Helsinki – the White City
City’s promotional videos
Elävä arkisto, the online archives of Finland’s broadcasting corporation (Yle) are marvellous! I watched Helsinki – thou white city of North, directed by Eino Jantusen and Felix Forsman from 1960. It inspired me to watch videos of Helsinki from different decades, the latest one from 2012 by Helsinki city itself Helsinki – Our City is Your City.
Through the years the videos have got shorter and the editing is faster. Regardless of this, the central ingredients are surprisingly the same; closeness to the nature, the seasons, architecture and design, happy people and their whiteness.
In both videos everyone is luminously white except for two cases. In the Helsinki – thou white city of North they sell May Day dolls featuring women of colour (06:11)) and in Our City is Your city a scene where a man of colour is watering the sunflowers, flashes by (00:35).
Statistically significant minority?
It’s understandable that the film from 1960s is as it is, but it’s unforgivable that the version of 2012 pictures Helsinki as if it hasn’t changed a bit since the 1960s. Hasn’t the percentage of non-whites of Helsinki’s population crossed a statistically significant threshold? It is known that it is the lowest number in the Nordic countries, but is it that low?
The latest video promises that our city is also your city. Regardless of this, the signal is whites inviting (consuming) guests to their white city. There are no people of colours. The May Day doll is only an item and the man watering the sunflowers may be an exchange student from abroad. After all, we are then finding ourselves in the backyard of the University of Industrial Arts and Design.
For visitors the city must be shown its best side – clean and antiseptic white. This doesn’t only refer to the Empire architecture of Senate Square, but also to skin colour and socio-economic background. The well-meant altruism of shining facades morphs into a show of moral superiority.
In the more recent promotional video of Helsinki, the absence of non-whites are conspicuous by their absence as is the social filth, which is decided to be removed to clean the streets. Some commentators complained, that despite the image the video gives, there are Muslims or people of colour in the streets of Helsinki. Even if the law requires equal treatment, it cannot control people’s attitudes.
In such an atmosphere all the talking about multicultural principles which penetrate everything or equal treatment becomes political rhetoric, in which multiculturalism and diversity are supported as long as they stay in the “culture box” which they are put into. From that box multiculturalism and diversity cannot disturb the financial or political system and practices.
Whites and non-whites
The idea of white supremacy is based on the ideology, where white Europeans perceive themselves as “naturally" superior than the non-white people of the other continents. This legitimised colonialism and still is used in establishing racial inequality and in the unequal distribution of welfare and wealth.
Because whiteness is a power-status, its opposite is not people of colour but non-whites. Talking about “races” or “colours” moves the attention from structures, politics and their mechanisms, which in the last resort conceal inequality. The problem is that the whites are in power and thus are dictating how things work.
Many whites admit that racism puts non-whites in a worse position. However, it’s difficult for the whites to admit the advantages the societal system of white supremacy gives them, when compared to non-whites. The whites need to understand that they are not always the default or the point of reference for everything.
In this year’s  video Helsinki announces its white hospitality. But do remember: only as a visitor. If you would like to stay permanently, take a moment to think over it. After all, the conclusion - as in the end of the video - is that Helsinki is totally Finnish and via that, it seems, totally white.
Kalle Hamm 2012
English translation by Nardin Crisbi
[note] = notes by translator are marked in square brackets