Your skin color has been causing us a lot of problems
January 2, 2015 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Being a black man in Ukraine showed me everything that's wrong with race in the U.S.
My introduction to racism in Eastern Europe had come swiftly and severely. Over my next 18 months in Ukraine, race would remain a constant obstacle to normal life and interactions with Ukrainians. Certainly, black skin creates hurdles in the United States, as well. Here, racism systemically – but usually covertly – obstructs African-Americans from fully enjoying all the freedoms afforded to white people. But racism in Ukraine was much more blunt – always in my face, unabashed and in plain view. I never had to guess whether a person’s remarks carried racist undertones or if an officer’s stop was fueled by prejudice. Ukrainians always let me know where I stood with them, good or bad. And I appreciated it.
...As a black American, I’m all too familiar with the look police officers give just before stopping you, and immediately recognized the gaze even in this foreign country. The officer walked toward me, gave a Soviet-style military salute and demanded that I present my passport. He looked it over before telling me to follow him into a mini-police unit inside the station. Once there, I asked the cop why I was being held. In Russian, he responded, “You’re a nigger and I know you’re bringing drugs into our country,” he said. “Where are the drugs?”

[...]

As bad as the experience sounds, I appreciated the young cops’ forwardness. He made it clear that his stop was motivated by race and nothing more. In New York City, where I now live, the NYPD immediately rejects any suggestion that racism can motivate officers’ behavior, even subconsciously. They categorically dismiss research that shows black people are habitually treated more severely than whites when suspected of the same crime. They swear that policing policies like “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” aren’t racially motivated, even though studies have repeatedly shown that they disproportionately target minorities.

[...]

I was so drawn to the openness and honesty of Ukrainian culture that, if I had the means, I would buy a home and live there part time ... was able to make many breakthroughs on race with locals that I have yet to experience in the United States. Instead of entrenching in their racial ignorance, Ukrainians were honest about their naiveté and open to learning about a different culture.
This reminds me a bit of an interview on This American Life of Janet McDonald, author with Project Girl. She talks about how she gained a lot of perspective on her identity and American racism from living in Paris. Though in her case there was more of a lack of racism and appreciation of her as an African American professional, even in the midst of a lot of racism towards Africans.
posted by Golden Eternity (59 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
On the other hand, Sammy Davis Jr. had better stay the hell away or at least ditch the yarmulke while travelling in the Ukraine...
posted by ennui.bz at 3:20 PM on January 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks for posting. I get what he means about "knowing where you stand" and especially the whole "no I wasn't being racist you're just oversensitive" thing in the US.

In Russian, he responded, “You’re a nigger and I know you’re bringing drugs into our country,” he said.

I'm curious what exact Russian word he used for "nigger"? In Russian, the word негр (nyegr) literally means "black person." It doesn't have any pejorative connotations like the word "nigger" in English, although it sounds similar enough that English-speakers often assume that is what is being said.
posted by pravit at 3:22 PM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, but most (younger) Russian speakers are aware that негр is offensive and tend to not use it around English speakers in my experience.
posted by k8t at 3:24 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


My friend moved from Ghana to Ukraine; he left because he was constantly called that word in a pejorative way as he walked down the street and didn't want his children exposed to it. He is a fluent Russian and Ukrainian speaker and he says it was definately used in a perjorative way as it was shouted at him several times a day from strangers during the decades he lived there.
posted by saucysault at 3:28 PM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was surprised to see the word transliterated instead of being translated in the subtitles here. Not sure if that was just for this song, or if actual Russian speakers use it.
posted by PlasticSupernova at 3:30 PM on January 2, 2015


When I was working in a factory we had a mechanic called Robbie. Robbie was vocally racist and claimed to be a Klan member (He once gave me a publication called "50 Things Things The Media Doesn't Want You To Know About Jews"). Black employees, for the most part, had no problem with Robbie. My helper (a black man) told me he liked Robbie because he knew where he stood and that Robbie wasn't going to say one thing to his face and another behind his back. I had never considered that angle.
posted by MikeMc at 3:32 PM on January 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


After 40 minutes, I simply said that she shouldn’t say either word because it would hurt black peoples’ feelings. “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” she said. Then we moved on to other topics.
Yeah, most of the time in the US, the idea of hurting a minority group's feelings would be bypassed entirely in favor of an interminable argument about why that minority group's feelings shouldn't be hurt . That is the first thing supporters of racist language jump to when I point out that something is racist is "___ group has it good, and..."
posted by ignignokt at 3:35 PM on January 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


I have found this particular subject to be endlessly fascinating since I was a little child. I suppose this article is neither deeply correct nor totally backwards. The author uses "the NYPD" and "they" to describe police interactions in the United States; in the Ukraine, he shares personal stories. These idiosyncrasies make me wonder if these aren't just first impressions of a wide-eyed tourist.

I will say Americans have practically an exploitable fascination with foreign rudeness. They find it deeply refreshing. See Gordon Ramsay.
posted by phaedon at 3:53 PM on January 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


I can appreciate (in a theoretical way) that it can be frustrating having to deal with this sort of hidden racism, but it may be worth noting that it wasn't hidden at all in, say, the antebellum South, and it was hidden a lot less than now in the Jim Crow era, etc.

The reason racism is more covert now is that the more overt varieties have become unacceptable--is there any way to get from more racism to less without first having the racism be regarded as unacceptable, so that those who are still racist feel obliged to hide it?

(If one feels that racism here is just as bad as there, only covert here while overt there, and that we have not made *any* progress from those earlier eras, then I suppose the overt racism would be simply better. Similarly, this does nothing to ameliorate the issues associated with individuals or organizations refusing to recognize the existence of racism in themselves because racism has become too unpopular to admit to.)
posted by Four Ds at 3:54 PM on January 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm wondering if the empathy/political correctness* that is asked of here in the United States is a necessary step for fighting racism. It seems like there is a lot of innocence when it comes to examining racial bias over there. Here, it has resulted in coded behaviors and excuses that people will get quite defensive about, making it hard for an honest conversation about prejudice. Individually, it seems like not having preconceived notions makes it easier for a person to wise up. However, I doubt a society can improve itself without having an active engagement debating what should be allowed.

Of course, if you want to just live your daily life, it sounds much easier to have the racism up-front. You don't need to guess if someone will ignore/deny you because of your race. You get a firm message that you're wasting your time, instead of calling them 5 times over the following month with no response.

*the term depending on whether or not they're doing it out of compassion or just social norm
posted by halifix at 3:58 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


My friend moved from Ghana to Ukraine; he left because he was constantly called that word in a pejorative way as he walked down the street and didn't want his children exposed to it. He is a fluent Russian and Ukrainian speaker and he says it was definately used in a perjorative way as it was shouted at him several times a day from strangers during the decades he lived there.

Yeah, I can see how it can be used in a pejorative way (and obviously a cop stopping a black person because of their race is being racist regardless of what word he uses) - it would be like if people yelled "Jew!" or "Chinese!" at people every time they walked down the street. In some ways the overt racism can be relieving like the author describes, but on the other hand, it must be tiring to have your race constantly pointed out to you.
posted by pravit at 4:01 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not so surprising that Ukrainians seemed more open to hear his perspective. If I were to hear someone from another country spout opinions I disagreed with, I'd listen to them more patiently than someone from the states. I'd be more curious about how they came to believe such offensive stuff, given that they grew up in a totally different national political context.

But yeah, I've felt similarly when talking about race in the US versus India, or even in SF versus NYC. I found NYC refreshingly blunt compared to SF.
posted by yaymukund at 4:02 PM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not denying personal experience, knowing where you stand etc, but....

What are the laws with regard to racial discrimination in commercial interactions, employment, interactions with the govt etc.

Are they de jure or de facto? Are they feasible to get enforced by a non-connected minority who has been blatantly discriminated against?

If you've been told to your face (in increasing order of seriousness) "we don't help jews/black people/gypsies" etc, by a shopkeeper, a potential employer or an ER doctor -all things that used to happen in the US - then the straightforwardness may be less inviting.....
posted by lalochezia at 4:08 PM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


but on the other hand, it must be tiring to have your race constantly pointed out to you.

I can't speak to being black anywhere, but I spent a fair number of years being the only white person for many miles (so numerically a "minority" but still very much privileged) and yes it does get very tiring to have one's race be under constant observation and discussion. Absent racism and absent discrimination it isn't an awful thing at all, but it definitely is draining and there are many times I wanted to blend in, even for a short while, just to have an afternoon without that constant visibility.

I've never had the experience of being a visible minority in a place where it wasn't ok to talk about it openly or yell some variation (positive or negative) of "hey white guy!" from across the street, so I can't compare to how it would feel to have all the interactions and scrutiny be coded and hidden. The deep denial by so many people in the US that there is still any remaining racism is in itself a huge barrier to discussing things, since the very first step of agreeing that there is something to discuss isn't there.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:14 PM on January 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm reminded of an old Dave Chapelle bit about racism in the North versus racism in the South.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:15 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of the classic 1955 essay "Stranger in the Village" by the novelist James Baldwin:
From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came. I was told before arriving that I would probably be a "sight" for the village; I took this to mean that people of my complexion were rarely seen in Switzerland, and also that city people are always something of a "sight" outside of the city. It did not occur to me--possibly because I am an American--that there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro.

[...]

Everyone in the village knows my name, though they scarcely ever use it [...] But I remain as much a stranger today as I was the first day I arrived, and the children shout Neger! Neger! as I walk along the streets.

It must be admitted that in the beginning I was far too shocked to have any real reaction.
Very worth the read.
posted by skwt at 4:22 PM on January 2, 2015 [18 favorites]


The reason racism is more covert now is that the more overt varieties have become unacceptable--is there any way to get from more racism to less without first having the racism be regarded as unacceptable, so that those who are still racist feel obliged to hide it?


Sure! First, find a way of fighting racism that doesn't threaten the entrenched power structures or require individual actors to face the reality of their casual oppression...

I'm not sure what step 2 is.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:08 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fascinating article. Thanks, Golden Eternity.
posted by homunculus at 5:12 PM on January 2, 2015


In New York City, where I now live, the NYPD immediately rejects any suggestion that racism can motivate officers’ behavior, even subconsciously. They categorically dismiss research that shows black people are habitually treated more severely than whites when suspected of the same crime. They swear that policing policies like “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” aren’t racially motivated, even though studies have repeatedly shown that they disproportionately target minorities.
They sometimes admit it in private.
posted by homunculus at 5:14 PM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I want to read more from this guy.

I spent a lot of time in the Soviet Union and knew many Africans. They had a rough time, but didn't care to discuss it with a white person. Fair enough. I heard many things that sounded worse than негр--чернухи or обезьянаки, but I guess I should leave it to African Ukrainians to define.

I also spent a few years in the Czech Republic, where African Czechs are much better accepted than Romani. People said awkward things, but were comfortable with Czechs with African features.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:37 PM on January 2, 2015


Excellent piece. One of the (many) things that astonished me during my visit to the Soviet Union in 1971 was the open, unabashed racism; not only would people tell me how awful blacks were, but in the course of showing their friendship (almost everyone seemed to have positive feelings towards Americans) they would point east and tell me earnestly that "we and you must join together to fight the Yellow Peril!" They seemed convinced that the Chinese were bent on overrunning the planet and had to be stopped. But I can well imagine that the overt racism, based entirely on ignorance (like the anti-Semitism I encountered everywhere in Taiwan when I lived there), could be refreshing in its way, especially when it turned out to be possible to counteract it because people were not really invested in it. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 5:42 PM on January 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Languagehat--I was once at a party with an American whose Russian was stronger than mine. Someone said to us: Our Georgians are like your negroes. She jumped in and said: Oh, no, our negroes are much better than your Georgians. They could beat up your Georgians at any time.

She was, in fact, a Georgian American with great sense of humour and a killer Moscow accent.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:46 PM on January 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm also not surprised he found his interactions with the Ukrainians over time were more fruitful than they were with the NYPD. The type of open, towel-slap racism he describes comes from a place of great ignorance, like not even knowing that you're supposed to pretend you're not actually being racist. They just do it. I've encountered it many times myself over the course of my life as an immigrant (however little noise that is by comparison to Starr). That level of ignorance you can sometimes, now and then, talk someone through. That takes time and almost daily interaction, but most importantly, you and them can at least both agree that what's happening is a based on race. He has more hope with the locals than he does with a police force that can't even admit the racism exists in the first place.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:00 PM on January 2, 2015


They seemed convinced that the Chinese were bent on overrunning the planet and had to be stopped.

This tidbit might have relieved a lot of Cold war types. Or something.
posted by jonmc at 6:02 PM on January 2, 2015


I remember a guy in our student group who kept getting stopped in St. Petersburg because he was swarthy (his parents were Persian-Americans) and he yelled at the cop (in Russian) "You're just racist!" And the cop looked surprised and said, "Yes."

The cop seemed as surprised as if this student had yelled angrily, "You're blond!"
posted by small_ruminant at 6:05 PM on January 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yes. I think I might have mentioned this in comments a few years ago when I first started collaborating with Europeans and had left teh US. That it was in your face and very open and thus, in a way, easier to deal with.

And after tasting the different flavours of prejudice in Southern and Northern Europe, I picked Finland's xenophobia as the one I could live with. At least there's no stinky old men trying to pick me up at the bus stop at 7 bloody AM on my to work as a default [darker skin = prostitute] equation of most of the continent.
posted by infini at 6:32 PM on January 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


I should add that the people I know of African heritage who were born here or moved young enough to be completely fluent in the local language aren't really perceived as foreigners. That was one thing that stood out, that language made a huge difference in being accepted.

A journalist of mixed African heritage (Congolese & Kenyan) told me recently that there'd actually been a study done at the paper he worked for about their choice of words and the way they framed articles about dark skinned folks - there's been a distinct difference in the past 5 years in the way stories are reported. Far more sensitivity and a positive or sympathetic slant to the reportage.

Not saying its all roses but as mentioned many times upthread, its a lot easier when you know the shopkeeper is clearly ignoring you or the dentist is concerned you can't pay up than dealing with all the PC shadow boxing that goes on behind the scenes leaving you wondering what the real reasons for someone's radio silence to your requests might be.

Oh, my industry really needs to wake up and look at just clearly they draw the lines of exclusion even while they sing the song of "inclusiveness".
posted by infini at 6:43 PM on January 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know that transparency in racism is the solution to race problems in the US. Novel though it may be that used to be a thing, right?

Its hidden here because even racism's practitioners understand its taboo and has personal social costs.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:46 PM on January 2, 2015


There's a difference. Its just the signs that were removed. Everything went underground. Without any Truth and Reconciliation either, like in South Africa, where, regardless of their ongoing problems, its a topic they discuss openly in the news media, twitter and in public.

/this paragraph is sloppier than it could be and thus might raise flags or cause offense. I need more coffee and can return to clarify this further. yes, I've interviewed people in SA townships.
posted by infini at 7:07 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


In the American south not very long ago, blacks would always know where they stood with whites, and segregated facilities helped make things very clear. blacks did not find that embracing.
posted by Postroad at 7:14 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeeeah... there's a certain type of black American who finds the candor "refreshing." I'm definitely not that type, and I've found them to be relatively few and far between among the other blacks I've known. As a student, I had a keen interest in Russia and was interested in eventually studying abroad to learn the language until I got wind of how *constant* a hassle it would've been to wear my skin around in Eastern Europe.
posted by Selena777 at 7:49 PM on January 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


It was a bit of a shock when I was in the UsA recently and discovered that people used code for racism. In Thailand and Australia, where I normally live, racism is very straightforward. Whereas I would be chatting to an American, and they would be talking about 'inner city youth' or 'how dangerous Mexico is.' But it would eventually dawn on me that they didn't like black kids or Mexicans.

Dunno if, like posters above, this is a good thing - that Americans don't feel they can safely express openly racist sentiments...
posted by Sedition at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2015


Can we just take it as read that POC do in fact know that there are also problems with overt racism and that the contrasts here are intended to highlight the problems with the covert kind, not to say that overt racism is fine and should never change?
posted by Sequence at 7:55 PM on January 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


Well, I mean, yes, I'm sure it's nice to be in a place that lacks centuries of institutionalized anti-Black racism and where one can therefore have conversations about race that are not constrained and contaminated by centuries of institutionalized anti-Black racism.

Essentially, any cross-cultural breakthroughs we could have about race in America are, in large part, held captive by defensiveness and political correctness.

I don't really think "political correctness" is the problem in discussing race in America. Racism seems like the problem in discussing race in America.
posted by jaguar at 7:56 PM on January 2, 2015 [22 favorites]


"I don't really think 'political correctness' is the problem in discussing race in America. Racism seems like the problem in discussing race in America."

Yeah, that set my teeth on edge.

"Can we just take it as read that POC do in fact know that there are also problems with overt racism and that the contrasts here are intended to highlight the problems with the covert kind, not to say that overt racism is fine and should never change?"

Right. I think a lot of us who aren't black need to take a step back and think about the context for this. I'm a bit surprised at some of the responses above because I've heard a number of times from black people that there are some ways in which the overt racism of the South is preferable to the covert racism elsewhere. I mean, I've heard this a lot. And it's a surprising thing to hear, if you're white, but it makes sense when you think about it and talk to the person about it more. It's absolutely not the case that they think there's something good about overt racism or that they think that the whole of racism where it's overt is somehow less severe and preferable then the whole of racism where it's covert.

What's being expressed is a kind of incredibly deep and angry frustration at covert bigotry that won't even admit itself to itself. And this isn't limited to racism, though this particular example (anti-black racism compared between the US and Ukraine) is particularly stark. It's common with all kinds of widespread, systemic bigotry that has become stigmatized but is still very much prevalent. You see it all the time with sexism, with men who say and do sexist things and are incredibly defensive about it and won't even begin a dialogue on the topic because they're so invested simultaneously in the ideas that they cannot possibly be sexist while also being unwilling to critically examine their own behavior. In many ways this is a profound psychological (and social!) barrier that's more difficult to get beyond than the overt bigotry.

And, yeah, I agree with the claim that this is sort of inevitable. If you fight systemic bigotry and are successful, the first thing that's going to happen is that it will become more covert than overt. There's no avoiding this.

Furthermore, I think it's very important to understand the weird paradox of successfully fighting the overt bigotry. With systemic bigotry and oppression, the overt stuff is simultaneously going to be the most horrifying and only a small part of the overall adverse affects of the bigotry. It's hard to talk about either one of those things without implicitly de-emphasizing the horribleness of the other. If a hundred people of a particular class are brutally murdered each year because they're a member of that class, and a hundred thousand are denied jobs and housing, then on the one hand it's obviously the case that being murdered is much, much worse than being denied a job but, on the other hand, the murder is only a small part of the systemic oppression.

The problem with fighting these isms is that the overt stuff really is usually the most horrible stuff and it really is the obvious stuff to fight against first, but successfully doing so means that you've only completed about 10% of the job. Except that many, many people -- especially those with an investment in the status quo of oppression -- will claim and believe that the job is done and will willfully ignore that remaining 90%.

And if you live in such a culture, a culture where people commonly claim that the remaining 90% doesn't exist -- and here is where I once again repeat that numerous recent surveys over the last few years have shown that a majority of Americans now believe that bigotry against white by blacks is a bigger problem than bigotry against blacks by whites -- and you're constantly navigating a terrain where at any moment you'll find yourself in a hidden trap of bigotry, you'll have a powerful frustration and anger as a result. And when you are confronted by a culture where the bigotry is still open, that will in some perverse way feel like an improvement. It isn't really, but what we're really talking about here is that ubiquitous and hidden bigotry that denies that it even exists at all and how truly horrible it is to be targeted by it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:16 PM on January 2, 2015 [32 favorites]


I've heard a number of times from black people that there are some ways in which the overt racism of the South is preferable to the covert racism elsewhere. I mean, I've heard this a lot. And it's a surprising thing to hear, if you're white, but it makes sense when you think about it and talk to the person about it more.

Ahem. Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture.
posted by dhartung at 11:30 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


So.. If I'm going to be a racist piece of shit, do it directly, blatantly, and without consideration for why racism is bad. Got it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:40 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, then I'll know not to engage with you because there will be no assumptions of good faith on your part. Which is like the hidden undertow in the ocean when you're just trying to paddle in the shallow end.
posted by infini at 3:55 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's being expressed is a kind of incredibly deep and angry frustration at covert bigotry that won't even admit itself to itself.

And talks on and on about inclusiveness while excluding blithely...
posted by infini at 3:56 AM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know, when you're kind of stuck in the covert racism wrong turn, backing off until you can make out your own racism in the rear mirror again sounds like a pretty good idea? I don't think Starr is in fact asking us to drive this thing the whole way back to Ukraine. I don't think we don't have that much fuel left and the metaphor is about to lose a wheel, too.
posted by Ashenmote at 6:43 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


> So.. If I'm going to be a racist piece of shit, do it directly, blatantly, and without consideration for why racism is bad. Got it.

This is a shitty way to engage in the conversation, if that's what you were trying to do. Please reconsider your rhetorical approach.
posted by languagehat at 7:15 AM on January 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


So it seems the core assertion of the author is that Ukranian racism, by it's frank, overt - even maybe innocent - nature, is somehow better than the covert racism that exists here. "Better" in that the author explicitly knows where he stands.

I would suggest that the history of anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine - the history of racial violence in the U.S. when racism was far more overt and generally acknowledged that is is today - make a mockery of that argument. Sure, you may be more certain that a certain faction doesn't like you/hates you. But in a society where it's more open (and as a result, more generally accepted), isn't it more likely that at some point they are actually going to come for you, en masse?
posted by kgasmart at 7:23 AM on January 3, 2015


I remember from my first travel outside the US that I found the "directness" of language deeply refreshing. People in a restaurant tell you flat out which room is the toilet, but in the US you get a hushed tone mention of a resting room, whatever that is. I imagine that's what some of this shocking overt racism might sound like, that instead of decades of smoothing over, language was abrupt but straightforward. Sure it's terrible, but at least everyone is clear and I imagine as disturbing as the words people are saying, it might reduce the anxiety of worrying what people really mean what they say all the time.
posted by mathowie at 7:27 AM on January 3, 2015


> So it seems the core assertion of the author is that Ukranian racism, by it's frank, overt - even maybe innocent - nature, is somehow better than the covert racism that exists here.

It's not an "argument," it's a description of his feelings and reactions. You might not react the same way. That doesn't invalidate his reactions.

> I would suggest that the history of anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine - the history of racial violence in the U.S. when racism was far more overt and generally acknowledged that is is today - make a mockery of that argument.

I would suggest that the history of anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine has nothing whatever to do with the situation of an African-American in Ukraine today, and that the odds of anyone "coming for" him are approximately zero, or at least no greater than they are in the States. Also, it's not an argument. Not everything is an argument, despite what MetaFilter might suggest.
posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would suggest that the history of anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine has nothing whatever to do with the situation of an African-American in Ukraine today, and that the odds of anyone "coming for" him are approximately zero, or at least no greater than they are in the States.

Oh really?

The student, known as J, plays amateur football in Lviv, one of eight host cities for the tournament which starts next Friday. He said spectators sometimes come armed with bananas even when the game is for fun and played in front of a crowd of a few dozen. "It has happened to me – the monkey chants, racist comments and the fruit. I try to ignore it or turn it into a joke by eating the fruit."

Black and Asian students in the city told the Guardian that racism here is rarely challenged and racist violence lies just below the surface. There are random beatings, pepper spray muggings and a liberal dose of insults – as well as an unsympathetic response from the police.

posted by kgasmart at 7:38 AM on January 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Nod
posted by infini at 7:45 AM on January 3, 2015


Yeah, I'm not sure neo-nazi idiots giving each other heil Hitler's out in the open is such a good thing. It wouldn't surprise me if some of them are out building ovens somewhere back in the woods while no one's looking. I've noticed an uptick in skinheadishness from Ukraine on my twitter feed. Frightening. But it's worth noting that Ukraine is essentially fighting a conventional war with Russia now. Russia has more tanks inside Ukraine than any other European NATO country has period. Perhaps the Nazi skinheads aren't the the biggest priority, currently.

Anyway, I've heard a lot of support for the revolution from Jewish voices in Ukraine.

Worldview: Truth on Ukraine and Jews

Maidan Jewish Commander: “There are no Anti-Semites here. Four other Jews who have some military experience are serving here with me.”

What struck me in the FPP was how laughably stupid the racism is: "You're a n---. Where are the drugs?" Could be a Simpsons line. I've come across ethnic bigotry from nearby parts of the world - Turkey, the Balkans, the Caucasus - that is more deep seated and brutal. Often alluding to whose ancestors did the rapping an pillaging.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think the takeaway from this is such that "overt racism is good", but rather that when a person's racism is overt and admitted, there is at least the possibility of being able to guide this person to knowing better. I think this is why Starr describes being able to make breakthroughs with locals in the Ukraine where similar work would be impossible back home, because back home, many racists won't even admit that race is the reason for the abuse in the first place.

Of course, there's a huge difference between some organized, ideologically driven racism like neo-Nazism and the like, and the kind of everyday ignorance-based hostility and fear you encounter with people you interact with every day. But I agree with this premise, based on my own personal experience in dealing with this dynamic, that you're not going to get very far in unravelling race-based assumptions if the other person won't even admit they're race-based to start with.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:31 AM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it is probably also the case that the friends he made had good intentions to begin with. There is a lot of new energy in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. I bet it could be an exciting place to be.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would imagine it's easier to understand racism from someone who knew very little about you. What I would find frustrating (I'm white) is that European Americans have hundreds of years of a shared history. Most of us studied with or lived alongside black people our whole lives. We should know better, but polls indicate that most white people don't believe that racism is a significant problem.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 10:17 AM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did some of you read the final paragraph? He already anticipated this "overt racism is not better!" derail:
While many of my African-American friends cringe at my stories about being black in Eastern Europe, I reflect on my time there fondly. That’s not to say that race relations in Europe are better than in the United States. As far as I am concerned, they are just as bad, if not worse, on average. Indeed, when I experienced racism in Eastern Europe, it was frequently harsh, even though I had the distinct advantage of being an American. Africans were treated far worse. But what I did enjoy about Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, was that I was able to make many breakthroughs on race with locals that I have yet to experience in the United States. Instead of entrenching in their racial ignorance, Ukrainians were honest about their naiveté and open to learning about a different culture. In the midst of our own battles in the United States, we could afford to take a similar approach to achieve better racial understanding.
(emphasis mine)
posted by yaymukund at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


A black friend of my mom's who's from the south said to her once, "in the south they hate the race and love the person. In the north (and in the California circles in which she now lives) they love the race but hate the person."

Exceptions abound, but I really get what she means.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Racism is getting uglier in America. The dog whistles of bigotry I hear from the periphery of my acquaintances and their friends are far less oblique now than they were 10 years ago. Sometimes the dog whistles are dispensed with entirely. Bigots are getting angry and desperate. There's a black african who dares to call himself the president of the United States. Men are openly and proudly marrying other men. White children mimic black culture. Women have birth control and abortions so that they can have sex with whomever they want, whenever they want. People are turning their backs to God. In the eyes of people like this, and trust me, they do exist, the whole world is going to hell in a hand-basket. They are horrified that nobody can can even try to stop any of these threatening social changes without getting labeled something terrible like "racist". Nobody wants to be called a racist, even those who strongly believe the horrible things that I've just mentioned.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have the same experience. There's a small part of me who feels sorry for them- enough so that when another state legalizes same sex marriage I don't go to their facebook page and gloat. I think (hope?) that this is the last gasp of the old guard before it becomes utterly obsolete.

These folks are my age (40-50) and young enough to know better but despite the home schooling and all the indoctrination they could manage, their kids just don't seem to be getting into the boat with them, at least not 100% and not enthusiastically.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:51 PM on January 3, 2015


Just came here to point out that "негр" means "negro" and not the racial slur.
posted by I-baLL at 11:30 PM on January 3, 2015


I would think that racism being unacceptable in society, which results in dogwhistles and covert racism, should be a transitional stage on the way toward equality. Things change gradually.
posted by asok at 3:34 AM on January 4, 2015


Arguments about race are often heated and anecdotal. As a social scientist, I naturally turn to empirical research for answers. As it turns out, an impressive body of research spanning decades addresses just these issues — and leads to some uncomfortable conclusions and makes us look at this debate from a different angle. SLNYT
posted by infini at 7:13 AM on January 4, 2015


I think many Americans repress their racist feelings because they were conditioned to do so, either from schooling or social pressure. It seems that the only people who I am able to have a direct dialogue about their opinions on other races are recent immigrants (long-time immigrants get Americanized with the American perspective on race) and foreigners.

Recently, I befriended a Japanese traveler while traveling in the States, and, despite my Chinese background (though I never really lived in China), he was able to tell me that he is prejudiced against Chinese. I asked him about his reasons and he mentioned how loud they were, how they don't form queues, and other differences in etiquette found in China, etc. This led to a discussion on China's history and how that led to contemporary culture in China, including its virtues and vices. Then we discussed Asian geopolitics and why the Asian countries hate each other. Though our views remained unchanged, I'm sure that the conversation exposed us to different perspectives, and it was refreshing to examine one's own racial prejudices without feeling confined by American taboos on discussing one's own prejudices about race.

Though I also understand why frank discussions about one's own racial prejudices can be quite offensive; I was raised in a politically correct environment in a part of California where we were literally taught to be offended by political incorrectness. It wasn't until I went to graduate school (where I met people from all over the world) and did some traveling that I learned how to appreciate direct discussions on race, and understand how other people's experiences shaped their perspectives on racial issues, including their own racial prejudices.

This probably sounds a bit psychoanalytic, but in my opinion, in order to 'solve' racism, America needs to bring its repressed feelings of racism into self-aware and direct dialogue. I doubt it will ever happen though.
posted by wye naught at 8:37 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This probably sounds a bit psychoanalytic, but in my opinion, in order to 'solve' racism, America needs to bring its repressed feelings of racism into self-aware and direct dialogue. I doubt it will ever happen though.

Absolutely, and I hope it does happen though I share your feeling that it likely won't.

But I think "political correctness" is the wrong thing to blame. Not discussing race and enforcing the idea that race is unmentionable is coming out of racism within the progressive/liberal movement, not because of "political correctness." I think it's reasonable to say that people shouldn't use racial or ethnic slurs (a dictate of political correctness) without assuming that means people shouldn't talk about race at all (the "colorblind" form of racism). It's like white Americans didn't really feel like doing the work of figuring out how to be not actually racist, and so just figured out a new way of being racist that got them called out less (which then lead to more overblown reactions when they do get called out, which makes tackling racial inequities even harder). I'm hoping that people vociferously objecting to these less-visible forms of racism will help change the entire system for the better.
posted by jaguar at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


« Older Happiness is harder to put into words.   |   Our deep integration is because of confidence, but... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments