**Disclaimer / Trigger Warning:
This story contains content that may be distressing or triggering to some readers, including racism and discrimination terminology. We have included these elements to address important social issues and to provide a platform for the sharing of personal experiences. We encourage readers to approach this material with sensitivity in mind.
The following story details the discrimination I have experienced in and out of school. I have also heard racist comments in the workplace, but I have mainly focused on bullying at school. After the examples, I will talk about how bullying affected my own identity and well-being. I will also write about how bullying should have been addressed at school. Finally, I will discuss how I was empowered and found support and safety in anti-racism groups. There are a lot of racist terms in the text. However, I see it as necessary for my own story, because it was these words that hurt me and made me feel like an outcast from the very beginning.
I was born in 1995 as my mother's only child. She had met my father in 1993 in Helsinki. He is originally from Ghana, from the Kumasi region, but as a young man, he decided to come to Finland to study economics. My father later told me that there were difficulties in obtaining a visa, so it was not possible to live here longer or move to Finland. At that time, we kept in touch through the Embassy of Ghana in Norway.
My mother and I experienced discrimination from the very beginning. In the mildest cases, someone would yell after walking past us, "Glad you decided to adopt that child." Many times, however, many saw fit to mention "that can't be your child." And yes, it happened more than once. Especially adults were often talking past me and first demanded an explanation from my mother, where I came from, etc. People who haven’t dealt with discrimination, might find this a bit sensitive of me but I knew already at young age that the other children were not treated in the same way. My mother didn't often react to name-calling or excessive curiosity, she just kept quiet, gave a silent answer, or tried to change the subject.
When I was about five, everyday things, like traveling by public transport, was a nightmare. Especially when a loud, usually drunk, person entered, I tried to hide between rows of benches. At no point did I want to be embarrassed and be yelled at by some strangers. However, I had no idea how bad things could get.
Elementary school years: racism at school and the harmful ideology about non- white Finns
I started school in 2002. Even though the school was in Helsinki, I was the only black child in my class. In first grade, no one really asked where I was from, but my skin color didn't go unnoticed by the children, nor their parents. One of my classmates told her parents on the phone beforehand that "an African is coming over". Even then, that statement seemed more like a warning. Another friend of mine told me that after her grandparents met me, they wondered out loud how my friend could spend time with a black child. Of course, I had to pretend that the whole thing was funny, but I still remember holding back my tears the whole time. Once, one of my teachers asked in the presence of another student, "Do you even know your father's last name?" Despite my young age, the question seemed very offensive. Of course I know my father, but how on earth can I tell others about my background if I have to hear offensive assumptions. These are some of the questions that me and other non- white students had to listen to even in the 2000s.
At the time, I felt distress and anger but often the questions caused such a flood of emotions that I didn't how to react. Sometimes I felt like screaming, often times I would just hold back tears. Sometimes I would go to the school bathroom and cry. I usually learned to dissociate myself: Although offended by the remarks, I pretended that everything was fine and tried to change the subject. I still remember my hands sweating and face getting red, when these situations happened.
The bullying officially started in the second year of school. I expected it from the first grade, but my first memories of outright bullying take place during this period. A boy in the lower grade and his friends took it upon themselves to bully me at school and after-school club. They used the word "n****" as I walked past them. At the after-school club I used to play with my friends, sometimes he would say 'no, you can't play that game because you're a "n****".Once I had to spend time with him and other children in an after-school club. The topic was favorite things for the future; What would the dream house or the partner in the future be like. He laughingly described his future partner as a " pitch-black n****" . In these situations, I just pretended to be invisible, even though it always caused anxiety, that felt like it would never end. However, I could not always hide my shame. A boy in the same elementary school said in an apartment block "that n**** are not allowed to play in his yard." I left there crying and after this , I didn't want to spend time with others.
At the end of my second school year, I had to tell my mother about bullying. I had one day come home hysterically crying and my mother wanted to know what was going on at school. However, I could not repeat the name of the boy or the derogatory term he used about me. My mother informed the principal, who did try to ask about it, but I refused to talk. Although the principal handled the matter discreetly, she did not try to comfort me in any way or tell me that the bullying was not my fault. Afterwards, the matter should have been discussed at school or among parents in general. However, every time bullying occurred, the issue was swept under the rug.
I feel like the adults around me understood the seriousness of the matter but didn't want to embarrass me. Bringing it up would have meant that I would probably have been identified as the person being bullied. Even if I had named the bullies then, they probably wouldn't have had to change schools. Their parents might have denied the whole thing and accused me of overreacting. There were only a few situations with other children as witnesses. Rarely would the other kids at the school even remember that, as offensive terms did not concern them.
I didn't really differ from any other kids except in my skin color and hair. I had been raised as a Finnish-speaking girl with a Finnish name, in Finnish culture. Until my adulthood, I grew up as a black Finn, even though such a term didn't even exist then
I've come across an offensive ideology about people from Mixed Finns backgrounds more than I'd like to think: many people see us as outsiders, those who can never truly be considered as Finnish but at the same time it´s "okay to use racist terms" to us because "we are kind of Finnish".
The majority of the population is not colorblind, but pretends to be just that when derogatory language is pointed out. Often times people belittle their own actions and at the same time our experiences of the hurt they've caused. This way of thinking is particularly targeted to those whose name is fully Finnish and the parent with the ethnic background is living elsewhere. Sometimes, even the so- called friends have a racist mindset. Unfortunately, this was something I was facing especially in high school and college. It did affect my own school success and social life greatly. I couldn’t concentrate at school since I was more scared of the racial remarks I had to possible hear every day. Also, I cut some friends out of my life since they also saw fit to use hurtful words, just like my bullies did. It has taken me nearly ten years to get back to “normal social life”: I’ve started to trust people again and I feel like I don’t have to be on my toes all the time.
It very important to ask directly about racism, and if you have any doubts about the answer, you should contact the school staff. Talking about it can almost feel as shameful as the racial remarks; The terms that some people use are so distressing that it`s easier just to pretend not the hear those things and hope it won't happen again. Those moments will happen again and again if the situation is not addressed. Especially children are most likely not going to bring it up until it’s too late, when the racial remarks have been going on for too long.
Unfortunately, the racist mindset can be common even with their friends and even family members. The results can be tragic if the child has the endure racism form both ends
High school years: what indirect discrimination can be at its worst
Again, I was the only minority in my class. Many students had come from the same elementary school, but some had come from nearby schools. My future bullies were in the same school. The word "n****" was part of their standard vocabulary: They talked about this almost daily, one time even wondering out loud about an openly gay and black politician, how someone could be "gay and a n****." They did not refer to me directly in their speeches, but as someone of African descent, those words hurt, no matter in which context they are used. I was sometimes covered in sweat during class because I was already terrified about what they would say next. None of the students ever addressed discrimination.
One time one of our teachers heard when the bully said after visiting an art exhibition: "There were only n**** after n****." The teacher shook her head, but did not intervene further. I had already learned as a child that I need to be quiet in these situations and pretend that words don't hurt. But it had affected me. I just couldn't take it anymore. I was very close to ending my life because of all that suffering. I still think about that day, how close it all was. I never went through with my final plan, so no one else knew but me. But the feeling was real, the plan was real. After that, I continued school like nothing had ever happened. This is something that I still think about daily.
I had felt like an outsider for years, and the bullying had strongly affected my own way of thinking. I hated myself and my black features. I saw it as something I had to hide as best as I could
I started to straighten my hair at 13 with chemicals, also known as relaxers. I would do it for years and only stopped when my scalp would have actual wounds. I seriously considered skin bleaching. Anything that would make me look less like “a n****”. Thats how I started to view myself as. The other kids at school were constantly talking about blacks in a condescending tone, or I had to listen to constant questions about my background, which at the time made me uncomfortable.
I graduated from elementary school in 2011. I don't know with what strength, how on earth after all that suffering I was able to graduate. I hadn't been so happy for ages as I was on graduation day: Perhaps there is a little hope in life.
The effects of racism on my family relationships and identity, dealing with racism in everyday life
I have only started to go through my bullying experiences as an adult. It took me over ten years to have to courage to talk about this. I lost a lot because of racism. I cut contact with my African side of the family because I didn't want to be associate with blackness. For some reason, I feel guilt of missing out with my family. Even though it’s me that was treated unfairly. I was empowered as an adult to contact my dad’s family and embrace my roots. The journey to that was long and painful. Due to bullying, I had a deep self-hatred, and the words of bullies were permanently in my thoughts. Luckily, my dad understood my situation since he faced racism himself in Europe. But with my sisters, I`ve had to have long conversations about racism and how it affected my decision to cut all contact with them.
I have received peer support from anti-racism organizations and with their help. I have noticed that I am not alone in my experiences. I`ve gotten the tools the deal with racism. It should never be swept under the rug. If it happens to you, your child or someone that you know, don’t ever pretend it’s not happening
Often racist people won’t admit their wrongdoings if you don’t bring it up at that moment. No matter how uncomfortable the situation may be, always make your feelings known. You can rehearse some lines that can be used if necessary. Don’t be embarrassed to defend yourself and others. No matter how much nervousness you go through now, it`ll be worth it in the end. One thing I`ve learned is that silence is the most harmful way to deal with those situations. Racist people will only try their limits and when they see that no one is talking back, they will carry on and it will only escalate. And when the person whose targeted will finally explode because of all the hurtful things they've had to hear, the racist makes it seem like “an overreaction”.
It's important that the parents and the children themselves have the tools to tackle those remarks. Also, I feel like current events in Finland and in the world with youth crime and violence will affect the way people will treat us and non- white children. There will be less sympathy for those who didn’t do it in the first place. Some people feel more comfortable using racial slurs or make assumptions that are unfair. It has left many non- white Finnish people hurt and probably ashamed about their identity.
My story had a bit different ending. I’m proud of my roots for the very first time. After all these years, I finally want to be myself. Most importantly, I can finally be myself. It took me over 20- years to get to that point. I`ve been called “a n***” ever since I was a child. At school and on the streets. My mom was belittled only because her daughter was black. Those days I wasn’t being bullied; I was afraid of it. I will from now on defend my rights at work and in my personal life. Of course, this all will take a lot of energy. It's tiring to even think about this. The support from anti- racism groups has helped greatly.
If you find yourself deeply affected by the themes discussed or are currently experiencing racism and need support, you are not alone. We are here for you. Familia is dedicated to address racism and support those affected by it. We can provide you resources and assistance in a completely safe environment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Anti-Racism expert, Nora Dadi at email@example.com
Additionally, we have our "Tools for speaking about racism and discrimination - A guide for families and professionals" available in pdf and free of cost.
Editor: yVETTE aHONEN
Haluamme kertoa juhlavuotemme kunniaksi 35 tarinaa kahden kulttuurin perheistä
ulkaisemme 35 viikon ajan 35 erilaista tarinaa, jotka kuvastavat monia haasteita ja mahdollisuuksia, joita kahden kulttuurin perheet jokapäiväisessä elämässään kohtaavat. Haluamme näiden tarinoiden heijastavan todellisuutta ja tarjoavan vertaistukea, voimaannuttavia kokemuksia ja inspiraation lähteitä sekä lisäävän tietoisuutta kulttuurienvälisyydestä ja monikielisyydestä Suomessa.
For 35 weeks, we will be publishing 35 different stories that reflect the many challenges and opportunities intercultural families face in their everyday lives. We want these stories to reflect reality and serve as an accessible peer support, source of empowerment and inspiration, and increase awareness of Interculturalism and Multilingualism in Finland.