Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I got to thinking today... and the following news story prompted my thoughts (making me start thinking is always a dangerous thing):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4969296.stm

Yeah, I know this story seems kind of remote from the United States and our lives here, but it touches me uniquely... I'm a grad student in Russian history, and I'm black.

Yes, that's right... you can go find your grandma and tell her that its true... some of us study things outside African-American history. I remember when I first decided I wanted to do Russian history, I was actually called a traitor and a "snowflake" by a few other blacks since I wasn't going to study "my own people." That's the start of a completely different rant that will have to wait for a later day.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that at some time in the near future, I'm going to not only have to go to Russia to compile documentary evidence for my dissertation, but I'm likely going to have to remain there for several months to a year... so naturally this spate of racist violence is... just a tad worrisome.

I've been to Russia before, as well as Belarus, and I didn't experience anything remotely close to having my life threatened, but everyday the fact is shoved on you in one way or another that you are definitely not in a chocolate-friendly environment. For example, I remember little kids staring at me and calling me chorny (literally, dark), and the Belarussian police especially thinking that since my skin was darker than theirs, that I had to be a Chechen terrorist who needed to be stopped (A matter of fact, in four weeks I was stopped thirteen times by the cops... quite a record, I say). People stared, people pointed, and I missed the U.S.

True, racism still exists here... I've seen it first hand. I had a romantic evening come to a crashing halt once because my date (a blind date, I might add) informed me that while hispanics are alright, dating blacks is "impossible, because they're so thuggish and violent." I think the rest of the date lasted five minutes, and since I stormed out, I got a free meal. Something for the investment, I guess.

Once again, I digress. Racism is still alive and well, as is ignorance. But as much goading as I'd love to put in some of my fellow Americans to not be idiots, I'm not openly stared at here, and even when driving through the most rural, red-neck, hicked-out parts of this country, the worst I had was a cop follow me for a bit as I was driving. I certainly wasn't whispered about in my presence, and I certainly wasn't stopped.

The point of this, I suppose, is that while things can improve here, it takes going someplace else to realize what you have back home. That, and make sure when someone sets you up on a blind date, that they know whether your date is a racist idiot. Two more life lessons that will get you ahead... or at least, get you to avoid Belarus.

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