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Racialised relations in finland

Anna Rastas





I would very much like to participate in the conference and to be involved with the BEST-project(s). I am convinced that what I am doing and planing to do as a researcher is very much about examining the same questions that are processed in BEST-project(s). My work is about racialised relations in Finland. I think that the kind of a thick discription I am trying to construct (in my PhD that will consist of several articles) could contribute to the BEST project(s), and, I hope, not only as a “case study” about a country with a very small number of non-white people.

Also, being part of a network like BEST would certainly benefit me as a researcher of racism in a country were there are not that many scholars engrossed in these issues.

My problem here is that finding people fullfilling your criteria for “Black Europeans”, that is, enough people to make a sample, is really difficult.

In Finland neither the covernment nor the local authorities collect racial data, nor do official statistics specify ‘race’. In the light of statistics in Finland the biggest group of people who could be categorized as Black are Somalis, and there are only few thousand Somalis in Finland. Most of them have moved to Finland during the last ten years. Also, their “relationship” to blackness (and even to Africanness) is controversial for many reasons (the history of slavery in Somalia, which created a special racial hierarchy: those categoriced as “Black” and “Africans” in Somalia occupy the lowest position in that hierarchy; also their strong identification with Islamic and Arab world). So, actually they are people who for many reasons can not be categorized and/or do not identify themselves as “Black Europeans”, even though their moving to Finland has “made them” Black and (some of them) Europeans. However, among them there are many who have decided to stay, who have got the citizenship and who have integrated into this society. I think among Somalis in Finland the “Black Europeans” are those who came here as children or who were born here. Some of them are already grown up and have integrated into Finnish society. Excluding them, and other children and young people, from the BEST-project is, in my opinion, like denying some people their emergent (?) “Black Europeanness”. However, I understand the need to focus on people with a “European identity”.

In the light of statistics children of “mixed parentage” is also a growing (real and potential) group of “Black Europeans” in Finland. However, those young Finns who are categorized as Black by others are not comfortable with the definition. But things are changing. I was just invited to co-operate (as a researcher) with a group of young people, professional actors and actresses, who are planning to start the first “Black Theater” in Helsinki. But even these young, educated adults, most of whom have another parent from Africa or from USA, told me about their uneasiness with the term Black.

What I mean is that the “blackness” of some people in Finland can, of course, be studied, but I thing that a qualitative approach is the only possible here. There are many kinds of statistics available, but they only show how difficult it is to find Black Finns.

In countries like Finland talking about “Black Europeans” means (again in the light of statistics) focusing on children and young people. Approaching them with a questionnaire is not only a question of formulating appropriate questions but very much an ethical question. Ethical elaboration is particularly in demand in a country where children make negative connotations about certain racialised terms, such as Black.

The approachable people would not make a huge sample. They are people who (or whose parents, or other parent) have moved to Finland long time ago. Finding them would imply the kind of a “filedwork” that, I´m afraid, nobody is ready to do. What I´m suggesting here is that I could test the questionnaire with a very small sample, consisting of people that I personally know, and comlete the “story of Black Europeans in Finland” with a discription of the situation, based on my own and other people´s studies, statistics etc. I think my contribution could also be to show what kinds of questions and difficulties one may face when trying to investigate the Black european identity in a European country with a very small number of people categorized as Black - and even smaller number of people who identify themselves as Black.

As I said, things are changing in Finland. The number of people categorized as Black is increasing and I am sure that within the next ten years there are people who are comfortable with that identity. So, the question of “Black europeanness” is (becoming) relevant also in Finland, but to carry out the kind of a research suggested in your project is somewhat difficult.

However, I wish to collaborate in your project and participate in the conference even though the application of the questionnary can not be done as suggusted in your request for collaboration. To convince you, I summarise below some things I have done and in which I am currently involved.

  • I have studied and published about children´s expereinces of racism, about racialising categorization and how children and young people negotiate categories available for them, including the term “Black” (my article about these questions just came out in YOUNG – Nordic Journal of Youth Research, 13(2):147-166; my other texts about these questions are in Finnish).

  • I have also processed the question of “Black Europeans and their history” – in the Finnish context – in my article about the meanings given to the “n-word” (negro, nigger depending on the context). In the article (forthcoming in Finnish later this year in a book about post-colonialism and/in Finland), I have analysed a huge amount of different kinds of data: historical archives (old books and newspapers since 1800´s, music etc.); the use of the word in media (and some other cultural products); discussions concerning the use of the word (like arguments for and against employing the word (in the media, among researchers; in the legistlation and in the law courts etc.) and individuals experiences of being labelled with that word (as manifested in the interviews I´ve made among children and young people). Among some other things that are not relevant here, my analysis tells about the encounters between Finns and Africans, or people with (alleged) ties to Africa, and about the changes in representations of Africans in Finnish culture.

  • The need to study blackness in relation to the prevailing ideas and manifestions of whiteness is also mentioned in the theoretical introduction of the BEST project. A brief introduction to the question of “the whiteness of Finns”, as well as the nature and meanings given to whiteness in Finnish society, is presented in my article “Am I Still White? Dealing with the Coulour Trouble” (Balayi, Culture. Law and Colonialism, Vol 6, 94-106). The focus in the article is, however, on questions of “white” people studying “non-white” people (that also may become a relevant question within BEST projects!).

  • I am one of the three editors of a book about multiculturalism(s) in Finland (will be published in autumn this year). One of the articles, written by myself, is about how the concepts of racism and race/”race” have been used in Finland, both in academic and in everyday discussions. In the article many issues presented in the the theoretical introduction of the BEST project are examined – again in the Finnish context. The book focuses on how the definitions and meanings of particular concepts that are widely used in discussions on multiculturalis (like racism, race, ethnicity, othering etc.) vary depending on the context (in different disciplines, societies, discourses as well as linguistic areas). The article also works as a kind of an introduction and a review to the research on racism in Finland, including research on the attitudes of the majority towards ethnic minorities, research about the experiences of racism among different (ethnic) groups etc.

  • I have good, personal contacts with Finnish researchers working with these questions. That makes finding relevant information (other peoples studies) easier for me.

  • I have 10 years working history with immigrants and refugees in Finland, including 5 years as a director of a big reception center for asylum seekers. During those years (and later as a researcer) I have created an extensive network of people, organizations and authorities working with these questions. I am also actively involved with anti-racism, which makes some things (like finding those few “Black Europeans” in Finland) easier.

  • Being a mother of two adopted children born in Ethiopia and a researcher of transnational adoptions I also have some contacts and networks (researchers in Finland and other Scandinavian countries as well as in the USA) that in my opinion are usefull here. Transnational adoptees from Africa make one “special group” among Black Europeans.


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