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?”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.
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.
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