Russian Riots Show Us That Racism is Still a Problem


Lina Skoldmor via Flickr



Lina Skoldmor via Flickr

It often seems like issues of racism, or ethnic discrimination, for that matter, get pushed to the back of our minds. Sure, if you went up to someone and asked them if they thought that any type of discrimination or prejudice still existed somewhere in the world today, they’d say yes, but, for the vast majority of people in our country, they would walk away from the conversation without giving a second thought to the issue. We hear about problems of race all the time—whether in our own country or abroad—but for the most part, we feel that we are far removed from the influence of such backward thinking. Besides feeling sympathy for the victims of hate crimes and disgust for the perpetrators, most of us really don’t take any action beyond our immediate emotional reactions.

I’ll admit that I’m much the same way. I’m a relatively privileged white woman who has lived a pretty sheltered life. While I’ve always condemned “-isms” such as sexism, racism and anti-Semitism, I have never done anything about them. The recent anti-migrant riots in Russia, which broke out on Oct. 13 in Moscow, shattered the illusion that discrimination existed only somewhere far away from me. While also keeping my Russian heritage and background in mind, I realized that if such prejudices can exist in a developed, first world country such as Russia, they can happen right here at home.

The riots were a response to the murder of a 25-year-old Russian man, Yegor Shcherbakov. Shcherbakov was killed by a man who was not ethnically Russian. The leaders of the anti-migrant mob destroyed and ransacked a vegetable warehouse in Moscow that was known to use migrant labor. The riots themselves weren’t the worst part of all this nor were the violent and vehemently anti-foreigner mentalities of the rioters—it was the reaction of the Russian government.

Instead of taking any real action against the rioters, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin vowed to close the warehouse down because it had used migrant labor and detained more than a thousand immigrants to check their migrant status and “criminal connections.” Such a reaction is not surprising when considering that Sobyanin’s attitude toward foreigners is the same unaccepting one as those of the rioters. He was even quoted in an interview with Russian newspaper RIA Novosti in May saying, “People who don’t speak Russian well, who have a totally different culture, they are better off living in their own country. That is why we do not welcome their adaptation in Moscow.”

While I feel that this situation works as an example of the type of discrimination that could happen in my own backyard, maybe that’s because Russian culture is so close to me. For others, despite the fact that Russia is a Western power, the differences between the United States and Russia may far outweigh any similarities, and they might still walk away thinking that such discrimination does not exist in their own lives.

But it does. Just look at comments on the pages of the news agencies that reported on the riots—there are more than a hundred comments on the story that RIA Novosti ran but barely any that condemn the actions of the police or the rioters. They are instead filled with hateful messages:

“[P]erhaps murders happen everywhere, but this is one murder that wouldn’t have happened without the immigrant being there. Illegal immigrants aren’t the only murderers here in the U.S., but again, those murders wouldn’t happen without illegal immigration.”

“Russia is looking more & more like a place to live & prosper, unlike our sorry state of affairs here in the USA.”

“[This] is what we need in the USA!! […] Get the migrants OUT!!”

This is just a small, representative sample of the kind of comments you’ll see, and notice that these are all from fellow Americans.

So what does all this tell us? It means that racism, ethnic discrimination, white supremacy and pretty much every other prejudice under the sun are vitally important and relevant problems. We can’t ignore them nor can we just simply condemn them without taking any further action. Not only is it important for us to be able to recognize that not only do these problems exist, we also must come to the realization that we are not far removed from them.