For a large majority of black people living in Finland, racism and discrimination are part of their daily experiences. This is stated by the Non-discrimination Ombudsman, who has carried out an online survey among the population of African descent. According to the report, discrimination and racist harassment is openly displayed in public spaces and some people suffer it at all stages of life. First experiences of racism may happen even before school age.
The online survey received 286 valid responses and 11 interviews were conducted. Based on those responses, the Non-discrimination Ombudsman states that in Finland "afrophobic racist discrimination is a widespread social phenomenon that affects the lives and well-being of people of African descent at all levels and sectors of society." A clear majority of the respondents said they "face discrimination on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis."
The Ombudsman says racist discrimination occurs "especially in public urban spaces, at work or when applying for work, and in education." It also takes place "in public services, such as social and health care services." About one in five of the participants have experienced "ethnic profiling by police or security guards." The Ombudsman's office considers "particularly worrisome" that the respondent's first experiences of discrimination have taken place at under school age or in the early years of basic education.
According to the report, the experiences of harassment range widely from seemingly harmless comments to violence. Exclusion from the group and isolation from others are more visible (even though non-verbal) forms of harassment that take place in schools, workplaces and hobbies. Many respondents also reported having experienced racist verbal insults and even violence.
"Our report reinforces the message of previous studies: Racism runs deep also in our society. Our ways of thinking and our modes of action are to a large extent racist even if we do not notice it or are unwilling to admit it. Individual racist acts and aggressive behaviour are the easiest to identify, but the most dangerous are attitudes and structures which deprive those of African descent of the same opportunities that others have, says Rainer Hiltunen, the acting Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.
Discrimination at work
60% of the respondents who have worked or applied for a job said they have experienced discrimination by employers, colleagues, and customers in both the private and public sectors. Especially in recruitment and at the workplace. They also feel that, regardless of their educational background and work performance, career progression may be slower and more difficult. Discrimination also emerges in pay and other benefits connected with a job.
"Structural discrimination causes people of African descent ending up in certain low-paying fields or certain tasks that do not correspond to their education. In the long term this can lead to segregation on employment," says Michaela Moua, Senior Officer at the Office of the Non-discrimination Ombudsman.
As much as 67% of the participants that have gone through the Finnish education system reported having experienced discrimination or harassment based on skin colour. They say that racism emerges from actions by both other students and teaching staff, but also from other personnel, such as guidance counsellors and school nurses.
Racism in study counselling
Nearly one in five have experienced discrimination already before reaching school age, in early childhood education. The greatest amount of discrimination has been experienced in interactions with other students when teachers have not been present, for example during recess.
According to the report, racialised guidance takes place in at least two educational structures: in guidance counselling and in the Finnish as a second language and literature syllabus.
The respondents, particularly women, reported that in guidance counselling they were instructed to apply to secondary education, for example in the healthcare sector, instead of upper secondary and higher education. This happened despite the fact that their mother tongue was Finnish, they performed well in school and they had other interests.
At education levels preceding higher education, respondents who speak Finnish as their mother tongue and/or had good language skills in Finnish have been directed to take the Finnish as a Second Language and Literature (S2) syllabus, even though it was not necessary. This prevented them from developing optimally in academic language. As a result of deviating from normative whiteness, it has been assumed that the person’s mother tongue is not Finnish.
"Deviating from the white norm affects how a person is seen and treated in school. Racialized guidance which takes place in educational structures needs to be confronted and fixed, as it leads to the differentiation of life paths and social positions," explains Michaela Moua.
Lack of trust
Well over half of all respondents (61%) say they do not report the discrimination to any authorities. The most common reason for not reporting experiences of discrimination is the belief that reporting would not lead to any changes. "Racism is seen as such a big problem that an isolated report on discrimination is not considered likely to change anything," the report says.
"Finnish society, including us officials, have an important task in communicating that we are doing all we can to tackle discrimination and racism. First we could concede that the problem exists and listen better to those who have experienced racism," says acting Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Rainer Hiltunen.
Hiltunen also points out that a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that people of African origin living in Finland encounter the most racist harassment among the 12 EU countries included in the survey.
Information on the online survey was disseminated both with the help of Ombudsman for Equality stakeholders, and also openly on social media.