Abusive comments and threatening situations are nothing new to 15-year-old Marc Patterson, who is Finnish-American. He says he’s generally had the word “neekeri” thrown against him, which is considered a racial slur.
“Once when I was on my way home, I ran into a pretty big crowd. They started shouting and then walked behind me. I might’ve got beaten up there,” Patterson recalls.
Racism manifests mostly as caustic insults and physical violence, but there’s also discriminatory attitudes and ridicule. Verbal abuse on the street comes mostly from older people. Adults’ aggression against children or teenagers is not easily forgotten.
“Well yes, it keeps replaying in your head when you come across racism. I don’t like it, but it’s also a little scary,” Patterson says.
Racism now more acceptable?
Researcher Anne-Mari Souto from the University of Eastern Finland says that young people with immigrant backgrounds come across such expressions of racism increasingly often in their everyday lives.
The elections have opened the door to discussions on immigration—also those which were carried in rather harsh tones, according to Souto. That, she says, made visible manifestations of racism appear more acceptable.
“Recent discussions in Finland provide alarming evidence that racism has become more public,” Souto says.
Even though much is said in Finland about multiculturalism and appreciation of different cultures, these speeches do not always translate into action in everyday life.
“The principle of in Rome as Romans do undermines considerations of diversity. For example, it’s preferred that people should speak good Finnish, behave in a Finnish way, greet people, dress and wear makeup like Finns do,” Souto lists.
She notes that this hinders acceptance of new cultural practices.
Straight talking important
The researcher believes that it is particularly important that schools should not deny the presence of racist attitudes.
“ There’s no racism in our school is a really dangerous phrase. For example, if teachers and headmasters keep chanting this refrain, it’s difficult for an individual teen or child to come up to adults and state a different opinion,” Souto argues.
The youths who have experienced racism don’t want to whitewash discrimination and talk about it in terms that turn the discussion around to approach it from the more positive perspective of tolerance, like it is often done in schools.
Anne-Mari Souto says that there is still much room for improvement in multicultural youth work. She notes that anti-racism projects are often launched in the sphere of immigrant work.
“But racism is a phenomenon that needs to be handled also in solely Finnish circles,” she says.
Marc Patterson hopes that the current atmosphere will change.
“People don’t know what it feels like. You take it to heart when you haven’t done anything wrong to those people and still they shout at you. You can only imagine what that feels like.”