Point of view: Cashing in a winning ticket.

wali_lev_580px(1)It was a lottery win when my rich uncle Musse Hashi said that I had to get out of the war. In the 1990s a civil war was brewing in Somalia. Young men like me were in danger of ending up in battle, either for the regime or the rebels. I left on one of the last planes out of Mogadishu. My plan was to apply for asylum in Sweden via Moscow and Finland.

I found my winning ticket* when a guard on the Finnish-Russian border asked me where I was headed and I said I was applying for asylum in Sweden. The female border guard asked me why I didn’t want to apply for asylum in Finland.

I won the lottery when Finnish Red Cross worker Eeva welcomed me in Somali at Helsinki’s Central Railway Station.

It was a lottery win for me to finally be able to call my mother and tell her that I’m safe in a place called Finland.

It was another win for me to realise for the first time in my life that I had access to medicine, housing and food, which many take for granted.

It was a lottery win for a young boy who had been a street child and shoeshiner in Dhusamareb in central Somalia to have the opportunity to study, work and—above all—be safe.

Then began the life of a black man in Finland. In the beginning I wondered why people would stare at me in the street or coffee shop. I thought it must be because I’m so handsome as I was a typical young Somali: tall and slender with a thick afro mane.

Little by little I realised I had been mistaken. People stared because I was a black man in a white world. And the stares were mostly from men, who probably didn’t find me handsome.

In the beginning I didn’t understand why I would get yelled at daily and why some people wanted to start fights with me. The first Finnish words I learned were “damn n-word” and “damn ass****”. A Roma friend of mine once said to me, “Thank you Wali for coming. Now ‘manne’ (a Finnish derogatory term for Roma) has been replaced with the n-word, Somali, raghead and refugee.

The word ‘Somali’ has almost become a swearword. For this reason roughly half of my friends who arrived in Finland at the same time as I did have moved away—to the United States, Canada and Britain.

One of them is my good friend Mahdi. In 2010 racism forced him and his South African wife out of Finland.

”It’s difficult for me to leave Finland because I consider it to be my home country. After God, Finland is my life and all Finns aren’t racists. And if the educated and successful of those who are dark-skinned leave, who’s going to build a bridge between Finns and the so-called immigrants? But I have to leave for the sake of my wife and children,” said Mahdi. Umayya Abu-Hanna’s experiences aren’t a one-off.

Mahdi and his family returned last year, and I didn’t see the media write about how his love for Finland had brought him back. Abu-Hanna at least caused a stir when relaying her experiences with racism that targeted her young child. She was chastised for being an ungrateful diva that owed everything to this country but left because of silly racism.

The truth is that racism is not discussed as much as it should be. And the ones who avoid talking about it the most are the ones who suffer from it because the answer is always the same: Is it racism to be called the n-word? Is it racism to not be allowed into a bar? Is it racism to claim that blacks rape and compare Islam to paedophilia? Is it racism if I don’t hire you even though you’re educated and qualified?

I’ve never heard an employer say, “I won’t hire you because I’m a racist.”

Let’s make one thing clear: Finland is becoming more international. The ethnic Finnish population grows at a rate of two percent while the figure for immigrants is eight percent. One family can have 4–8 children. The future will see Finns of different colour representing a variety of backgrounds and beliefs and who are proud to be Finns.

Abu-Hanna’s claims about racism are not exaggerated. Racism in Finland is worse today than it was in the 1990s. It’s important to remember that people are individuals and pointing the finger serves no one.

I’m a black man, a Somali, Muslim, refugee and above all an inhabitant of Turku, and I’m not planning on leaving anytime soon.

Wali Hashi
The writer is a freelance journalist

*In Finland there’s a common saying that being born here is like winning the lottery. The phrase refers to the perceived fortune of Finns’ high standard of living supported by a robust social welfare system.



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Posted by on Jan 9 2013. Filed under English News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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