“Goodbye U.S.A. Privet Russia” was the Facebook status that I posted as I was boarding Flight Number 611 going to Austria with a connecting flight to Russia on March 19th, 2011. This status proved to hold a deeper meaning throughout my trip because I was encouraged to bid farewell to life that I was accustomed to for so long and to welcome with open arms new food, cultures, values, and lifestyles. Russia, which is 4872 miles away from my home near Washington, D.C, was my first trip abroad, my first trip without my family, and my first encounter with racism.
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I touched down in St. Petersburg, Russia on March 20 and began exploring immediately at St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Isaac’s Square which is one of the tallest buildings in St. Petersburg and serves as one of the examples of Russia’s magnificent architecture with its beautiful free standing marble columns and rotunda. Besides the beautiful Russian architecture I experienced something like never before; some Russian people were taking pictures of me and friends from afar and asking us to accompany them in pictures. I was thoroughly confused because nobody really took pictures of me back at home without my consent but when we got back on the bus my teacher informed me that African Americans were not so common in Russia and that some of them have never seen people like us. People were taking pictures of me not because of who I was or what I could do but because of the color of my skin.
I considered the picture taking as pure curiosity but my experience in Moscow was pure racism. I experienced a defining moment in my life when I was confronted by a Russian citizen about my race in the subway. As we were trying to maneuver our way around the subway, a Russian man began screaming at me and a few of my African American friends. Although, the language barrier prevented us from understanding what he saying, I could tell by his aggressive tone, visible veins, and excessive finger pointing that his anger was towards me. One of my classmates who was fluent in Russian was translating as he was speaking and he was making remarks like, “Go back to the plantation”, “Go back to Africa” and “You aren’t wanted here”! Soon another Russian citizen came to our rescue by escorting the man away. He also apologized and made us aware that some Russians are stuck in the past and haven’t progressed. However, I couldn’t shake the pain of how much someone could hate me and other African Americans just because of the color of our skin. My teacher and classmates were trying to console me and the other African American students but this was a moment of maturation for me. A few days after my 16th birthday I was faced with my first racial confrontation and as I lay in bed that night I kept recalling that moment, the phrase, “Go back to the plantation”! But then I thought how far my people have come. How far that I have come and that I shouldn’t let this one moment hold me back. I was able to forgive him and I was able to grow from this experience because it brought me to the realization that this world still has room for progress and that racism is still an issue. I developed a deep love for Russia for the lesson it taught me and my experiences in Russia have broadened my horizons, contributed to my understanding of the world, and developed my love for traveling.
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