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Dr. Virtanen dives into upcoming open class on ‘Racism and White Nationalism in Finland Today’

January 28, 2021
Dr. Hilary-Joy Virtanen will present the second lecture in the Spring 2021 Anti-Racist Open Classroom Series on Tuesday, February 2 at 4:10 pm. She will be discussing “Racism and White Nationalism in Finland Today” as part of her regularly scheduled History and Culture of Finland course. The event is free and open to the public. Please register here. In anticipation of the event, Dr. Virtanen provided some insight into what participants can expect and why it’s an important topic to explore.
As the title illustrates, the class will be focusing on racism and white nationalism in Finland today. Can you elaborate on that a bit more on some of the topics you’ll be covering and what participants should expect? 
In this class session, we will get an overview of the ethnic makeup of Finland today and how this human patchwork came to be. We will then learn about how, over the past 200 years, racist ideas have been acted upon in the public sphere including the consequences of racist activities such as everyday microaggressions and discrimination.  The activities and ideologies of Finnish white supremacist/ethno-nationalist groups and even parties within and interactive with the Finnish government are also going to be explored.
Why is it important for us to explore these issues from an international perspective? 
Racism is a social ill that harms people worldwide and having an international perspective on racism and racialized nationalism allows us to learn from the experiences of others. Finland’s own relationship with whiteness over the past two hundred years is actually useful for showing just how illogical and nonsensical white nationalism is. In historic expressions of racial classifications, Finnish whiteness has actually been questioned sometimes even by some Finns themselves, and modern white supremacist groups with a nationalist focus, most notably the Soldiers of Odin, use the mythological imagery of an entirely different “nation:” the Norse. White nationalism is a tool used to subjugate groups considered to be outsiders in different ways. It is still less than 100 years since the world’s best-known white supremacist group, the government and military of Nazi Germany, plunged us into a fit of war and genocide driven by their idea that there were races of people who were superior to others and that theirs was the best. There are people in Finland and many places in the world, including the U.S. that are inspired by and act upon these beliefs today. Rather than think that the devastation brought to the world by such an extreme situation as that brought on by Nazi Germany can’t happen again, we need to resolve to never let it happen again anywhere.
What do you hope students/participants take away from this lesson? 
First, like any nation-state, despite being consistently ranked the happiest nation on Earth, Finland does have its own social problems, of which racism is but one. Second, in examining a quick history of the conceptualization of Finns as an ethno-racial group from the early 1800s into the present, the example of the Finns shows that racist ideology has a lot more to do with xenophobic, emotional reactions to social differences than it has to do with facts and knowledge. With what we now know about human migration, genetic science, and cultural difference, forms of racism from microagression to eugenics and genocide are things that people of learning, of conscience, and of faith should actively work against.
Anything else you think people should know before joining in on Tuesday? 
Racism and nationalism are two difficult subjects to talk about and in an area like the Copper Country where Finnish ethnicity is an important facet of private and public life, this is a particularly uncomfortable topic for some. No one wants to hear that the people from whom they draw heritage may have a less than good side to them. People who come to the lecture should understand that not only do many Finns actively condemn racism and do what they can to prevent it and to promote equality, but also that racism is driven by a lack of knowledge–often a lack of direct knowledge of the people one claims to hate or to be superior to. Understanding this complex history and understanding the state of racism in Finland and elsewhere can only help to free us from it. Uncomfortable reflections now can prevent horrifying events in the future.

Upcoming anti-racist open classroom series events

You can register for each of the classes for free here.

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