Not Being Racist vs. Being Anti-Racist: Self-Reflection and Empathy

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Finland is ranked as one of the most racist countries in Europe. In Finland, 14% of black Finns have stated to have experienced a violent racially motivated attack, and 63% reported to have at least experienced some form of harassment. Yet, in Finland, our problem with racism is one of our favorite things to deny. “Racism isn’t a problem here, I never see people being racist,” we might say, while the statistics are screaming into our faces, telling us just how wrong we are. For many Finns, the thought of being a racist person stings. They know being racist is a bad thing, and as they don’t want to be seen as bad people, they don’t want to be perceived as racist either. The problem comes with how they face the reality that they, just like almost everyone else, have prejudices against. Those with especially strong feelings about how they’re perceived may find this hard to admit, and may even try to challenge those who say otherwise.


Finland still has a major problem with racism and discrimination. Based on the report done by the Finnish Ministry of Justice in 2020, reported cases of hate crimes have decreased between 2017 and 2019. However, the number of crimes regarding the agitation against ethnic groups has become somewhat more common, although it is rare. Furthermore, according to another report by the Finnish Ministry of Justice commissioned in 2021, 62% of hate speech online is about groups of people, usually meant to offend them.


The political discourse regarding racism has existed in the United States for millennia. However, Europe also saw a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment during the refugee crisis of 2014. Support for the far-right erupted as dissatisfaction with the European immigration system increased. Countries such as France, Germany, Denmark, and Poland saw far-right parties shake up their countries’ respective political landscapes. For example, the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) garnered 10-15% of the vote in the last elections. In some countries, the support for anti-immigrant sentiment is even higher. Finland also saw a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in 2014 and the following years. However, the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), which is the main party fighting for immigration reforms, is not considered a far-right party. However, some of its members have been accused of hate speech and agitation of an ethnic group. On the other hand, Denmark has managed to thwart the rise of the far-right as the center-left Social Democratic Party adopted strict anti-immigration policies.



Support for Finnish political parties between 1945 and 2019 Source: Tilastokeskus


Support for German political parties between 1990 and 2021 Source: statista.com


For our allies, a few notes:


Conversations around race are often divisive and untasteful. People are more polarized than ever and our division has also deepened in discussions about race. However, we can’t deny the history and the implications of racism in today’s society. Racial, political, and social divides are here to stay and our differences are part of our identities. It is undeniable that we have indeed made progress in reducing racism and discrimination over the years. However, slight progress doesn’t mean we have solved the problem. Denying the existence of racism or even the concept of race and color won’t help us in the long run. The first step in solving a problem is by recognizing there is one. We won’t be able to progress on these issues if we separate ourselves into different groups like conservatives, liberals, libertarians, or whatnot. We need to discuss why racism exists and what we should do about it. Having a diverse and fruitful conversation about racism and its effects is essential as long as we don’t deny the facts surrounding these issues.


There’s a term many white people like to use when faced with the conversation of race. “I don’t see color,” they’ll say. It sounds like a positive sentiment, at least at first glance. This person doesn’t see a difference between themselves and their peers of color. That’s what we want, right? Well, there’s more to it than that. If a white person chooses not to see color, they also choose to not see the differences between how they and their non-white friend are treated. The term, while feigning innocence, can quickly turn into: “me and you are one the same, I haven’t seen people be racist, so you must be exaggerating.” See how this doesn’t actually help? While you can choose to feel that racism is no longer a problem, because you aren’t directly causing it, it doesn't mean racism doesn’t exist. You as a white person are simply never going to see it the same way as someone who’s dealt with it their entire life would.


It’s time we spend less time talking over and challenging people of color, and instead listen to their experiences and see how you can help. If your friend is willing to talk about it to you directly, that’s great, but don’t assume they are. Having to explain yourself over and over again, especially to someone without a deeper understanding on the issue, may be exhausting. Being able to educate yourself is the key to being a proper ally.


Empathy is sometimes considered the most important factor in solving racism. We tend to think that we can only understand racism and discrimination if we put ourselves in the shoes of the victims of racism. However, racism is not just about groups of people having negative experiences, it’s also about how we interpret the concept of race or discrimination. Is being a member of another race group and having distinctive features inherently bad? In our opinions, it’s not, and it shouldn’t be. However, we’ve come to think of race as something that puts people at a disadvantage. We have also tried to divide ourselves into “we” and “them”. Talking about race tends to focus on the question “Am I an ally or not?” Seeing color is not the problem, it’s how we live with our differences as individuals and as cultural groups, recognizing that each person’s experience is their own, and trying to understand them.


Taking accountability for your actions: it’s made out to be a lot harder than it actually is. If someone has told you that something you did was offensive or hurtful, take a minute to listen before crying “cancel culture”. For one, cancel culture is a concept that died out pretty quickly after it first started, and hardly ever has any real life effects to those it’s targeted at. Of course, they may lose the support of those they hurt, but that’s to be expected if they aren’t willing to at least provide an apology. So try not to fear it too much, because you are going to be better! Secondly, once you take a moment to understand what you did wrong, and why it was wrong, this apology may come pretty naturally. Owning up to your actions and recognizing your mistakes will more often end up in a more positive outcome on both sides.


Some of you might feel left out or silenced in conversations about racism. You might feel that your view is being dismissed or misunderstood. There has been indeed a bit of pushback against views skeptical of racism and their role in today’s society. It is important to understand that our differences in our opinions might make us doubtful of each other. However, we must also remember to respect each other and recognize the facts surrounding racism. We must recognize the scope of the issue and listen to people who have experienced racism. Not listening to the stories and perspectives of victims of racism gives you a perspective devoid of truth and understanding. If you do feel misunderstood, you must ask yourself: “Why do people think my views are offensive?” Skepticism is a vital part of every conversation but we must also be prepared to accept the facts if proven wrong. Having opinions is not wrong but being ignorant is.


Sources:

https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2018/being-black-eu#TabPubKeyfindings2

https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/162517/OM_2020_20.pdf

https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/163022/OM_2021_15_SO.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y


Photo sources:

https://www.stat.fi/til/evaa/2019/evaa_2019_2019-04-24_tie_001_fi.html

https://www.statista.com/chart/25858/germany-federal-election-results-timeline/


 

Text: Frederick Lalu and Astrid Lehto

Photo: "Unlearn Racism 11" by Overpass Light Brigade is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/