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Report of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman: Racism and discrimination - everyday experiences for People of African descent in Finland

Discrimination and racism have an all-encompassing effect on the lives of people of African descent living in Finland. This is shown in a study on experiences of discrimination conducted by the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. According to the report, discrimination as well as racist harassment, for example, occur both in public spaces and in schools and workplaces. Discrimination takes place in encounters in everyday situations, as well as in the structures and workings of society. 

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman collected information on the discrimination experienced by people of African descent using an online form and one-on-one interviews. The majority of the respondents face discrimination on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. According to the study, racist discrimination and harassment occur especially in public urban spaces, at work or when applying for work, and in education. It also takes place in public services, such as social and health care services. About one in five have experienced ethnic profiling by police or security guards. It is particularly worrisome that the respondents’ first experiences of discrimination have taken place at a young age, that is, under school age in early childhood education or in the early years of basic education.  

- Our report reinforces the message of previous studies: Racism runs deep also in our society. Our ways of thinking and our modes of action are to a large extent racist even if we do not notice it or are unwilling to admit it. Individual racist acts and aggressive behaviour are the easiest to identify, but the most dangerous are attitudes and structures which deprive those of African descent of the same opportunities that others have, says Rainer Hiltunen, the acting Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.

Racism exists at all levels of education, starting in early childhood education  

A clear majority of the respondents have experienced discrimination in education (67%). Respondents say that racism emerges from actions by both other students and teaching staff, but also from other personnel, such as guidance counsellors and school nurses. Nearly one in five respondents have experienced discrimination already before reaching school age, in early childhood education. The greatest amount of discrimination has been experienced in interactions with other students when teachers have not been present, for example during recess.  
According to the report, racialized guidance takes place in at least two structures of education: in guidance counselling and in instruction in Finnish as a second language and literature (S2) syllabus. 

- Deviating from the white norm affects how a person is seen and treated in school. Racialized guidance which takes place in educational structures needs to be confronted and fixed, as it leads to the differentiation of life paths and social positions, says Michaela Moua, Senior Officer at the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.  

Discrimination experienced at work   

Sixty percent of the respondents who have worked or applied for a job have experienced discrimination. The respondents have experienced discrimination by employers, colleagues, and customers in both the private and public sectors. Respondents have experienced discrimination, especially in recruitment and at the workplace. They also feel that, regardless of their educational background and work performance, career progression may be slower and more difficult. Discrimination also emerges in pay and other benefits connected with a job.

- Structural discrimination causes people of African descent ending up in certain low-paying fields or certain tasks that do not correspond to their education. In the long term this can lead to segregation on employment, Michaela Moua says.  

Underreporting is based on a lack of trust in the usefulness of reporting  

Well over half of all respondents (61%) do not report the discrimination they experience to any authorities. The most common reason for not reporting experiences of discrimination is the belief that reporting would not lead to any changes. Racism is seen as such a big problem that an isolated report on discrimination is not considered likely to change anything. 

- Finnish society, including us officials, have an important task in communicating that we are doing all we can to tackle discrimination and racism. First we could concede that the problem exists and listen better to those who have experienced racism, says acting Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Rainer Hiltunen

Hiltunen points out that a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that people of African origin living in Finland encounter the most racist harassment among the 12 EU countries included in the survey. 

Information on the online survey was disseminated both with the help of Ombudsman for Equality stakeholders, and also openly on social media. The survey was meant for people who identify as being of African background. The survey was targeted by widespread harassment, on which further information is available in the report. The online survey received 286 valid responses and 11 interviews were conducted.