The University of Jyväskylä builds its activities on openness, trust, quality and ethics. In practice, the university has had a highly visible presence in the Pride week’s events, and we accept no type of discrimination or harassment in our workplace. In other words, we hope that basic rights belong to all members of our university community, regardless of the origin, nationality or gender.

In recent weeks, the mistreatment experienced by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, former members of the British royal family, has been a hot topic in international media. When Markle was pregnant with their first son, Archie, the royal family was deeply concerned over the child’s skin colour. Debate over racism followed the news, as it is widely known in the UK and the US that Meghan Markle’s mother is a descendant of African American slaves. Her blood is coloured by the history of African Americans and colonialism.

Ethnicity crosses class boundaries. Ethnicity and social classes are clearly linked in many societies, with certain ethnic groups being placed higher than others. Benedict Anderson links these characteristics to the existence of whole nations as, according to him, there is always something in the “naturality” of nations that no individual can choose, such as the language, skin colour, gender, origin or date of birth. What is startling about Anderson’s ideas is that he also writes extensively about patriotism and racism in this context.

In fact, discrimination, xenophobia and racism are examples of the dark side that is ever present in all societies and groups. They mean that a person or group is placed in an inferior position because of such personal characteristics as language, skin colour, gender or origin. Xenophobia may mean a strong negative prejudice against difference. It can easily escalate into hatred, aimed to banish or destroy minority groups.

Racism is a savage ideology, in which characteristics considered to be negative are ruthlessly targeted at a certain individual or a group of individuals. It consists of a series of illusions, according to which a certain individual or a group of individuals is morally, intellectually and culturally superior to others, even from one generation to the next. Anderson links vernacular illusions with conservative nationalism, a norm in many nations during their feeling of grandiosity.

The town of Sharpeville in South Africa is known for apartheid, which escalated into a massacre on 21 March 1960. The police opened fire on demonstrators and started to blindly shoot at the crowd. Their bullets hit women, children and men, as Evan MacColl and Peggy Seeger sing in The Ballad of Sharpeville:

The panic-stricken people run 
To flee the wild attack; 
The police reload and fire again 
At running women, children, men, 
And shoot them in the back, DOM PASS! 
And shoot them in the back. ‎

Sixty-seven Africans 
Lay dead there on the ground; 
Apartheid’s harvest for a day, 
Three times their number wounded lay, 
Their blood stained all around, DOM PASS! 
Their blood stained all around.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination declared by the UN General Assembly is held on 21 March. In South Africa, it is a national human rights day, which is celebrated to not forget the victims of racial discrimination and racism.

Outi Fingerroos, professor, KUMU

Sources:

Anderson, B. 1983/2006. Imagined communities. Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso.

Kotouttaminen.fi. Key concepts. Accessed on 10 February 2021.

Puuronen, V. 2011. Rasistinen Suomi. Gaudeamus.

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