Ten years later, Adewole says, racism is especially prevalent in the older generation, but “Russians under 40 are more and more exposed to foreigners and less and less racist.” Having said that, when he speaks to older Russians in fluent, grammatically correct Russian, “They fall in love with you immediately.”
Adewole’s encounters rang true of my experience, too. While skin color is apparent immediately, it is not being able to fit in that seems to offend most. It is not knowing how to acclimatize that is most jarring to Russians. Perhaps the reason I get fewer glares on the metro and on the streets now is because I’ve learned how Russians behave and I know how to act accordingly.
Halfway through the World Cup, two white American fans were talking loudly on an otherwise quiet metro, annoying both me and an old Russian man, who looked on resentfully. I recognized that look. But usually I’ve been on the receiving end of it. I shrugged, he shook his head in response. Damn foreigners, we silently agreed.
In that exchange, I realized that after two years I have, for now at least, achieved a level of acceptance — brown skin and all.
Adewole told me he believes that the World Cup will have a lasting impact on Russia’s attitude toward foreigners. “[The majority] of people here are really, really nice to foreigners at the moment,” he says. “If five, even 10 percent keep that welcoming spirit, that’s good news for Russia.”
I’m hopeful too, but let’s see how long this lasts.
Loretta Perera is the social media editor at The Moscow Times. The views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.