Much to learn about antiracism, a movement driven by more than one cause

Particular attention should be paid in Finland to the message of the Black Lives Matter movement, as indicated by a doctoral thesis to be publicly examined on 28 October at the University of Helsinki.

Minna Seikkula, MA, has investigated different forms of antiracism in Finnish civil society.

“Racism constitutes a significant societal problem, and many people are engaged in opposing it,” Seikkula explains the premise of her thesis.

In Finland, discussions on antiracism gained traction in the late 2010s. In her research, Seikkula examined different modes of antiracism, from NGO-driven campaigns to grassroots activism.

“Antiracist activities are not an uncomplicated entity, as different antiracist goals can be in conflict with each other,” she points out.

The study also demonstrated that, from the viewpoint of antiracist activism, Finnish society is troubled with an unwillingness to tackle racism. A narrow perception of racism offers a partial explanation. Recently, similar themes have been a topic of discussion in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Opposing racism contains challenges, and sometimes antiracism relies on a very narrow definition of racism

Seikkula posits that people do not know how to talk about structural racism. In discussions on antiracism, occasional mentions of racism being structural are made, but usually further discussion on such structures remains difficult. For example, Seikkula has analysed NGO campaigns where racism is considered to be ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’, but what specifically is meant by structures or how the issue could be dealt with remains unclear.

Racism is connected solely to the extreme right or individuals classified as marginal. Seikkula believes antiracism is often targeted at anti-immigration racism, which is, however, only one form of racism among many.

“If antiracism only focuses on anti-immigration racism, the rest of society is assumed to be a racism-free zone. And yet, research shows that this is not true.”

At times, racism is erroneously perceived as a problem only associated with poor or uneducated people.

According to Seikkula, the experiences of people subjected to racism are not always heard. Well-intentioned antiracist activity can even become discriminatory.

“Discussions on racism only among white people is one example.”

At the same time, many activists of colour have worked hard in order to introduce a discussion on experiences of racializing discrimination and oppression to the public debate in Finland, and to challenge racializing discrimination and oppression. Transgressive antiracism requires  acknowledging experience, from thisstarting point  anyone can contribute to promoting antiracism – also those racialized as white.

“Listening to people subjected to racism is necessary,” Seikkula states.

 

Minna Seikkula will defend her doctoral thesis entitled ‘Different antiracisms: critical race and whiteness studies perspectives on activist and NGO discussions in Finland’ on 28 October at 10.00 in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. 

The public examination can also be followed via Zoom: https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/65356551803?pwd=NWdzMTVtOUt6N3p4YXRscU5aQ25JQT09

ID: 65 356 551 803
Passcode: 530035

Contact information for the doctoral candidate:

Minna Seikkula, minna.seikkula@helsinki.fi, phone: +358 50 477 2561

Minna Seikkula works as a researcher in the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN) at the Swedish School of Social Science.