What would you do if you heard that an African single mother decided to leave Mikkeli for Helsinki because her eight-year-old child was a victim of racist harassment or bullying at school? Would you just register the news and brush it conveniently under the rug and reassure yourself that these types of things don’t happen where you live?
Migrant Tales got in touch with Sara, an African single mother that spoke on condition of anonymity, to ask what had happened to her son at school. She said that her problems began when her son Julian, then a seven-year-old boy, went to Kattilansilta School.
Migrant Tales published in October 2010 a blog entry about racist spray paintings that were on the school’s walls for months.
While Sara believes that the teachers and principle did everything possible to stop the racist bullying of her son, a teacher in 2010 didn’t seem too concerned about the racist graffiti on the school’s wall. After the teacher admitted that the racist graffiti above had been there since spring and didn’t represent his values, he asked why anti-immigration groups like the Perussuomalaiset and Muutos 2011 are labelled racist whenever they criticize immigrants for getting more social welfare than Finns.
I had heard before that racism is a problem in Mikkeli but my child and I were never its victims. My problems started when I finished my studies and when my son Julian started first grade at the local school. Finding real work in Mikkeli was impossible for me. I served as an intern at different workplaces but never got a job that paid me a salary.
One day my son Julian came home and told me that a boy at school was bullying him in a racist manner. He was too young to understand why he was bullied. He asked me why I had given birth to him as a black African and why he wasn’t white like the rest of the children at school.
Soon the majority of his classmates started bullying him. They named him a black monkey and told him to go to the toilet bowl because the color of his skin was like the color of feces. (Sara stops for a moment to contain her tears. She succeeds).
Matters got worse for Julian as the months passed at school. There were fights and nobody wanted to play with him. One day he said he didn’t want to go to school because nobody liked him.
The teachers and the principle were understanding and they spoke to the classmates’ parents. Things got better but for Julian for a while but then things returned to “normal” and the bullying started again. Julian’s classmates are the same age as he so what they know about racism is what they learned from their parents and other children.
Not only did my son complain that he didn’t have friends at school, but he didn’t have anyone to play with after school either. At the apartment block where we lived in Mikkeli, he did have a friend who wanted to play with him but the boy’s mother forbade it.
Last year for the first time in my seven years in Mikkeli, I got two hate mails telling me to go back to where I came from.
Taking into account what was happening at school to Julian and the feeling that things had changed for the worse in Mikkeli for us, I decided to move to Helsinki last fall.
Since then my life has changed for the better. There are more Africans where I live and my son is no longer bullied at school.
It’s incredible, but if you are the only black child at school like Julian was, you’ll get bullied. If there are more black children, bullying doesn’t happen that easily.
I sincerely hope that what happened to me and my son won’t happen to anyone. I don’t wish such pain to befall anyone.
Silence is not the way to challenge intolerance.
Read story in Finnish here.