Week Against Racism

The UN Association of Turku is part of the Week Against Racism, which is celebrated on March 18-24, 2024.

There are events throughout the week and TYKy is a part of e.g. the Open Your Eyes campaign on the 18th with Index ry and the Don’t Stay Silent! art container on the 23rd with Index ry, HangFlow and Turun Tyttöjen Talo.
The program for the entire week can be found here.

Part of the Open Your Eyes campaign is understanding the effects racism have on people’s lives. We have gathered some experiences from people who have faced racism and you can find them below.

In the spirit of anti-racism, it is good to reflect on one’s own acts and thought patterns. The Finnish Red Cross has published the “Identify & act” navigator, which provides information and concrete action instructions on dealing with racism.
You can access the navigator here.

More info can be found on the Finnish Red Cross’ website.

Experiencing Racism

An immigrant of Ukrainian background who has lived in Finland since childhood

The racism I have encountered has almost always been structural, difficult to notice, and prove. It has mainly manifested in job searches, people’s attitudes, expressions, and as a lack of opportunities. When I was younger, I couldn’t get summer jobs, even though others my age with similar education and experience did. I eventually interpreted it as being due to my name being of Russian origin. I also wouldn’t have dared to serve in the military as a woman if I hadn’t changed my surname to a Finnish one.
Some in my close circle have viewed me as detached from Finnishness and Finland, using that to constantly explain to me how things are done in Finland or what the norms are here. Some experiences of racism are difficult to explain and may not even feel true. However, the feeling of being treated differently than others still eats away at me.
Even though I don’t see myself as a foreigner, people born in Finland repeatedly show me that I’m not their equal. My whole life I’ve had to prove that I belong to this country, but nothing has been enough. Even after 17 years, I still hear comments on how well I speak Finnish, even though Finnish has replaced Russian, my original mother tongue, as my emotional and thinking language.

Finnish and Chinese dual citizen, student

I was admiring the light art installations organized by the city of Turku on Independence Day. Anyone could go see them whenever they pleased. I was walking on the street, enjoying the scenery. Suddenly I heard a young woman say “f***ing Chinese” and some whispering afterwards. Panic hit me first and then sadness. Is this how Finns welcome others on Independence Day? Other people didn’t intervene, and some even nodded along.
I have experienced structural racism in customer service and at school. Racism intensified especially during the pandemic. For example, in customer service, there are sometimes encounters where I am looked down upon as a lesser human being. When I was young, other children made a lot of jokes about my appearance by pulling their eyes in a racist manner or imitating the Chinese language in a racist way.

South African adoptee, lived in Finland for 16 years

I have been treated with racism since daycare. Since then, I have experienced racism in school, on social media, and occasionally in public places. In daycare, I was discriminated against because of my skin color. I was often told that “you’re the color of poop” or something similar. I wasn’t always included in games because I was black. Discrimination in school was similar. In daycare and elementary school, racism wasn’t addressed, so we moved because of this.
In high school, I experienced racism in physical and verbal forms. I was bullied, excluded, and occasionally hit and thrown things at. However, racism was addressed then, and a police report was filed.
Racism has always been a sensitive topic for me and has evoked a lot of emotions. Sometimes I even wish I were white. Racism has significantly affected my mental health, and I still have nightmares about my bullies.

Woman from an immigrant family who has lived in Finland her whole life

I have encountered direct racism in shops, public spaces, and at work. Usually, situations are not addressed unless there is another non-Finnish person present who would stand up for me and intervene.
At work or school, I often have to prove my competence in one way or another. For example, I have to dress professionally, while my white colleagues can come in wearing sweatpants. I always make sure to dress nicely and ensure my hair looks good so I wouldn’t receive comments about them. However, people also want to touch my hair. Even though I have lived my whole life in Finland and I am well-educated, I have to prove my competence and intelligence every time I’m in a new environment. I have to behave extremely politely and often watch my language, as I am aware that even though I am just one person, I represent all racialized people. I don’t want to reinforce the stereotypes people have about us. It’s exhausting.

Student who has lived in Finland for two years

I encountered racism at a student event. My classmate said that non-Finns are not welcome in her apartment, even though I had no intention of going there myself. It felt strange and unexpected. Eventually, none of my other friends went to her place either.

Finnish-born English teacher and social worker

I have been treated with racism everywhere and anywhere. I remember the first time it happened was in daycare when one of the kids called me the n-word and questioned the color of my skin. No one intervened, even though I was just a child.
I have experienced racism when taking out the trash. I was already so annoyed by encountering racism so often that my friend and I ended up in a “shouting match” with our racist neighbor. My friend and I weren’t physical, but our neighbor started pushing us and threatened to call the police. Eventually, my friend and I realized there was no point in the situation and just walked away. I have also experienced racism in the world of work in Finland. I moved to Helsinki because I noticed there was less discrimination there. In job searches, no one cared that I am a Finnish citizen and was born in Finland. Just having a foreign appearance and name was enough for me not to be even called in for an interview, even though I had recommendations. My Finnish friends, on the other hand, got interviews and even jobs at the same workplace.
I have encountered structural racism in many places, especially in hospitals. I originally lived in a smaller town. In hospitals, they assumed I was only there for medications. My mother had to accompany me to the hospital several times and try to get things done because she had worked as a nurse in that hospital for over 10 years. After that, things suddenly started to go smoothly, and it turned out I had several serious health issues that are still present in my everyday life after many years. My problems even worsened because the hospital refused to examine me quickly enough.

Half-Romanian, half-Greek woman who has lived in Finland her whole life

Due to my Southern European background, I have often been mistaken for Roma, so the racism directed towards them has also been directed towards me. I have faced harassment and misunderstandings because for many people, the difference between a Romanian and a Roma is unclear. My mother and Romanian-Greek father gave me the most Finnish-sounding name possible, and I got my mother’s surname because my parents were afraid, I would encounter structural racism in workplaces, for example. When I submit a CV with a photo, I receive fewer job offers.

Young Finnish-Swedish man, student

I have encountered mockery from passers-by when speaking Swedish publicly. Negative stereotypes are directed at me without people knowing my background. There is linguistic discrimination against Swedish-speaking Finns in public services, but I don’t see structural racism as a major problem for my own peer group.
Once we organized a checkpoint race in a park with a group where everyone spoke Swedish. A drunken group sat nearby and started shouting slurs and telling us to “go back where we came from.” Being the one who spoke Finnish the best, I approached the group and kindly asked them to leave. The harassment stopped when they realized I spoke Finnish almost like a native.

Pakistani immigrant, student, and part-time worker

I have encountered structural racism in a store where I went to wait for the train departure. It was 20 degrees below zero outside, and my train was departing in 40 minutes, so I went shopping. A young female guard approached me and asked what I was doing in the store. I was confused because it was a store, and I was shopping. I asked her what the problem was, to which she said that I had been walking around the store for ten minutes and therefore I should leave. I wondered about this and explained my situation to the guard. She said she understood but insisted that I couldn’t stay in the store. I moved to the store lobby to wait, and the guard kept asking me every two minutes how much longer I planned to stay there. There were other people standing in the lobby, but the guard didn’t ask them to leave.