We’ve heard it many times before within Open Spaces: No sexism, No racism, No homophobia. Few of us experience this to be true, and in order for these spaces to become liberated we need to move from sloganeering to really talking about it. We need to educate ourselves. This means we must look at our social relations critically and see where they fit in, within the oppressive structures that we want to free ourselves from. And from talking and understanding we must move to practical action.
On the last day of Ladyfest, there were four persons having a quick talk about what to do in order to create spaces that feel safer to exist within. The talk was interrupted by 7 police cars surrounding the social centre in a successful attempt to bully the few Roma persons off the backyard of the social centre and into a public camping somewhere. Apparently it’s illegal to camp within city limits. Even on private property. One person pointed out that she had been camping within the city, but that she’d never been harassed by the police. She suggested jokingly that she should go over and confess. She has herself difficulties with Roma in Helsinki harassing her because of prejudice against her as a transwoman, but in this case she could clearly see her advantages as a whiteskinned Finn in this society over genderconformed patriarchal Roma men.
The presence of the police brought the different groupings out in the open. On the other side of the house there had been a d.i.y market, with mostly white youth – age 15-40 – selling books and clothes and artwork, in the crisp sun-bright spring.
When the police came, the majority of the persons present at the social centre ended up at the back of the house; a black dressed group standing around talking in between on what to do, some pulling bandanas over their nose and mouth – others playing football or hackysack – and a Roma group standing around, the women putting the cooking utensils away, and packing clothes into the cars, getting ready to leave. One police man had come before and told them to go to Rastila camping.
Some of the alternatives with a preference for black clothes were speaking with the police in blue, trying to convince them to let the guests of the place enjoy the market, and postpone the eviction till the day after. It was a clear racist discourse coming from the police, saying that the Roma “scare people” and therefor it would be better to have them somewhere else (meaning: Not Finland). The thought that police driving up with blue lights and sirens on, surrounding the place with dogs and cars, might be an intimidating experience to the persons present seemed difficult to grasp for the friends of law and order.
Standing in the small geographical spot behind the social centre it became clear that most of us were sticking to our groups, without really thinking. The categories were clear to us. Go to the backyard and choose: be Roma, or Police, or Alternative youth.
The information flow was not working really well between the groups, so at some point some Roma men walked over to the police saying that they would leave. The segregation between the groups within the social centre became clear. At one point some Alternatives and Roma were standing in the same circle getting information from an Alternative youth who continuously talked about the Roma as “they” in spite of their immidiate presence. And myself just standing there, giving my silent acceptance.
One person who had participated in the Ladyfest events during the weekend, was even surprised by the presence of the Roma in the backyard, she hadn’t noticed them during her three days there – and the social centre is not very big… So much for inclusion, during the Ladyfest.
So, let’s face it. The scene is racist, and we need to do something about it. At least start talking about it.
A random link on: Critical Whiteness
Another incident bringing out racism in the open within the social centre project, took place when the Roma-project was going on at Social centre Rajatila. A group of Roma was housed there for a while.
At a party a white Finnish woman was aggressed upon by three men. They happened to be Roma, and there were many disturbing thoughts expressed in the discussions afterwards by the white Finns. For instance wanting to blame the whole group for what happened, “burning their camp down”, instead of seeing patriarchal violence as something related to male socialization crossing the boundaries of skincolor and ethnic background.
With the same type of logic – if one group is to be blamed for all evils of the world – the same guys could have promoted castration for all men within the social centre.
Anyone liking that idea?