Viikolla 15.3.-21.3. 2021 vietetään valtakunnallista rasisminvastaista viikkoa. Helsingin aikuislukion opiskelija Nora Dadi kirjoittaa, miltä tuntuu, kun muut eivät hyväksy suomalaiseksi.
My eyes still get filled with tears when I remember her words "Lähihoitaja! Siinä ihmiset näyttävät olevan hyviä." That what I heard from a student who is born, raised, and grown up to young adult in Finland. True her parents were immigrants, but she knows Finland as her only country. And what made it worse, this was the third student who told me that she was given that kind of advice to take practical nursing as their future job because the teacher thought that that is what her "kind" is good in.
For the teacher who is trying to help the 15-year-old to decide what they should be when they grow up; saying that does not help! You confuse them more and it is plain racist to think because of a student's parent's origin you categorise them in a box of limited abilities!
This brought me thinking of what I have been through in my education life in Finland. I was born to a white, blonde Finnish mother in Naistenklinikka, in Helsinki. I was taken without my mother's consent nor mine to live in a foreign country for 16 years with no contact to any Finnish person. In my days we had no internet, computers nor YouTube to try keep my Finnish language that was my early mother language. That is the reason that the language I feel in changed to English. And therefore, I am writing this blog in English. I need to feel each word I write!
I first faced racism in Finland in the yard of my day-care, where my best friend told me "I can't play with you anymore because you are Chinese!" I didn't even try to argue and say that my darker skin, eyes, and hair are because of my father's Arabic background, but I surprised the teacher with my answer, which she reported to my mother, "But why? I play with you and you are a Finn!" It was very clear that I did not see any difference between races, colours, or ethnicity! We all could play together as children no matter where from we got our eye colours!
Another memory that made me upset later as an adult was choosing the only dark headed girl (me) at the day-care to be the "bad evil witch" in the play. So, the teachers thought that I fitted the part the best because I had black hair. At least that what she told my blonde mother! Why did the badness and evilness had to be labelled for other children with colour of someone's hair and skin?
Years later at my Finnish class in an un-named high school in Helsinki. I was just back in Finland after 16 years, and the teacher goes through asking the questions "Mistä olet kotoisin?" So naturally I answered "Suomesta" She actually said in English so I would understand her well "I mean REALLY where are you from?" I answered in English "Well, REALLY my white, blonde Finnish mother gave birth to me at Naistenklinikka in Helsinki in 1978!" That was not the answer she was looking for so she asked, "So where is your father from?" I left that school around 20 years ago, and so I didn't finish my schooling there and this was one of the reasons.
Fast forward to 2017. I contacted the S2 student consular, Heljä Nurmela, from Helsingin Aikuislukio, and the conversation was the start of a change in my life. She asked where I was from and when I answered Finland, it was enough of an answer for her. She complimented my (very bad) Finnish language and called on the spot Kirsi Seppänen, who was the main teacher of S2 for that year. I was welcomed so warmly to Seppänen's class and not one teacher in that school ever made me feel any less Finnish than any other white, blonde, and fluent Finnish speakers.
I decided to continue in the Lukio after Merjo Paranko, who was my teacher on my first year asked me about my future plans. I felt old turning soon 40, too weak in the language to allow myself to dream and honestly,I felt not good enough or in other words stupid, from how long the system and community has put me down. Merjo got very angry and extremely passionate, explained how people in their 60s and 70s are studying, how me trying to study in a language that is not my mother tongue is strength, power, and determination, and she made me see how smart and knowledgeable I was in her classes, showing me that I am not at all stupid, just struggling in the language.
I did participate in out of school activities through the school. It reminded me that not every teacher and student in Helsinki thinks as the teachers at Helsingin Aikuislukio. Once again, I faced indirect racism. I was a 41-year-old woman, who has so much experience in life, and my own daughter is a lukio student. So, when I speak of lukio studies, I speak of them as a student and a mother of a student so I have double the experience, but because of my missing vocabulary in the Finnish language I can't talk with smart pedagogical vocabulary in Finnish. And so, the teachers from other lukios from Helsinki were clearly looking at me down and waiting for me to go quite so they would move away from my point. One teacher after we finished months of meetings spoke to me, and for some reason we spoke in English, she suddenly said "Oh but why didn't you speak in English? You have so much useful information they could have used!" That advice came a bit too late, I wanted to speak Finnish to be respected, instead I was ignored, and so I was hurt once again for not being the Finn that I wished I was.
So why Finnishism must be connected to skin colour, to hair colour, to how good you speak Finnish? I know many Finns who live in UK and other parts of the world, their Finnish is worse than mine, but they are Finns! I know many dark-skinned people who are born to a white Finnish family and raised by them and still get the question "REALLY where are you from?" I see beautiful and handsome young students at the Helsingin Aikuislukio that are good enough to be AI students, yet they have been put down by teaching them that they are not Finns and so they stuck with S2.
I have had a good experience in Helsingin aikuislukio. But to be honest not one other school in Helsinki accepted me as a Finn. That means there should be a lot of work done to the educators and education system here!