8. Racism and postcoloniality

Convenors: Vesa Puuronen, University of Oulu

Contact: vesa.puuronen (at) oulu.fi

Session 8.1: Thursday 13.00-15.00

Session 8.2: Thursday 17.00-18.30

Racism is a multifacted phenomena that needs to be studied empirically and theoretically. Postcolonial studies opens a perspective that enables the analysis and critique of racist structures, discourses, attitudes and behavioural patterns which underlie, produce and reproduce different forms of racism. Poscolonial studies also provides a possibility to craft viable visions of a genuinely postcolonial world. This research group will welcome empirical, theoretical and methodological papers and presentations based on work in progress, which address the empirical phenomena and ideas related to racism. Postcoloniality is but a possible perspective from which these issues can be studied.

Back to the workshops

Presentation order and abstracts:

SESSION 8.1 Thursday 13.00-15.00

  1. Digital Racist Discourses in the Context of Racial Tension: Counter Black Lives Matter Narratives on Twitter
    Felipwe Agudelo and Natalie Olbrych: Simmons University

Social media platforms like Twitter have become a place where racist discourses may be constructed and disseminated very fast and at a large scale to different audiences. Racist opinions through the use of socially acceptable language can be part of a racist rhetoric that promotes stereotypes, and hatred towards communities of color. Events like the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Police in May 2020 in the United States (U.S.) sparkled racial tension and reflected a racial crisis in the expression of the criminalization of people of color not only by police but society in general. This tense and critical racial moment was taken into different social settings including social media. This research examined tweets posted during the time of the protests related to George Floyd’s death across the U.S. in three counter narrative Black Lives Matter hashtags including: #WhiteLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and #AllLivesMatter. Through the use of qualitative thematic analysis, this project sought to explore how digital racism is discursively constructed within the context of racial crises and tension allowing the creation of different types of racist discourses. Although this type of discourses may appear to be harmless, innocent, racially neutral and can make it through the algorithms developed to prevent the dissemination of hate speech on social media, they are part of a racist rhetoric that promotes stereotypes, and hatred towards communities of color. The two types of racist discourses found within the framework of digital racism included: the discourse of oppressor's inverse racism, and the moral ambient digital racist superiority discourse. These two themes were found to be used as a tool of oppression, white supremacy and pride against people of color.

  1. Differential Vulnerability to Infection: How Structural Racism Created the Somali Overrepresentation of Coronavirus Cases in Helsinki, FI
    Anuhya Bobba: Åbo Akademi, University of Turku:

This paper will expand upon my master's thesis research.

Before crisis is as important as after crisis. As the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 started to unravel as a pandemic in Helsinki, Finland, 200 infections were reported in the local Somali community, as of April 14, 2020 (“Somalinkielisten Koronavirustartunnat,” 2020). Somali speakers comprise 1.8 percent of a city population of 653,835 persons, but represented nearly a fifth of positive cases or “10 times their share of the city’s population” (Helsinki Facts and Figures, 2020; Masri, 2020). The paper utilizes a meta-ethnographic methodology to explore the link between systemic racism and structural vulnerability to infection for Somalis in Helsinki, Finland, as it continues to materialize in the coronavirus pandemic. For the meta-ethnography, 20 qualitative studies, which contextualize Somali “meaning-making and world-views” in sectors of Finnish society, were chosen for examination (Neal-Jackson, 2018, p. 5). Sectors include education, healthcare, housing, immigration and integration, labor market, and law enforcement. The analysis and synthesis of these studies, guided by theoretical frameworks such as Afro-pessimism, demonstrate that systemic racism is operative in Finland and has produced several material consequences for the Somali community. This is observable across each represented sector. From increased allostatic load, poor access to quality healthcare, poor accommodation, and reduced access to education and employment, Somalis are deprioritized and devalued by “a racial calculus and a political arithmetic” of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia (Hartman, 2006, p. 5). This racial calculus produces differential treatment in the individual, interpersonal, sectoral, and systemic level.

The central emphasis of the meta-ethnography in this paper is not the crisis, namely the pandemic. Rather, it is the systemic racism faced by Somalis in Finland, more specifically Helsinki, and any structural vulnerability that it may have predisposed the community to, especially as it manifests in overrepresentation of coronavirus cases. This is to ensure that the pandemic is not seen as an exceptional event but as a consequence of discriminatory day-to-day life. This is also to problematize crisis as a term used to demarcate an exceptional event unconnected to wider histories of dispossession, extraction, and racism and their present day mutations.

  1. A lesson in whiteness: Teaching English against coloniality?
    Johanna Enser-Kananen: University of Jyväskylä

The enterprise of teaching English is directly related to contemporary forms of colonialism (intertwined with neoliberalism) which Motha (2014), in reference to Hardt and Negri (2000), has termed Empire. In line with scholarly work at the intersection of language, racialization, and Empire (Lin & Motha, 2020; Pennycook, 2017; Shin, 2006), and following a call for autoethnographic work with the goal of undermining processes of Empire (McCausland & McDonald, 2020), this presentation reports on a self study I conducted in an English classroom of an adult basic education (ABE) program for refugee-background learners in a Finnish community college. I offer a close analysis of a 90-minute teaching sequence, during which I, a European-heritage teacher-researcher, taught a lesson with a focus on ownership of English to a group of about 15 adult learners from mostly West Asian Eastern and African backgrounds. My analysis of the transcript revealed that my discourses and practices erased racial differences between the learners and me, perpetuated Eurocentric ideologies of argumentation, and positioned me as “white listening subject” (Flores and Rosa, 2015) vis-à-vis the students.

A theoretical lens of Critical Whiteness Pedagogy (e.g., Matias & Mackey, 2016) helps understand these findings within larger racist and Eurocentric structures of educational systems and offers insights for teachers and teacher educators, particularly those who received their education in predominantly white institutions (PWIs) but work in racially and culturally diverse contexts.

In the second part of my presentation, I present ideas for how to move this work forward and offer reflections on opportunities and challenges of building CWP (research) that has the potential to challenge the workings of Empire in Finland.

SESSION 8.2 Thursday 17.00-18.30

  1. Changing police culture? Education and attitudes of the Finnish police leadership on race, ethnicity, and equality
    Markus Himanen: University of Helsinki

Previous research has indicated that certain characteristics of police work culture can disrupt police reforms and render training programs ineffective. Especially, different anti-racism, implicit bias and diversity training initiatives have met resistance inside police organizations and led to politicized conflict around racism (Rowe 2007). However, education is also seen as a key force in modernizing policing.

The paper asks which factors impact the attitudes and perceptions of the police leadership on racial equality, non-discrimination and anti-racism in the Finnish context. The multi-method approach of the study includes a survey for the police leadership in Finland (across eleven regional departments), ethnography of police anti-racism training and qualitative interviews with police leaders (N=22). The effect of previous educational attainment on attitudes towards non-discrimination is also evaluated.

This inquiry is part of the research project Social exclusion, polarization and security in the Nordic welfare state (SEPOS) that is funded by the NordForsk (2021–2023). I will present the research design of the study, a review of previous literature, and some reflections on the ongoing data gathering.

  1. Race, location and time informs what it means to be human: How the notion of ’child’ and ’development’ was colonised and racialised within progressive education, 1928-1952
    Trine Øland: Section for Education, Department of Communication, University of Copenhagen

Progressive education developed in the first half of the 20th century in Denmark with its new ideas about the child and its potential for development. Child-centred education was to be an innovative and enlightened way of forming society anew, and its foundational notions institutionalised within education and is effective today (Øland 2012). In this paper, I show how the notion of ‘child’ and ‘development’ settled within education, yet as exclusive and racialized notions. Through explorations of thematic text collections about “rhythm, development of the child and mankind”, and “development of the child’s nature, cultural spheres and societies” culled from three pedagogical periodicals in the period 1928-1952, I demonstrate how the new progressive and universal powers of the child projects a narrow Western European ideal, which subordinates non-whites and is related to global exploitation. Despite elements of pluralistic thinking within progressivism, a belief in universal psychological and sociological stages keeps the non-white on a threshold of modernity without sufficient developmental power (cf. also Fallace 2015; Øland 2021; Ahmed 2012). Thus, I will conclude by discussing how progressivism holds epistemological mechanisms that are central to how racism functions; how race, location, and time therefore seem to inform what it means to be human. I will also consider the possibility of decolonising, i.e. undoing and unsettling, the Western European notions of ‘child’ and ‘development’ and thus what it means to be human with agency and power (McKittrick 2015).