Do you think this person is white?

If you are from Europe or North America, you might have said yes. If you are from Russia, you might have described this person as black. Most IR peeps are familiar with the fluid perceptions of whiteness and blackness that exist in the word: Sandor Gilman wrote, for instance, how Irish immigrants in the US in the beginning of the century were often considered black. The irony of blackness could not be more poignant in Russia: the famous Russian Armenian actor Frunzik Mkrtchan whose picture I put above is literally Caucasian, because he comes from the South Caucasus region in the European South of Russia. The ones who would describe him as black would also very likely to adhere to “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” slogan and in worst case scenarios would have tried to kill him because he “doesn’t look Slavic enough”.

Derogatory terms like ‘kavkazcy’ (Caucasians), and ‘chyornye’ (blacks) have become ubiquitous in everyday speech in Russia, while Russian mass media employs euphemisms such as ‘litsa neslavyanskoy vneshnoti’ (non-Slavic looking people) when it comes to the identification of crime suspects. A xenophobic discursive representation applies to non-Slavic looking individuals irrespective of their citizenship, even though former USSR citizens can seek Russian nationality under a simplified naturalisation procedure, according to the Federal Law on Citizenship. Apart from “Caucasians” who are often discursively connected to terrorism and ethnic criminality, there isn’t much love for former Soviet citizens from Central Asia. If you are not Ivan Drago or Natasha, you might have a lot of trouble even renting an apartment.

Continue reading