Sunday, August 09, 2009

It's called race, stupid

A little while ago I read a YLE article about how racism is hard on bicultural children.

The basic point is that people easily assume that bicultural children are not Finnish, even if they have lived all their lives in Finland, and sometimes speak English to them.

I certainly don't doubt that this is the case. I could dispute whether this is a manifestation of racism or just an educated guess on the part of the person making the assumption - this depends on whether you define all the assumptions on the basis of race as racist, on how justified the assumption is in a particular case (an area with a lot of non-white Finnish-speaking children vs. an area that doesn't have any), and on how insistent the person making the assumption is in their mistaken ways - but my point isn't about that. It's about the gross misuse of the term "bicultural", and indeed of the term "culture".

I know a number of Finnish people who grew up in bicultural families: Finnish-German, Finnish-English, Finnish-American, Finnish-Polish, etc. So far I have never observed strangers trying to speak English to them on the assumption that they must be not Finnish. I wonder why is that. Could it be because - gasp - they look like they are Finnish? Like, they look northern- or central-European?

The whole point of the article is about race, pure and simple. It's about people who are Finnish but don't look like that. And it's not about any controversial race topic, either. It's about race in the sense in which everybody not totally divorced from reality knows it exists: that the people with genetic heritage in different parts of the world tend to look different.

It's kind of funny that the author uses the words racism and racist quite easily, but avoids the word race completely.

The other rather mystical thing is that the author is writing about this as a problem affecting specifically biracial (or rather, as she says, "bicultural") children, although almost all the problems that she has mentioned - except the adoption assumption - would affect any non-white children growing up in Finland, as well as the darker varieties of white. Makes one wonder whether she herself considers monoracial non-white children growing up in Finland Finnish.

(To the more ethnically-oriented folks reading this: yes, I am aware that the word "Finnish" has an ethnic meaning as well, and that in that sense monoracial non-white children are not Finnish. I am using the word "Finnish" here in the sense of "carrier of Finnish culture", which one can obviously be regardless of race and ethnic origin.)

I wouldn't bitch about one badly written article that much, but it seems to me that more and more people, regardless of their political positions on race and/or immigration, have started using the word "culture" as a substitute for "race". It's not. Race is that thing you are born with. Culture is that thing that you learn when you are little, and learn more when you are bigger, and you can choose to learn other ones later, or not.

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