The existing racial prejudices influence the way I am treated in my home country – Russia. It seems like people living in a multi-ethnic country have an ingrained image of what a “true” Russian should look like: light skin, blond or fair hair, medium facial features. The elephant in the room is that I definitely do not fit the profile. It does not bother me as it used to, but the sense of “being foreign” or “different” still stays with me to this day.
I was born and raised in a tiny village called Levenda. When I say “tiny” I mean it because the population of the village is currently just about 200 people. It is one of those small places where you know everyone by their name. For me, the village is associated with safety and protection. You can walk alone late at night and be sure that nothing will happen to you. This is not the place of hatred or discrimination. Everyone kind of minds their own business. My early childhood years were pretty good there.
The first thoughts of me being “not like everyone else” came to my mind, when I started going to school in 2003. The early 2000s are characterized as the transition time in the history of Russia and even though the country was moving more towards stability after the devastating decade of 1990s, still the racial tensions were at a high. First, the societal rejection because of my non-Slavic look manifested itself in the form of offensive jokes and racial slurs made by other school children. I hoped that the racist sayings expressed towards me will end with school years. In a sense, they did end, but those thoughts of me being an “alien” still resurface because of the conditioned society around me.
Along the way of my journey towards acquiring the bachelor’s degree in pedagogy, I gained a new perspective on what it means to be accepted in a genuine sincere way. The native English and German speakers, who visited our Russian college, always tried to make us comfortable speaking the foreign languages and did not interrupt. It seemed like the foreign guests talked to us like to their friends. This idea of treating everyone equally always was in my mind, but the realization of its real power and strength came to me at the time of college years.
Another profound insight which struck me was the unawareness of my own racial prejudices which I had. Although I myself was subjected to the racist insults from others, I often jumped to the negative assumptions about non-Slavic looking people. We usually tend to think that we are the only ones who control our social environment and make our own conscious decisions. In reality, we are the direct product of the environment we were raised in and this fact still blows my mind. The realization of this flawed way of thinking is one of the crucial aspects towards acknowledging our past mistakes and building a more progressive society which provides everyone equal rights and opportunities.
Gerardo Martí says
Interesting to see this glimpse into your life in Russia. Helps us to appreciate the diversity of experiences among the people.