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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Toil Like A Negro for Russia? No You Shouldn't.

Toil Like a Negro for Russia? No you Shouldn’t

During election periods, North Americans are accustomed to being exposed to memorable, unexpected, and sometimes horrible facts. Last year, despite the having braved adversity from conservatively biased networks such as FOX, neo-nazis, political rivals that include a well-known polar bear killer from Alaska, Barack Obama defied all odds and became America's first African-American President. Over in Russia, a young ambitious watermelon merchant by the name of Vasily Ivanovich, has registered to run for a district seat on the Municipal Council in the southern Volgograd region. The 37-year old would not have turned heads and caused an overnight media sensation if it were not for his campaign posters, depicting a black man, born Joachim Crima—a former student from Guinea Bissau. Crima has the most challenging road ahead of him—running for public office in a country that is known to have grown in its racist attitudes towards immigrants, including himself. This is a reason why his campaign slogan, “I will work like a Negro for Russia,” is the most disastrous mistake he could make.

Being no stranger to racist attacks, Crima has had run-ins with skinheads in his home town of Srednyaya Akhtuba in southern Russia. According to Crima, people used to cross the street whenever he was nearby. Today, the same people that used to avoid him, approach him and proudly shake his hand. The fact that his neighbours have changed their attitudes towards him illustrates why hard work and tenacity in the face of adversity is enough to gain acceptance from most people.

Crima’s timing could not have come at a better time. Skinhead and Neo-Nazi uprisings have surged to the point that African immigrants living in big cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg are in danger of walking the streets alone. According to research conducted by the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, nearly 60% of Africans living in Moscow have been physically assaulted. According to the BBC, 80% have faced verbal abuse.

Gaining acceptance as a minority in a predominantly racist society takes time and a lot of patience. It also involves making the fewest mistakes possible. This is what made Wade Alexander Watts, a Civil Rights Activist, one of the most remarkable men in history. Wade single-handedly took on the KKK, to the point that he was able to change the heart of a former KKK leader, Johnny Lee Cleary. Long before Watts passed away, Cleary—who was once his enemy—had become his best friend.

Crima’s courage and tenacity may very well pave the way for other visible minorities to run for public office in Russia, which now mirrors 1950s USA. Although he might not be offended by using the Negro term in his slogan, opponents can potentially misuse it in order to debase Africans living in Russia. One should hope that he would show a bit more discretion in what he says as to not ruin it for others who will follow in his footsteps.

Russell Brooks is the author of the action/thriller, Pandora's Succession. Fans can subscribe for free and listen to excerpts.

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