How do Black Finns celebrate hockey victories?

By screaming, stripping in -10°F, and sauna, of course: the same as everyone else:

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.13.14 PM
From Dosdela‘s Instagram.

On January 6th, Finland’s Young Lions won the 2016 World Juniors Hockey championship over Russia in overtime before a home audience. The title comes on the heels of the National Ringette Team winning its world championship the day before (ringette is a low-contact version of women’s hockey). The only sweeter victory would have been over Sweden, Finland’s perennial rival.

Musta Barbaari (Black Barbarian), a Tanzanian-Finnish bodybuilder who rose to fame with his 2013 rap single “First at the gym, last at the gym,” posted a widely-circulated video that captured the mood:

Shouts of “To Sauna!” accompany screams of  Musta Barbaari’s friends, including fellow artists Prinssi Jusuf (Prince Yusuf), Dosdela, and Seksikäs-Suklaa (Sexy-Chocolate). The video’s Finnish caption reads: “Thank you Finland! Thank you Lions! It is so wonderful to be Finnish!!! Brothers and sisters, we now go to the town square. No matter where you are from, when in Rome, Finland Finland!

The caption reappropriates an idiom that often features in critiques of immigrants: maassa maan tavalla. Usually translated as “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” it literally means “in a land, by its customs.” Maa has many meanings: it can imply country, land, earth, ground, property, dirt, soil, or clay, but the expression plays on a less common synonym of “suit,” as in accommodate (does it suit you?). Maassa maan tavalla was the expression used by the leader of the leftist Social Democratic Party to justify her endorsement of a new immigration manifesto in 2010 that focused on uncommon immigrant behaviors at the expense of the xenophobia and racism immigrants face in everyday life.

It’s a clever twist for Finns of color to use the phrase to show that everyone celebrates a national victory in the same way, especially when the phrase is associated with the racism and xenophobia they face in daily life.

For example, two days previously, Musta Barbaari’s Facebook page featured a photo showing him and two friends, all in national jerseys, celebrating the Young Lions’ semifinals win:

Musta Barbaari, center.

The photo was shared almost 2000 times and attracted almost 300 comments engaged in a heated debate about Finnish identity. A follow-up video on Seksikäs-Suklaa’s page was captioned, “when your Finnishness isn’t acknowledged.” A slideshow of racist comments was punctuated by the sound of a gunshot for each, including: “fucking ski-pole basket [derogatory term for Somalis],” “I didn’t know Finns are black,” “fucking ni**ers,” “go to your fucking Africa you fucking blackamoor.” After the last, Musta Barbari turns to the camera and asks, “excuse me, what’s a blackamoor?” That Musta Barbaari, aka. James Nikander, was born in Finland, and his friends have Finnish citizenship, gives a sense of the degree to which whiteness is a contested category of Finnishness.

Musta Barbari’s #1 single confronted racism more directly than any previous song on the Finnish charts. It included the lyrics, “whites don’t take you seriously if you’re not ripped” and “I go to the welfare office when I’m not working my ass off because I already have the hardest job in Finland: I’m a black man.” The song courted controversy through its use of the Finnish loanword of the N-word, as in the chorus “Black Barbarian ain’t no neekari, I’m the City’s most-ripped licorice.” This references the traditional Finnish salt-licorice that was colloquially known as “neekari licorice” and advertised with racist images until 2008.

Fazer’s racist neekari-icon was retired in 2008.

Musta Barbaari’s single provoked an uncommon national discussion about racism, which is deeply intertwined with xenophobia in a country that believes itself homogeneous.

I say believes, because many icons of Finnishness are themselves immigrants. Karl Fazer, the Finnish candy king whose company introduced the neekari-branded licorice in 1927, was an immigrant from Switzerland. Nicolai Sinebrychoff, founder of the  brewery and soft-drinks conglomerate that still bears his name, was Russian. Georg Franz Stockmann, founder of the elite department store chain that bears his name, was German. Not to mention the other staples of Finnish life that are from elsewhere: the cinnamon and cardamom of Finnish pastries come from Asia, and the potatoes and tomatoes immigrated from the New World. Even Santa Claus is a Greek from Turkey, no matter that his official hometown is Rovaniemi, backed by a U.S. Trademark.

Which goes to say that commonsense understandings of what counts as national or domestic changes over time, just as understandings of a homogenous nation are tenuous, even for a country as ostensibly ethnically pure as Sweden, as I’ve written about. For Finns, national homogeneity is punctuated by Swedes, Russians, Roma, Sámi, Jews and Tatars, all of whom have lived in what is now Finland for hundreds of years. More recent immigrants from Africa or Asia may seem more visible because of skin color, but until very recently the Roma were called “blackies” (mustalaisia).

Whiteness is not the only unspoken requirement of Finnishness. In my book, based on years of fieldwork in Finland among other countries, I show how the presence of foreign women with Russian or Estonian accents provoked public attacks that they did not belong. The director of the NGO Monika Naiset (Multicultural Women’s Association) reported that accusations of prostitution were ubiquitous:

If you for example go to a restaurant or ferry, if you have an accent when you speak Finnish it gives anyone permission to ask, “how much do you cost?” That’s very common.

Such behavior exposes the life of the expression “in a land by its customs,” because such accusations of prostitution were in fact not customary, and horrified Finnish women to the degree that they regulated prostitution out of the public sphere to protect themselves. Most women with accents  held Finnish nationality, so stigmatizing them as prostitutes was a way of excluding them from “the land”. Prostitutes were in fact not ubiquitous in Helsinki, but public perceptions did not respond to repeated debunkings.

I call these kinds of fears globalization anxieties (avoiding the term moral panic). As I describe them,

Scholars over the past 20 years have consistently debunked this notion of globalization as a homogenizing force that erodes national sovereingty and local traditions. The fact that these notions persist among policy makers and popular publics, prompting their own very real effects, is what I call globalization anxieties.

As an example of “real effects,” consider that Finnish politics of late has consisted of demonstrations against asylum-seekers and attacks on multiculturalism. Vigilante mobs tried to set fire to reception hostels after a refugee was accused of raping a Finnish girl. Last year the populist and nationalist Finns Party joined the government after it rocketed to become the second-largest party on a platform that included teaching national pride in schools, limiting migration and refugee quotas, and restricting the residency of migrants on social benefits. One of its MPs called for an end to “this nightmare called multiculturalism,” while another proposed sterilizing African men in Finland “to restrain their onslaught to our country to earn a better standard of living by fucking.”

Given their anxiety about outsiders, patriotic Finns should be heartened by immigrants and their children like Musta Barbaari and his friends. In this land, they already buy all its customs that count.


Follow them on twitter: Musta Barbaari @stadinrevityin, @prinssijusuf, @Seksikas_Suklaa, Dosdela @Hanadosdelghet.

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