Racism in Russia – Reflections after an interview with Brazilian TV

Last week I was interviewed by Brazilian company SporTV (owned by Globo) as they attempt to douse fears of racism ahead of the 2018 World Cup. While light skin Brazilians enjoy white privileges at home, in the US (where they are called Latinos) and Europe, they do not enjoy those privileges.

Many Brazilians are concerned about coming to Russia next year with the government warning them about potential racism. Brazil was the first country to qualify for the World Cup after the hosts.

High profile Brazilian footballers like Roberto Carlos and Hulk have been documented to have suffered racism in football matches during their time in the Russian Football Premier League. Likewise several African footballers.

 

This crew from SporTV wanted to know my experience as an African who has lived in Sochi for the past year. This is because I protested the use of black face and bananas to represent Cameroon during the Sochi Carnival to mark the beginning of the summer season on May 27. A series of tweets from me was picked up by the Associated Press leading to global outrage.

But the city administration made an apology after trying to play down the issue.

In Brazil, many people are concerned about their safety when they come to Russia next year. My message is that, I have not faced overt racism throughout my stay in Sochi and several visits to Krasnodar. I have witnessed curious looks as well as several people wanting to take pictures with me because there are not many Africans here.

However, my experience is not universal. Some of my friends have different experiences.

The incident in Sochi, like I wrote in an opinion article for CNN was unfortunate and I saw it as an opportunity for Russia to get more education about racial stereotypes in the post-modern era.

Many of my Russian friends have asked me, so what do we call you? I have told them – I am African, you can call me black. But it is disrespectful to paint your skin black in order to try to show you love my culture. You can paint yourself in the colour of our national flags instead.

Also, bananas are not a representative of my people or culture. It is racist and offensive to throw bananas at black people even if Russians see it as a fruit that originates from tropical countries.

On the whole, I have observed an ignorance about racial stereotypes in Russia. And when you complain about this, Russians play the victim card stating that they also are stereotyped with vodka, balalaikas and bears. But that is missing the point.

It is my hope that as the Confederations Cup was largely without racial problems as I told the Russian news agency TASS and picked up by RT, the World Cup would also enjoy success.

Russia has banned several thugs and troublemakers from the stadium using the FAN ID system. This has generally eliminated ultra groups that have the tendency to create problems for players and other fans.

I hope also that cultural and racial education is encouraged going forward.

Football has the ability to create engagement between people of different cultures. I hope that the 2018 World Cup would be a moment of great celebration for the world.

You can watch the SporTV interview here.

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