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Threshold high to anti-racist action

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is being observed worldwide on Friday the 21st of March. Most incidents of racial discrimination are never reported, and the threshold to intervening often seems too high.

Emilia Fagerlund
Emilia Fagerlund, Multiculural Planning Officer at the Finnish Red Cross. Image: Yle

A joke, a look, a gesture. Racism can be expressed in subtle ways.

"Not everyone even recognizes racism. Racism appears often in very mundane actions," says Emilia Fagerlund, Multiculural Planning Officer at the Finnish Red Cross.

Most racist acts never come to light. Even those that constitute criminal actions which are reported to the police are only the tip of the iceberg. Most racism finds expression in public places. Fagerlund says that everyone should consider how to take action against racism when they see it.

"For example, if you notice someone acting inappropriately on a bus, then the very least you can do is go to sit or stand beside the victim. In this way you can show your sympathy for the victim. When it happens in a public space, it's worth seeking support from other people, so that you are not dealing with the situation alone," suggests Fagerlund.

In school, at work, online

According to Emilia Fagerlund, the Finns' threshold to intervening is too high. She encourages younger people, especially, to take action against incidents of racism.

"It is disturbing that people don't intervene. It is important that young people tell their parents and their teachers, for example if it is happening at school. In this way racism can be brought to light. At the same time, it provides the opportunity to talk about racism at school and experiences of racism," she says.

Fagerlund stresses, though, that in the final analysis, dealing with racism in schools is the responsibility of adults.

"We adults can create an environment in which racism can and may be discussed. In this way we give respect to those who have been the victims of racism."

Racism is found not only in schools, but also in the workplace and online. Even a simple reaction can have significance.

"If someone tells an inappropriate joke at work, or you notice inappropriate comments online, you can blow the whistle to stop the game. You can be the first to say, this is not funny," points out Fagerlund.

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