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Racism in Russia


What draws foreigners to Russia? For some it's curiosity about the culture and people, or an opportunity to study or work abroad. For others, like Phil from New York, the attraction is more primal. Russian women! Today I want to tell you the story of two black Americans living in Russia, both sharing similar backgrounds but differing impressions of your nation. A lot of text, so put your reading glasses on!

I mentioned before that I immediately noticed the absence of blacks during my visits in Russia. Some readers told me there are quite a few, but I didn't see them walking around the city in either Moscow or St. Petersburg, and certainly not in the villages we passed while driving between the two cities. Perhaps they're more concentrated in university areas, where foreigners come to study. I previously opined that one of the prime distinctions between Russian and American cultures is the way our nations view foreigners, the ability to accept those who differ from the norm. In my mind, Russia remains a very xenophobic nation, with a low tolerance for outsiders. The reasons for the distinctions are clear - during Soviet times, a brainwashing of paranoia and propaganda pertaining to "others." Conversely, America is a land of immigrants, rich in diversity and for the most part a blended nation living in harmony. Are there racists in America and people who hate immigrants? Absolutely! But today I'm writing about Russia, not America.

When I heard about Phil, or "Philochko" as he's known in Russia, I immediately became intrigued. A black guy teaching English slang to Russians, an unusual gig to say the least. So I wrote to him and he agreed to meet in Moscow during my October visit. Philochko grew up in a rough part of Brooklyn and later became a trained actor, appearing in hit TV shows like Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Law and Order, etc. His keen interest in Russian women led him to Vkontakte, where he set up a page and started developing a large fan base. It's no secret many Russians are interested in American culture and Philochko, well he has a very dynamic personality that's easily recognizable even from photos. Charming, intelligent and funny guy. His fan base grew so quickly that he started making YouTube videos and became an instant star in Russia. Take a look at this clip, where he explains the difference between Russian gopniks and American hoodlums. During one of our long car drives on the Eastern Euro journey, Alexander and I had a serious debate. Who would win in a fight between a Russian gopnik and American hoodlum? What do you think? :)

All the attention eventually led to opportunities to work in the country, and he came to Moscow about six months ago to start teaching classes in person. What did he experience on arrival? Yes, it immediately became clear that many Russians are racists. Difficulty finding an apartment, some flat out saying they "will not rent to blacks." Stares, rude comments, hesitation to even hold his Russian girlfriend's hand in public because it could trigger a conflict. Further culture shock, "Muscovites are rude as hell, no one smiles..." I'm sorry, but these are common sentiments and not just my impressions.

It doesn't mean everything is doom and gloom. Many Russians are quite kind, embracing Philochko and welcoming him to the country. This is evidenced by photos from various in person classes on his Facebook page. He's traveled to St. Petersburg, Khabarovsk, Dmitrov, Volgograd, Rostov, Stavropol, Kyiv, and even walked the streets of Grozny. Nothing but good things to say about the Chechens. He told an interesting story about being refused entrance into a Russian bar because of skin color, but not his. His friend was Chechen and the doorman said "no blacks allowed," pointing to the Chechen. For Philochko, a surreal situation.


During our meeting at the mall, a strange thing happened. We're sitting there chatting and all of a sudden three other black guys walk by. They recognized Philochko and came to our table. All three of them also Americans!! We spoke mostly with a guy who grew up in the hood of South Central, Los Angeles and came to Russia about six years ago to study the language. He comes from a family of linguists and was always interested in the Russian language. He now speaks it fluently and held a perfect conversation with my native Russian friend. He shared the same impressions of a racist Russia upon arrival, particularly with respect to employment opportunities. His resume looks very attractive on paper, and this led to many phone interviews where he was essentially promised the job. However, once the in person meeting occurred and the color of his skin was exposed, the positions were "no longer available." In America, there are anti-discrimination laws to protect against such abuses in the housing and employment sectors. I read online that there are Russian equivalents to these laws, but I don't know how often they're enforced??

I could tell from this meeting that Philochko doesn't envision himself in Russia long term. However, the other guy is happy there and has no intention of leaving. He eventually got the opportunity to teach English to children of wealthy Russians in an affluent Moscow neighborhood. He travels with the families, earns a very large salary and is well-connected with the Moscow elite. He learned how to manipulate a corrupt and bureaucratic system to his advantage and thus Russian life for him presents no real burdens. In fact, he even stated that he admires Russians because they "admit they're racists," and don't mask this fact in the way some Americans or Europeans do.

I understand in Russia the term "black" is broader, encompassing people from the North Caucasus. I'm constantly reading articles here on LiveJournal, and even in the American press, about Russians beating or stabbing such immigrants on subways and on the streets. I wonder what you think about blacks in Russia? How you ever expect a nation to thrive when nationals are fighting against nationals, nationals against immigrants, such that there's complete disharmony and nothing can be accomplished for the greater good of the nation as a whole.

If you regularly read my blog, or take a look at my profile, you will know that I don't understand those who judge simply based on skin color or ethnicity. To see someone on the street and immediately hate or have feelings of anger based solely on their ethnicity, it's incomprehensible in my mind. For those who have been mugged, raped or beaten by a certain ethnic group it's more understandable. However, for the average person who hasn't experienced these atrocities, what's the real root of the hate? Why are you better than these people? Explain. Perhaps some of you wish to live in an all white Russia, with no immigrants at all?



( 159 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 11th, 2013 03:54 am (UTC)
what's the real root of the hate? (c)

This one : "For those who have been mugged, raped or beaten by a certain ethnic group it's more understandable"

Behavior of some ethnic group representatives but they not indigenous people
Nov. 11th, 2013 03:58 am (UTC)
You've been personally harmed by one of these people?
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:08 am (UTC)
Not , but my friend yes
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:11 am (UTC)
Ethnic criminality -main reason, I think.
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:01 pm (UTC)
Yes, but there are criminals of every race and ethnicity in all countries, including America. In some countries the crime level among such people is disproportionately high, but it's still not a reason to immediately hate or fear in my mind. Sorry for your friend's misfortune.
(no subject) - meopemuk - Dec. 17th, 2013 07:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Dec. 17th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - meopemuk - Dec. 17th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
oh, what a difficult theme you picked...

Well, like with anything else i divide russians in 2 large groups: soviet people and modern people. Self-explanatory much, yeah? :)

Simply put - all soviet people are rude as hell on streets, their job, any enviroment with unknown people, because in bring chaos in their little perfect world. Soviet mentality in a few words was "be like everybody else and do not stand out". And when they see black walking on streets... well, shit hit the fan in their brain. I'm sorry, but it's a fact. And curiously not every old people have soviet mentality, many young one has, so you never know for sure until you talk with.

And modern people - they are less stiff in their ways and a lot more able to adapt, but in our county you will see not so much black people, and when your opinion on race based on hollywood movies... You can guess :) They think all black people are criminals.

So it's not racism in a full meaning of the word. Which dosn't make it less akward, but a whole easier to accept.
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:04 pm (UTC)
"...Be like everybody else and do not stand out." This was my point about Soviet mentality, but some misunderstood what I wrote. I wasn't implying racism was an invention of communism, but such conformity breeds intolerance on many levels. Not just race, any small shift in mentality, political beliefs, etc. frowned upon.
(no subject) - golemming - Nov. 12th, 2013 05:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nao_sim - Nov. 11th, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - golemming - Nov. 11th, 2013 10:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nao_sim - Nov. 12th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - golemming - Nov. 12th, 2013 05:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nao_sim - Nov. 12th, 2013 05:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - golemming - Nov. 12th, 2013 06:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nao_sim - Nov. 12th, 2013 06:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hiding88 - Nov. 17th, 2013 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 05:09 am (UTC)
I know that guy! I’ve been subscribed on his Youtube channel. I like his video! He’s a positive and light person and I like it.

>>How you ever expect a nation to thrive when nationals are fighting against nationals, nationals against immigrants, such that there's complete disharmony and nothing can be accomplished for the greater good of the nation as a whole.
It happens because the unification was forcedly. And when the USSR was collapsed every ex-soviet republic proclaimed themselves as a independent state. I think it showed the attitude every nation to each other.
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:06 pm (UTC)
Hi Denis! Phil's a very nice guy if you meet him in person! I'm sure you've learned many "interesting" English words and phrases from watching his videos. :) Entertaining guy!
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, and many other Russians also accept him into society as I wrote in the post. Honestly, in all my travels in Russia I've rarely seen blacks and never once met an American there. So it was really odd to meet three black people in the same location, and all Americans. Special treat for the day, and a very interesting conversation with them. All good, intelligent people.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jun. 17th, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 05:18 am (UTC)
1. During the destruction of the Soviet Union there was rising of anti-russian nationalism in the Caucasus and Middle Asia republics (Americans call this region "Central Asia"). Many of Russians had to run from those places.

2. On the territory of the former Soviet Union there was several genocides of Russians (in Chechnya, for example).

3. After destruction of the Soviet Union, Caucasus and Middle Asia republics falled into decline. Now, there are poverty and many unemployments. Those unemployments are coming to work in Russia. They are not integrating in Russian society and building "ethnic enclaves" (in a figurative sense). Crime among them is higher. And many of them openly hates Russians.

We are not xenophobic country. For now. But we are coming to it closer and closer.

That's how I look at the things.
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:12 pm (UTC)
I know about the recent Chechen and Georgian wars. I don't live in Russia, so I can't speak to the integration of these people in Russian society. If they completely fail to do so, then I agree it's a problem. If you choose to work or live in a new nation, it's your responsibility to learn the language and adapt to local customs to some extent. This doesn't mean you completely lose your cultural heritage, but at a minimum you should be able to function and communicate with locals. We have huge language problems in America, where some immigrants working in fast food chains or retail sectors can barely speak English. Unacceptable.
(no subject) - nar_row - Nov. 11th, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nar_row - Nov. 11th, 2013 06:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - meopemuk - Dec. 17th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Yes you are a xenophobic country. - (Anonymous) - Nov. 17th, 2013 01:33 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Yes you are a xenophobic country. - nar_row - Nov. 17th, 2013 06:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 05:31 am (UTC)

>>Conversely, America is a land of immigrants, rich in diversity and for the most part a blended nation living in harmony.

Realy? How long has it been?

Russian like angels, compared with the Americans.
The main problem in Russia is not with Africans and with the residents of the North Caucasus. More specifically with ethnic crime.

Nov. 11th, 2013 04:20 pm (UTC)
I said in the post there are racists and immigrant haters in America, but they are lower than Russia. You can look at any recent study and you will see that America is one of the most tolerant nations on the planet, Russia falls somewhere in the middle on the acceptance scale. The point is to better understand from where these hateful and resentful feelings come. I know the foundation of it in America because I live here, but the purpose of my blog is to better understand how Russian society/culture functions in real life. That's where faithful readers like you come in . To show me the way and shed light on such issues. :) I can read about it in the foreign or American press, but such sources are not always reflective of reality. Original reference to Washington Post study: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/15/a-fascinating-map-of-the-worlds-most-and-least-racially-tolerant-countries/

 photo racial-tolerance-map-hk-fix_zpsad662c50.jpg
(no subject) - yarowind - Nov. 11th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - yarowind - Nov. 11th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Nov. 11th, 2013 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 05:43 am (UTC)
I can somehow understand (not vindicate!) the Muscovites' hostility towards people from the Caucasus and Central Asia. But why they are hostile to the Blacks, including African-Americans, is totally incomprehensible to me. My best suggestion is that they desperately need to feel of themselves that they are not the "lowest grade" citizens, that there is someone more deprived than they are. All non-Slavic persons fit into this pattern, and the African-Americans just fall in there by association. :)

Edited at 2013-11-11 05:45 am (UTC)
Nov. 11th, 2013 09:51 am (UTC)
Yeah-yeah, all Russian racists live in Moscow, and people in other cities are kind and tolerant.
(no subject) - siberian_cat - Nov. 11th, 2013 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Nov. 11th, 2013 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 05:46 am (UTC)
Racism in Russia
User ku1917 referenced to your post from Racism in Russia saying: [...] Оригинал взят у в Racism in Russia [...]
Nov. 11th, 2013 05:54 am (UTC)
Actually racism is the esssential part of our cultural identify.
But my ex-english teacher said the opposite. He has been living in Russia for 2 years and had no such problems.
So, the truth is out there....
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:25 pm (UTC)
Truth is always somewhere in the middle.
Nov. 11th, 2013 06:34 am (UTC)
Ну у нас москвичей двустволками называют. Украинцы их еще москаликами зовут. Так что повод для расизма всегда найдется.
Dec. 12th, 2013 06:26 pm (UTC)
Хохлы москалями кличут не москвичей, а всех россиян. Т.е. не по признаку территории, а по признаку подданства.
(no subject) - andrush_da - Dec. 13th, 2013 02:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - krino2 - Dec. 13th, 2013 02:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 11th, 2013 06:38 am (UTC)
Я в восторге!
The reasons for the distinctions are clear - during Soviet times, a brainwashing of paranoia and propaganda pertaining to "others." (c) Great!
Once upon a time, apparently, as a child, you got a great dose of anti-Soviet propaganda. If this were not the words and concepts, but the radiation, you would glow in the dark like a firefly!)
Racism is not an invention of Karl Marx and his bloody russian followers. Racism was invented to justify colonial policy. Some peoples declare themself as "exclusive" (a familiar word?) and confer on themselves the right to plunder second-rate nations. Russia, then Soviet Russia, Russia again, it was and remains a colonial empire. Here, people are deprived of the right to self-determination, self-government. Instead of light and kind truths, russian heads full of the same shit, which was filled in british or french heads at a time when their colonial empires existed. The USSR was trying to combine incompatible. Official propaganda completely rejected racism, but the need for administration of colonial territories constantly resurrected it.
Your understanding of the causes, as usual, is not true, but your vision of the state of affairs, as usual, quite true. And by the way, where do you get your knowledge of the SU and communism? My desire to read this book is getting bigger and bigger. Wow! Sooo big!
Nov. 11th, 2013 07:39 am (UTC)
Re: Я в восторге!
Where did I say racism was an invention of Marx or socialism? I didn't! You misunderstood something in my post, but it's 2:30 a.m. in Virginia and I'm too tired to clarify now. I'll write after I've had my beauty sleep.
Re: Я в восторге! - andrey_kaminsky - Nov. 11th, 2013 08:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Я в восторге! - peacetraveler22 - Nov. 11th, 2013 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Я в восторге! - qi_tronic - Nov. 11th, 2013 09:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:30 pm (UTC)
I can say the same about America, some wish to live in a nation less crowded with immigrants. But they are the minority, and it's not me.
Nov. 11th, 2013 07:12 am (UTC)
These people come to my country. They don't want to work. They just want to get a lot of money.
They will kill, steal and loot.

Yakavetta: I'm having a shitty day. I'm depressed. Tell me a funny joke.
Rocco: Now? A joke? Uh … um, uh … a joke. Yeah, all right. Um … there's these, uh, three guys, uh … a-a-a-a spic, a-a-a-a white guy and a black guy.
Yakavetta: Nigger.
Rocco: Yeah, n-n… yeah. And-and they walk along the beach, they see this pot, they rub it, genie comes out. Genie says, you know, "You wish for anything you want." So, he asks, uh-uh, Mexican what-what he wants, and he goes, uh, uh, "I want, uh, all my people in America to be happy and free and in Mexico." And so, genie – poof! And all the spics are in Mexico. And then he asks the black guy …
Vincenzo Lipazzi: Nigger.
Rocco: Yeah, that's what I said. Goes to the, uh-uh, nigger, says, uh, "What do you want?" And he goes, um, uh, "I want all my African – my nigger brothers in America to be back in Africa, and-and happy and everything." You know? So, genie goes poof! And, um, all the niggers in America are in Africa. And, uh, uh, uh, this is go – I'm not funny today. I-I know. I'm havin' a hard day. I-I-I – this joke sucks. It's-it's-it's a stupid joke.
Yakavetta: Continue the joke.
Rocco: So the genie says to the white guy, uh, um, "What's your one wish?" And the white guy goes, "You mean to tell me all the niggers and spics are out of America?" Genie goes, "Yeah." He says, "Well, um, I'll have a Coke, then."
[After a long pause followed by much laughter]
Nov. 11th, 2013 04:31 pm (UTC)
Yes, we're all intolerant here. Living under a totalitarian State.
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