Mika Launikari


Racism is not created in a vacuum

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Now in September I have been following a course on Multiculturalism in the light of research at the University of Helsinki. The course has not only been informative, interesting and enjoyable, but above all thought provoking thanks to the knowledgeable lecturers, the numerous exercises as well as the lively debate in the class. Simply an excellent course with a good combination of theory and practice.

One of the lecturers called for a more critical awareness of what racism is and how it expresses itself. He addressed the issue of individual and systemic forms of racism. Individual racism is related to an individual’s racist assumptions, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that are based on that person’s conscious and/or unconscious prejudices, whereas systemic racism manifests itself in the organizational policies and practices that either include or exclude certain groups, but does not necessarily involve an individual act of explicit discrimination.

Further, systemic racism can be regarded as racial discrimination stemming from an individual conducting the orders of others who hold prejudices (institutional racism) or there are inequalities in the systemic functioning of the society that excludes, for example, members of a particular minority group from social or civic participation (structural racism).

Individual-level racism is not developing itself in a vacuum, but instead emerges from the established values of the society and how they are visible and repeated over and over again in institutions and systems (e.g. education and training, labour market). In this context, we cannot overlook the impact of culture on us and how it shapes our way of seeing the world and the people, who live in it.

Since the very first moment we are born, we start learning and internalizing the values and behavioural patterns of the culture, in which we happen to be (enculturation). As part of this process, the influences that restrict, guide, or form us as individuals include in the first place our parents, other adults (such as teachers), and also our peers. As children we tend to follow the example of adults (especially our parents), and if they happen to demonstrate discriminative/racist attitudes or acts, we easily might take and absorb that as a norm without being able to judge whether that actually is correct behaviour.   

Needless to say, it is much easier to recognise individual or interpersonal acts of racism (than systemic forms of discrimation/racism), such as to pass carelessly over another person, intentionally leaving him/her out in a social or work context or committing a psychological or physical act of violence against him/her. Moreover, due to the prevailing culture of individualism especially in the western parts of the world, some people (try to) justify their judgemental statements as not racist, because that just happens to represent their “personal opinion” and should thus be allowed in terms of freedom of speech.

Finally, I think that multicultural education provided in schools and educational institutions can help learners to gain an understanding of the concept of racism as well as help them to adopt tools to combat discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance in their daily environment. To this end, the conceptual framework for the Dimensions of Multicultural Education*) developed by Banks (2011) can be a useful model to be applied by teachers to address the complexity of racism.

*) The five dimensions of the framework (i.e. content integration, knowledge construction, prejudice reduction, empowering school culture, equity pedagogy) have been described, for example, in Banks, J.A., (2011, Ed.). The Routledge International Companion to Multicultural Education.


Everything in life happens for a reason

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Somebody wiser than me once said that there are no coincidences in life and that everything actually happens for a reason. This is also what I believe myself regardless of the fact that most people tend to think in terms of coincidences. Why do we often have the habit of thinking that unplanned and unexpected events happen by accident in our lives? Is it simply our rational mind that refuses to accept events that happen at the same time, but do not have any apparent causal connection? Is it that we somehow feel threatened in a situation, in which coinciding events unfold on their own for no obvious reason and we cannot control these developments anymore? 

On the contrary, everything has a reason and all reasons are given, either explicitly or implicitly. No matter what life throws to us, we indeed are responsible for how we respond. We can become either bitter or better, passive and paralyzed or active and recognize agency in ourselves. We can either say “No!” or “Yes!”, we can get stuck or move on, we can be joyful or depressed. It is always up to us to decide, how we react to setbacks and challenges that come unexpectedly our way. Or what do we do when there is a surprisingly great opportunity in front of us … do we leave it to the others as we might think that we do not deserve it or are we courageous enough to grab it without even knowing where it will lead us? Whatever happens – whether it is in our private or professional spheres of life – is there to guide us into a new direction.

In the past few weeks I have experienced something that might hopefully pave my way to more interesting opportunities in the future. Namely, two weeks ago a Romanian institution contacted me, which I would say was a little unexpected, and invited me to contribute as a speaker to their conference later this autumn. As I did not have any other coinciding obligations at the time of this conference in Romania, I responded positively to their kind invitation. The Romanian lady on the phone told me that I can give my presentation in English and they will do their best to accommodate everything to my needs and expectations.

Soon after this conference invitation, “by accident” I became acquainted with a Romanian exchange student staying at the University of Helsinki for one year. One day after our lecture, I had a nice conversation with this Romanian young man. There while talking – practically fully out of the blue without any prior planning – it just happened that the two of us agreed that this Romanian student would start teaching me some Romanian. My main motivation is to be able to speak a little Romanian by the time I go to the conference in Bucharest in November, but I do not dare promise that I will ever become a fluent speaker of Romanian. But if nothing else, this definitely is linguistically a step into a new direction for me!

People always come first

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This text has not the intention to be a full-fledged book review of the recently released publication on Why Human Capital is Important for Organizations – People Come First (Amelia Manuti and Pasquale Davide de Palma, Eds., 2014), but rather it focuses on highlighting some aspects that I found interesting for my own work and my Ph.D. studies while reading this innovative book. The transversal theme of the book is the interpretation of how academics and practitioners see the human resources management in today’s organizational context and how it should be developed in future. Overall, the book takes the reader through eleven chapters divided into four parts: Setting the Scene, The Cornerstone of Human Capital, Measuring Human Capital and Good Practices from Abroad.

In the middle of the global economic and financial crisis, the book is a good reminder of the importance of employees in all private companies and public sector institutions. The authors of the book address and speak in favour of talent management which has become the present-day challenge to any employer, recruiter or Human Resources professional. It is obvious that no organization can thrive, not even survive, in today’s competitive market without its talented, dedicated and committed people who believe in what they do and are continuously interested in developing themselves. To this end, organizations must ensure that well-designed and successfully implemented people-driven strategies are in place to support the long-term satisfaction of their staff and the achievement of their institutional vision.

All the chapters of the book were inspiring and well illuminating the latest developments in the area of Human Capital. Specifically two of them touched my brain as they were so closely linked to my own doctoral research. Assistant Professor Amelia Manuti (University of Bari, Italy) dealt with Organizational Resilience and Individual Employability – Psychological Capital and Change Management (Chapter 3) and Associate Professor Francisco Diaz Bretones (University of Granada, Spain) shared his views on Entrepreneurial Employees (Chapter 4).

Manuti was emphasizing in her text that the blurring of boundaries in many facets of life results in careers that gradually become multidirectional and that call for an enhanced ability of individuals to better cope with change-associated uncertainty in working life (i.e. improved employability). According to Diaz Bretones employees should perform as entrepreneurs at work and demonstrate an entrepreneurial mindset (including qualities such as dynamism, innovation, personal development and ongoing adaption) for making the business flourish. In this context, he discussed the push and pull variables that make people in working life develop entrepreneurial behaviour to a greater or lesser extent.

All in all, I recommend the book as it gives many new insights into understanding the topic of Human Capital from the perspectives of policy, research and practice. Further, it provides a plethora of viewpoints to be taken into account when developing the management and measurement of human resources in the workplaces worldwide.