Out of 144 million people living in Russia and only 70,000 of them are of mixed African descent. This includes people from African and Caribbean countries who may be working or studying in Russia. The number may be much higher because a lot of Africans are illegal immigrants that are not accounted for in the official data.
Data on the black population in Russia may vary, depending on its source. For some, it may be inaccurate as it is difficult to collect official statistics on race or ethnicity in Russia. Besides, there was never clear-cut information on the number of black people in Russia, even after Western European colonization of the continent.
Black people in Russia have been facing several challenges like harassment and casual racism, which affects their standard of living. Despite these challenges, many black people are still settled in Russia and are already making major contributions to Russian society. Even though the Russian government has addressed issues of racism and discrimination, there is still much work to be done to create harmony and a conducive environment for everyone.
The History of Black People in Russia
Let’s learn more about the history of Blacks in Russia
1. The early presence of black people in Russia
Once upon a time, Russia didn’t have black slaves or any kind of slaves for that matter. In the absence of slaves, their labor needs were met through the serfdom system (where serfs owned property and were subjected to law).
In the 1920s, some African-Americans moved to Soviet Russia and procreated a generation of mixed Russian and black children. For this reason, the Soviet Union supported a few African countries and unions to promote its anti-colonial and anti-western capabilities. Black students had the opportunity to study in the Soviet Union, encouraging other Africans to study under the non-racial communist banner.
With time, the influx of young black students formed the Afro-Russian community with an estimated population of over 50,000.
2. The impact of slavery on black people in Russia
In the mid-19th century, most of the Russian population became slaves without freedom. The fall of the Soviet Union tore the illusion of any form of unity, as the 1990s and 2000s became a rampant age for racists who targeted people of color, especially blacks. Soon, black people began to migrate to metropolitan Russian cities to search for jobs and escape the war.
Blacks from Nigeria, Cameroon, and Central Africa, are misled by fraudsters for false jobs in Russia, only to be left stranded in the country. The language barrier contributes to making it impossible for blacks to find better job opportunities, causing African women in Russia to turn to sex work. It remains the responsibility of the government and society to facilitate the unity yet untold of.
3. The Soviet Union and the influx of African students and workers
After World War II, the Soviets began admitting black students and providing them with educational scholarships to study in the Soviet Union. This was the first major influx of Africans into the Soviet Union for study, before there was a decree to expand cultural ties to sub-Saharan Africa and announce plans to open a new university.
From as little as 72 students at the beginning of the academic year, the number of foreign students from sub-Saharan Africa increased to over 500, and soon, 4,000 by the end of the decade.
In early 1961, educators predicted that the developing countries would soon overtake the socialist alliance. Soon enough, socialists from Eastern Europe and China virtually began to end the movement of undergraduates to study in the Soviet Union.
4. The current status of black people in Russia
In an interview with Glimpse from the Globe, St. Julian-Varnon says, ‘America’s not great. What could Russia offer us? It couldn’t be any worse.’ There is racism in Russia, but it is usually overlooked by Black people in Russia because it is seen as just another occurrence in their life experience.
Estimating the Number of Black People in Russia
1. Challenges in gathering data on race in Russia
Collecting data by race or ethnicity in Russia is quite difficult and requires great understanding and excellent communication between data providers. Since race and ethnicity do not have standard scientific definitions, it becomes challenging to measure the necessary variables. A lot of people are wondering if meaningful comparative research is necessary since there is a chance for misclassification.
2. Estimates of the black population in Russia
The black population in Russia is a bit tiny, making up an estimated 0.03% of the Russian population. According to the Soviet Union, this is just an estimation, as we never recorded race, specifying nationality instead.’
3. Comparison of the black population in Russia to other countries
According to the United Nations, Russia’s Black immigrant population is the world’s third-largest compared to other countries with over 11.6 million people.
The Experiences of Black People in Russia
1. Racism and discrimination faced by black people in Russia
Like many people, black people, especially students, are trying to escape the racism and discrimination in Russia by running to neighboring countries.
2. Stories and experiences of black people living in Russia
Black people living in Russia experience casual discrimination daily and below are some of their stories.
- Isabel Kastilio was born in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and lives in Moscow but went to university in St Petersburg. Isabel was bullied by other kids at a school in Russia and was reminded every single day that her skin color was different. According to her, she dreamt about moving from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (east of Russia) to a place where she would be able to walk down the street without people looking down at her and her father.
- Roy Ibonga was in a trending video about a black man who was denied a cab ride in Russia because of his skin color. The driver from the Yandex taxi company (the Russian equivalent of Uber) agreed to be a racist when asked, but later apologized to Roy for leaving him standing on the pavement. According to news reports, the driver was fired from his job the same day.
3. Anti-racist movements and initiatives in Russia
After the murder of George Floyd in the US and the protests after, there has been an increase in media coverage about persistent discrimination and racism in Russia. Over the years, a lot of anti-racist movements were initiated and experts have reported hate speech against non-Slavic-looking nationals and migrants. The Russian authorities are putting up measures to address the problem of racism in society.
True. The population of Black people in Russia is quite small, but there is a lack of research on this topic. The history and experiences of Black Russians from the Soviet Union to date are enough proof that Black Russians do not have the same rights as white Russians. However, the future can be brighter, as there is much more research to be done, starting with collecting accurate census reports on Black Russians.