Rage against the most persistent of pandemics

Text by Veronica Kontopoulou

Photos by Helmi Padatsu

Just when the corona crisis slowed down, we were brutally reminded of the other ‘pandemic’ that has raged across the world for over 400 years. Indeed COVID-19 does not see race, status or sexual orientation. However, the pandemic has demonstrated the fatality of inequality. The overwhelmingly black deaths of New York serve as irrefutable evidence that systematic racism is so deeply embedded in our societies, that it didn’t even slip from a colourblind virus. 

Racism is still very much alive, and the brutal killing of George Floyd is a vivid reminder of this. In America and across the globe, tens of thousands went to the street to protest. Finnish-Gambian Amanda Mane, 22, has spent a life of racial microaggression. The global politics and international relations student was among the thousands of demonstrators to defy corona’s health risk and participate in the Black Lives Matter solidarity demonstration on the 3rd of June, in Helsinki: 

“Protestors see the bigger picture and realize that even though covid affects everyone’s lives, the black community was hit so much worse due to racism. Black people don’t have the same access to healthcare and the quality of the care they receive is worse. 

We have to deal with the deeper issue. Black people are tired of their lives being in white people’s hands, and have them basically play God. We are tired of going to the grocery store in the middle of the day and being called racial slurs. We are tired of walking at night fearing that someone is going to harass us. We are tired of the fear that comes with seeing black people unjustly dying. We are tired of racist people making us feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Covid is a passing pandemic but racism is here because of our world order. In order for someone to stay on the top someone has to be at the bottom. Throughout history it’s been black humans at the bottom.

The senseless killings and prosecution of black people has been happening for so long but this one event was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. George Floyd’s death sparked outrage because of the rawness of the visual evidence of how he lost his life. But at the same time, sharing that video was so disrespectful. People are so desensitized by black deaths compared to white, which would be blurred out if on a video. It is so traumatizing to see someone die, thinking it could be you. I think it is so sad that people need to see someone be killed so brutally until they feel something, and stand behind the movement.

I guess I’ve been blessed in that I haven’t experienced racism as much compared to what other black people around me have gone through. I remember once in kindergarten a boy asked me ‘Why is your dad black?’ and I replied ‘Ugh, he’s not black he’s dark brown!”’ I would never feel embarrassed about my heritage but sometimes I would feel different, to my friends especially. Being Finnish is a very specific box to fit into. It is weird because I am Finnish but I don’t fit into that box because I am black.

There was one time when my dad was driving us back to my hometown with his then-pregnant-wife and when he stepped into the gas station got yelled at’: ‘You fucking n-word! What are you doing in Finland? I am going to kill you. I have a gun in my car.’ My dad told us about it while laughing. He’d call them idiots that are not worth listening to.

But when it comes to the chaotic situation in the US, think of how much anger and frustration it takes for someone to actually burn a place down. I understand that violence is not the solution. We have the power to fight back so we fight back. People are burning down the epitome of capitalism that’s been enabling racial injustice to live on. In the US, racism is so deeply rooted that it takes a revolution to change centuries of injustice.

It starts with yourself. Take a long look in the mirror and at your actions. Don’t take offence when someone calls you racist but do your research to understand what you’ve been doing wrong. When you’ve changed your behaviour, speak out. Lift off the burden of black people of not only going through traumatizing experiences but also having to educate white people. Black people shouldn’t have to carry the burden and fix the problems they did not create.”

North America’s peaceful protests-turned-mayhem have brought racism to the forefront of public discussion to an extent never witnessed before by younger generations. From Amsterdam and Helsinki to Tehran and Sydney, people are flooding city squares in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. Standing up against the racism that unjustly cost the lives of George Floyd and hundreds of others, calls for more than social media hashtags. At the end of the day, no matter how prominent or wide-scale a certain issue is, there will always be other burning issues that need extinguishing. We cannot forget the long-established societal virus that is in desperate need of curing too.