This Is What Happens When You’re Black In Russia

Soviet Union Uniform/Kees de Vos/Flickr/CC-NC-SA-2.0

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Russia’s relationship with Black people is a little complicated. Once a mecca for Black people looking for a better way of life, it soon turned into “hell on earth.”

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Black people moved to the Soviet Union to escape the Great Depression. The Soviet Union actively recruited skilled workers to rebuild their economy, so it seemed like a perfect match.

Black people with degrees from Tuskegee, Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School, and other Black colleges went to the Soviet Union. They taught the Soviets new skills – cheaper ways to cultivate plants and new uses for various materials. They also brought their music – jazz and blues.

Soviets welcomed Black people with open arms. They received big paychecks, subsidized housing, and free vacations.

However, things changed when Joseph Stalin came into power. He grew suspicious of foreigners and ordered them to leave the Soviet Union. The regime pressured Black people to leave because they were foreigners, not because they were Black. That, too, would change.

In the 1960s, an influx of Africans also came to the Soviet Union. The Soviets offered free college education to immigrants from newly independent states. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the funding for scholarships dried up.

The Africans migrating to Russia were asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants looking for an easier way to get into Europe.

Today, racism runs rampant in Russia and often goes unpunished.

African immigrants are beaten without reason. The Russians frequently call them “obez’yana,” which means monkey.

Africans also endure poor living conditions in the same place once seen as a safe haven from poverty. Without proper documentation and knowledge of the native language, they resort to menial jobs that pay less than $50 a week.

Want to know more about Black people in Russia? Take a look at Allison Blakely’s Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought.

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