Back to racism and human nature

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: Western, and especially American liberals such as New York Times correspondents, have an unrealistic idea of what humans in general are and why they act the way they do. Most of the time, the see fellow humans through glued-on pink specs but once they spot an object of their ingrained bias, the pink turns into hopeless black.

For example, Steven Lee Myers wrote (free registration required) in the NYT on Sept. 13: “Ethnic tensions across Russia have been fueled by the latent racism common among many Russians,” right after giving strong hints that the particular outburst the article focused on, had been provoked by the locals’ dislike of the mafia-like business ethics of “ethnic” newcomers.

Racism and xenophobia are natural residents of the human psyche. (Xenophobia is even necessary, as is the immune system.) When things go smoothly, they lie down sleeping — they are indeed latent, and while latent, disease can’t do much harm. But when something provokes the beast, it rises to its hind legs and starts to roar, and worse. It does not matter if the grievances driving the beast mad are legitimate or trumped-up, real or fictitious — the effect is the same. To prevent violence, society should at least be able to openly discuss those grievances. Blaming ethnic violence on “latent racism” is like blaming a famine riot on the human need to eat every day.


  1. “Racism and xenophobia are natural residents of the human psyche. (Xenophobia is even necessary, as is the immune system.)”

    Outrageous and offensive. Something only a racist would say. Just because you can’t imagine people who don’t feel racist impulses towards others doesn’t mean there aren’t such people. Maybe you need to widen your circle of friends?

    No wonder Russia is such a mess!

  2. Not sure if it is latent racism, but it sure as hell is blatant nationalism that is plaguing Russia right now. I am walking the streets of St Pete right now, talking with friends and relatives I left behind and to tell the truth, at times derogatory comments, condescending attitudes towards “brown skins”, Ukrainians and almost all non-Russians are nauseating

  3. That’s right, Cyrill, people make comments like that all the time in Russia. Sometimes (I’d say more often than not) it’s small talk, with tongue in cheek — everybody likes joking about their neighbors. When dealing with real people, these jokers typically don’t show prejudice or bias because ethnic jokes serve as a sort of vaccine against real prejudice. Sometimes though, ethnic comments are a sign of genuine hatred. In this case, we’re talking about xenophobia, not nationalism. Xenophobia is hatred of the other; nationalism is defense of one’s nation — it may be mixed with xenophobia but doesn’t have to be.

  4. People have racist remarks everywhere, not only in Russia. Ask Germans what they think about Turks. Or even western Ukrainians what they think about Russians 🙂
    Hey, I even had friends who were watching NBA every day and pondering whi the best player was, but when they saw a black person they made stupid remarks about him.

    You may remember, there were many arson attacks against foreigners in Germany and in Czech republic people wanted to build a wall to separate them from Roma people. So, it’s not only happening in Russia.

    There is lot of racism around, but it stays beneath the surface and is not seen most of the time.

    Problems arise when economy is bad or police isn’t working well and extremist groups can mobilise people for attacks on foreigners.

  5. Alex(ei) I have looked at the archives of your blog very carefully and I can’t find one single example of a positive statement you have made about a black person, a compliment you have given or words of admiration. Can you point me to such an example? Else, I’ll think you a racist.

    Jin, all countries have murders. Does that mean it is OK if I murder your mother? Must we remain silent about the murder of your mother until all murders have stopped? If you visited Germany, you would see that although there is racism there is also very big organized oppostion to racism, and great public criticism of racism. There is nothing of this kind in Russia. Racism will never stop until you stop making excuses for it.

  6. Anonymous,

    Racism will never stop, period. It is wired into us by evolution. People who are not racist are not exempt. Their prejudices are just redirected. Here in America, the most virulent anti-racists periodically work themselves into the most hateful frenzies against other non-ethnically based tribes, most usually Christian Republicans. Is their prejudice somehow justified because it’s based on voting patterns or religious affiliation as opposed to skin color? I don’t see why. It’s unfortunate that people are wired this way, but it’s the way nature made us.

    Your demand that Alexi point to something positive he has said about black people in order to prove he isn’t racist is self-important and childish. Seriously, who are you to demand that he prove his purity, as you define it?

  7. while is it true that xenophobia is hard-wired into us be eons of evolution (early humanoids were hunter-gatherers living in small bands, and the ability to chase another band off one’s territory literally meant death or survival), waiving it at every turn as an excuse for hate crimes is reprehensible.

    true enough, hate crimes occur in germany and america. but the big difference with russia is that in germany or in america there is public outrage after each, and the perpetrators get arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. nobody in their right mind in america would blame a black man for being beaten to death by a gang of white supremacists by stating that the whites had grievances that needed to be resolved. in russia, in stark contrast, the slime that stabbed the tajik girl to death got off with a slap on the wrist. and the public at large usually sympathizes with the killers, not the victims. i heard it myself in saint pete this past march after the little half-black girl got stabbed in a knife attack, when a very respectable looking woman with two kids of that age of her own in tow, said unflappably, too bad they didn’t get her. i don’t think u can rationalize this kind of racism with hard-wired xenophobia. there’s something deeper and more troubling at play here. bottom line, until russian society is willing to admit that it has a racism problem and stops wishing it way by pseudo-intellectual ratiocination, many more tajik girls, african students, azeri greengrocers, and armenian cabbies will go on being killed. that the saddest part.

  8. Perhaps if those supposed victims stayed in their own lands with their own people (where they belong) they would not have to worry about such problems. Americans and other pseudo-intellectuals should perhaps focus their energies on their own problems and stop trying to leverage public opinion in other lands to copy their own closed-minded liberalism. USA, keep your nose within your OWN borders and mind your own business. Yankee GO HOME and STAY there! Your attitudes are ISOLATING YOU from the rest of the world. Who died and left you Americans the worlds deciding voice on what is right? As you will see, your arrogance is now and will continue to be your undoing. America is on its way down the toilet and it is about time too!

  9. and the way russians mistreat other people who have the misfortune to live there AND look visibly different, will prove to be russia’s undoing. let’s wait and see which country will be ‘undone’ sooner. smart money says russia will get the honors first.

  10. astana — there’s no question that the Russian underclass is not the most tolerant in the world, and as the relative size of this underclass is an order of magnitude larger in Russia than in the developed countries of the West, there is no getting away from the implications: intolerance and, yes, racism. This said, I continue to doubt that the murder of that Tajik girl — and, especially, that poor Armenican cabbie (I should have said rapist) — were racially motivated. The trouble with the Tajik girl is that we have no way of knowing as of now. The prosecutors surely tried to prove racial motives — and failed, Russian prosecutors being generally poor at arguing cases before juries.

    Also, if you want to seriously discuss these sensitive things, it never helps to assume a tone of moral superiority and self-rightneousness, which is exactly what almost all self-designated anti-fascists do for some reason that is beyond my understanding.

  11. I agre with you Alexei. One thing people need to be make a stand on is to keep the Americans from interfering with other countries. Their arrogant predisposition assumes moral superiority and they act on it when they try to make the entire world believe the way they do. Here is a short poem that explains it well.

    Where is the flag of America, gone North, South, East or West.

    Whererever there’s wealth to plunder or land to be possessed.

    Wherever there’s peaceful people to frighten, coerce or scare.

    Where you see the butcher’s apron, the American flag is there!

  12. As an Asian immigrant, I find America to be an awesome country full of unlimited potential. An education will take you anywhere. It’s not perfect, but don’t even think about comparing it to Russia or even Europe (I would be cleaning toilets in France insted of having a management position in a tech firm). Living in a major city (Portland, OR), I have NEVER felt concern about my safety. I doubt I could walk in a Moscow subway without getting assaulted by Russian racist skinheads. I have a fascination with Russian culture, but I’m concerned about my safety to visit. Something tells me, most Russians are glad a brown skinned person like myself won’t see their country.

    Russians can complain about immigrants, but Chechens are NOT immigrants. Chechnya is a part of Russia. If they don’t like Chechens, why not allow the republic to gain its independance?

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