Black in Russia

While working late one night in the Marriot’s bar, one of the hotel’s only areas with wireless access, I noticed a young, preppy American staring at me intently. ( I knew he was American from the flatness of his accent).  Slightly intoxicated—he had hardly finished arguing with his girlfriend—he asked my nationality.  I confirmed that I, indeed, was American.  After a moment (and another drink), he asked me, quite bluntly and with a tinge of sarcasm, “What’s it like to be Black in Russia?” 

A whirl of events ran through my mind as I considered this frank question.  Amidst our group of eighteen, I had undoubtedly received the greatest attention.  Most of it was simply curiosity.  People would unabashedly stare at me everywhere I went.  After the first week, I grew nearly oblivious to the attention.  Though I must admit, the most awkward times for me were during the escalator ride down in the bowels of the subway system.  Several minutes on a machine with “checking people out” as the only means of entertainment, it was amusing to see watch the heads of people turn–in my peripheral vision.  Honestly, I felt like some kind of superstar.  People, mostly men, would approach me for a photo.  People would say I looked like this or that celebrity.  It was very interesting.

However, there were other times when the attention I received was discomforting.  My whole group was stalked by a drunk Russian man who was interested in buying myself and a friend for the night.  A group of guys greeted me with “hey nigga” as I walked past on my way to the Metro.  Others said nothing, but the daggers in their eyes suggested menace.  The dichotomy of my experience is gaping.  As I considered these range of experiences in order to draft a response to the obnoxious gentleman’s question, I realized there was no way to boil down the effects of my identity on my experience in Russia.  “Better,” I replied, returning my focus to the book in my lap as the man continued to stare and sip his drink. 

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