25 October 2007

Расия, расизм, and An Attack on Beyonce's Dancer

First, a Russian racist mocked Timbaland’s talents after he turned their star into an international force to be reckoned with. Now, in an under-reported altercation, one of Beyonce’s dancers, identified only by his first name Cliff, was attacked at a restaurant on Tverskaya after being subjected to racial slurs. The incident took place just after the victory of Russia’s football team over England. Apparently, a drunk Russian took Cliff for an England fan and began to ridicule his supposed country and skin color. According to his interview in Tvoi den’, Cliff didn’t stand for it [back-translation alert!]:

“I couldn’t tolerate such offensive words and decided to sort out [razobrat’sia] the situation…But I didn’t manage to get a word in before I got punched in the face.”
Before we start thinking that all Russians are raving racists, the thread on this incident at the Russian-language fan site InDaRnB reveals a fascinating discussion on what the attack on Cliff tells us about racial politics here [possibly bad translations marked by question marks, feedback welcome]:

mib: That’s it, Beyonce is never coming to Moscow again. For real, these football fans are goats. [Note: that sounds harsher in Russian.]

Tania Mega-Popa:
Fu, I hate these fans. They don’t have one gram of brains. It’s not just Beyonce who won’t come to us anymore, but many more. It’s shameful.

Anka Afrika:
Rasiia [Расия, a play on Russia] comes from the word racism [расизм]…it’s sad. When they are killing a simple student, everyone ignores it, but it’s big news when they put a dent in [помяли] Beyonce’s dancer.

In Da Club:
Anka Afrika, I completely understand, but don't you dare write that “Rasiia” comes from the word “racism.”

Rasiia!!! It’s shameful!!! Terrible! How can it be?! I don’t get how racism developed so forcefully among us in our country? In other countries, everything is civilized, nobody looks sideways at people of other races. We have such savages here (I’m not talking about everyone). I myself have an Asiatic appearance and local idiots [удоты?] taunt me with their hard stares. I should head off to Europe to get away! These fools ruined Beyonce’s opinion of us.

[In response to Irreplaceable] You have too low of an opinion of Russia. Racism is present everywhere and among us no more so than in America.

Li Key:
Yeah, what's there to say. I think that it doesn’t depend on the country, but on the up-raising. Everywhere has its defectives, though it looks like we have a larger share… I feel bad for the dude.

But in America, they’d severely punish such an attack [дибильство?]! Here everyone ignores it. Where are the authorities looking?

Anka Afrika:
In Da Club: Tell me WHAT do you understand? Two of my friends were killed at the hands of skinheads. It’s easy to blame everything on “football fans,” “thugs” [гопники] and so on, but it’s all part of the State’s policies, when everyone goes on about “Ours” [наши] and “Not Ours,” “Walking Together” and “Walking Alone in the Woods” [идущие лесом?] and other
such things. It’s disgusting to hear this nationalist [великодержавний] diarrhea on the television. The people get an earful and go about killing everyone on the swarthier side.

[The last phrase is actually, “ народ наслушается и идет «мочить в сортире» всех, кто посмуглее.” It’s hard to exactly translate this sentence due to its grammatical construction and its reference to Putin’s famous jingoistic utterance about getting the terrorists, “если в туалете поймаем, то и в сортире их замочим.” (“If we catch them in the toilet, then we’ll soak them [criminal slang for killing] in the latrine.”)]

So there’s some insight on how Russians are thinking about racial politics in one corner of the blogosphere.

There’s also some news from another corner, over at Global Voices Online, where Veronica Khokhlova has posted on an interesting thread in the Russian-language livejournal (ЖЖ) community on James Watson’s racist commentary of last week. I was struck by how familiar the conversation seemed—the problems of political correctness, the reality/illusion of racial difference, the semi-moronic use of anecdotal evidence, and desperate pleas for common sense. The nuances and background are Russian, to be sure, but really the substance of this debate could just as easily be anywhere in North America or Europe, I think.

I’ll forego commentary for now (even on someone calling herself Tania Mega-Popa!). That translation took enough time and I’ve got other things to do. What do you all make of this? (And is it all a conspiracy to launch Putin's rap career? That's the style, right? First, you get rid of the opposition...)


W. Shedd said...

I've always had the impression that while racism certainly exists in Europe and the US, it is in stark contrast with our expressed ideals as a society. This forces racist people and their actions to be ... less overt, subject to greater public condemnation, and criminal penalties.

And my impression is, that in Russia ... racism is considered almost a fact of life by many (or even an essential truth). The criminal penalties aren't there, the police and courts very often don't take it seriously, and overt and even violent racism is treated almost in a "boys will be boys" kind of dismissal. I've said before that many Russians make comments that sound racist to American ears, but to Russians it just sounds like factual statements with no particular venom attached. Still, such attitudes create a fertile environment for growth of hateful racist attitudes and actions.

I have no doubt that more enlightened, educated, and liberal voices on the internet have a different take and profound discussion of the topics in Russia. But as I recently read that only about 25% of the Russian population actively use the internet, can we say that those voices represent the average Russian?

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

I wasn't trying to make any claim to represent the average Russian, but rather to get at some various "indigenous" theories about racism in Russia. I doubt the users of InDaRnB are representative at all, being young, attracted to a traditionally black music form, computer literate, etc. That said, I thought their conversation was interesting and got at a number of points about the extent of Russian racism and the causes of it. And all in a pretty conversational tone.

I agree with you about the "openness" of Russian racialism. But since my blog so often just harps on the violence and bigotry, I thought a softer, more subtle approach might be nice to dig into the diversity of ideas and also point at the possible fertile ground of hip-hop culture as a possible palliative to some of the worst prejudices. At least that was my intent.

(I will also note that I'm not totally sold on the progressive influence of hip hop in Russia. One of the things that strikes me is the ability for ideological opposites to exist side by side in Russia. At the music shop down the road, there's a huge jazz/blues collection, across the aisle from the nine-volume "WHITE POWER" mp3 collection. Assuming they get about 20-30 songs per disc, that's 200+ racist anthems. American niche marketing does have the upside, I suppose, of me not having to worry about skinheads coming into the same store where I'm looking for a complete John Lee Hooker...)