I was going to simply write, "Russian Race Relations: They suck", and that would be all... But I decided that might not give enough reason as to why some people think that they suck.
Russians are not racists, they just aren't familiar with folks who aren't Russian. If you read my last post on Russians' view of religion, you might better understand what I am saying.
Russia is actually a rather diverse nation. According to a Washington Post article, nearly a quarter of Moscow is Muslim. And in less than 10 years, more than 50% of the Russian military will also be Muslim. Most of the Muslims are from the Caucus region.
The fact that Russia is diverse should not mislead the reader to think that Russians often interact with this minority. They might deal with them at the market, or on the street, but I don't think that they often seek out friendships with them.
The folks from the Caucus typically resemble Iranians... More so than Russians.
They are pretty white. Hence the term Caucasian (i.e. the 'politically correct term' for "white", in America).
Aside from them there are also some Mongolians running around... Though they are less common (at least in Vladimir).
The blacks here probably have the roughest time. The locals really don't seem to love them too much. Actually, I would say that questions about blacks in America are one of the more common questions that I get about life in America.
I know one black fellow in Vladimir who has gotten beat-up a few times (though he has been here for more than 8 years). He now carries mace, and seems rather afraid of being out past dark.
I know that my Uzbek friends managed to get into a pretty good fight the week before last with a couple of skinheads.
Speaking of which, when I first came to Vladimir, I used to spend my Saturday mornings exploring the city. I would always bring my camera to take pictures. I would also photograph all of the neo-nazi graffiti. (You can see some of the pics in my photo album at the bottom of this page. Click the link).
I have discontinued that habit because there is more graffiti than what I can keep up with.
In the Russians defense, they might simply be a little misunderstood.
The word "black" in Russian is Чёрный (pronounced, "chjornie"). Though it only refers to folks from the Caucuses (who are not "black" in our, American, use of the word). So one could, without offending anyone, say, "Он чёрный." ("He is black")
Whereas the Africans are Негры (pronounced "nigry").
If Americans weren't so ethnocentric, and realized that the use of the word "негр" in Russian started before there were settlers in America, there would probably be less problems.
One could (correctly, as EVERY local Africans would say), "Я негр" (I'm black).
Russians aren't close-minded, but people who accuse them of all being "racist" might be close-minded. Russians simply don't have much interaction with folks who are radically different from themselves. They are usually honestly curious to meet an outsider. To meet an American black would be something that they would certainly tell their friends and family about.
Though it probably doesn't help much that American rap music is increasingly popular in Russia... This leads a lot of Russians to believe that US black culture resembels what they see in the behavior of rappers.... Which seems not to always be the best behavior to imitate.
It is funny that you do see a lot of grafitti with American rappers' names.
It is true, that minorities in Russia need to take extra precautions, and they should expect harassment from the locals and the police, but I really don't think that it is significantly more dangerous for them... Just be cautious.