropriate propositions. I went from being an individual, with aspirations, feelings and rights, to a degraded sub-human: a “mud face”, “nigger”, “whore”, and “social loafer”.
On the good days when I needed exercise, which was usually from Monday to Friday, I got that while being chased by skinheads, at 7:30 every morning on my way to Finnish lessons. I had gone, overnight, from hating running, to becoming a talented long distance runner.
What were these skinheads doing at the bus station at that ungodly hour? These were young boys and a few older diehards who’d mapped our movements, formed a vigilante mob and decided that we had to go. To get to the language center, we had to walk through a darkly-light tunnel, pass the taxi stand, then cross the road and walk a few blocks to the center. The skinheads would converge in the tunnel, set upon us, raining blows like a machine gun and then run after us. Those guys also introduced me to gender equality: justice was meted out to even the women. You had to make a mad dash for the exit of the tunnel, out to daylight, to humanity which just stood nonchalantly watching, laughing and from there onward it was smooth, languid running.
When one of us finally managed to call the police, we were told to keep on running, after all, it is in our African blood, isn’t it? Isn’t that how we got to Finland? Tired of being chased, harassed and physically attacked, I approached the police and reported the skinheads. I was told to run and to avoid being chased. The police eventually agreed to escort us every morning to the language center. We went from the nightmare of having skinheads on our heels to being trailed by one or two police cars. Not what one would hope for, especially coming from Africa, were the police spell trouble and torture. On the last day of being escorted and as a farewell gesture, one of the police men drove up closely, rolled down his window and told me “run, nigger, run”.
Twenty three years later, racists are still chasing and beating up on innocent people.
Recently, a Somali mother with two children under the age of six was left wailing, crying her eyes out and devastated at the Pasila station. She had come from Malmi that morning, cheerfully talking to her Finnish children and looking forward to the day. A person behind her on the escalator violently pushed her three-year old baby out of the way and stood in front of her. She asked the person, a blond woman, why she pushed the child. The woman looked back, snickered and smacked the six-year old girl on the face, smashing her lips and nose wide open. The mother, shocked by the brutal act and the amount of blood spilling from the face of her daughter, yelled for the bystanders to stop the running woman. THEY JUST STOOD AND WATCHED, LIKE SPECTATORS IN A STADIUM. The mother could not run after the woman and leave her kids on the escalator.
When the police came, all the witnesses were slowly dispersing. They refused to step up and be responsible citizens. The mother implored the spectators, tried to appeal to their decency and humanity, but to no avail. Now the case has not gone far, the children are psychologically traumatized and the mother wrecked with feelings of hopelessness, anger and deep hatred. Why do Finnish people do this? Why did they choose to be passive, watching such a heinous act? This is a child, a child! I could understand if it were an adult being attacked. But a defenseless CHILD: that is just plain callousness. Please, if you were at Pasila that day, please go to the police and do your bit. That deranged woman needs to be brought to justice. The next child she attacks could be YOURS.
Times have changed, mostly for the better. The face of racism has changed from milky white to differing hues of yellow, red, chocolate and sometimes green. Racism is no longer exclusive to the Finns. No, we also have migrants doing that. It is okay to bash the Somalis, if only to score brownie points and curry favors. If you’re a frustrated migrant, with low self-esteem and disgruntled disposition, just walk up to a Finn and tell them how you despise those nasty Somalis, sit back and expect to be invited for coffee the next day. You’ll be sorely disappointed for your turn will come too one day. But as you attempt to do this, don’t forgot that you’re here, enjoying relative peace, because we did the running, bit the bullet, endured the worst and paved the way for you.
Why am I opening up old wounds if times are better, as I claim? Because I am tired of hearing that the Finns are racists. That we cannot integrate into this society because we are of a different color, religion and culture. That Finns want us to give up our culture and religion. If that were the case, why are our children learning, free of charge, their mother-tongue and religion in schools? Where else in the world do you have such endless and highly sought after educational opportunities, all paid for by the state?
I’m not denying that racism isn’t a problem in this country. Racism is a global phenomenon that can also be found in Somalis as well as in other migrant communities. Take the example of migrants running on the tickets of populist parties here. I am talking about the ones who glare at you, huge bucket loads of condescension dripping off them and whose mistreatment is even worse than the actual racists. God forbid you should run into them in the hospitals, the government offices and even on the streets.
However, I have a problem with generalizing it to the wider population. The majority of the Finns, often silent and in the background are tolerant, peace-loving and civilized people.
The racists, although vocal and visible, are a small minority in this country. How do you recognize them? They have one thing in common: hatred. It is targeted at people who are doing well, who have jobs, businesses, high salaries, education, good living standards and who speak languages other than just Finnish. They’re easily manipulated and gullible because of their low educational level. And so they take it out on people that they perceive to have led to their misfortune. They tend to live in denial and have a utopian outlook on life: like waking up one day to the sound of angels singing in harmony, violins playing and finding a colorless Finland.
If all Finns were racists, like some claim, then life here would be hellish. Imagine that for a moment, imagine it again for a little while longer, and let it sink in slowly.
Take the opportunities available in this country, learn the language, get an education, work hard and abide by the national laws/norms. If, despite all that, you still feel unwelcome and sick of it all. Don’t despair, there are other countries looking for competent workers and who will gladly take you in. Finland is fast becoming a country known for training and exporting highly skilled labor. But remember to come back. Running away is not the best and only solution. I write from experience here.
We need to engage the tolerant majority constructively, unite forces with them, find common goals and work towards an inclusive Finland. I believe that this is our country, no matter what, and we will be here long after the storm has died down. I love Finland and I love being a Somali-Finn. This is my country, my home, my mother is buried here and my children were born here. Stop being apologetic, stop complaining, roll back your sleeves and join us in finding a solution and building bridges.