The Post-Soviet Racism

“Please don’t bring a black girl home”

Anton Kutselyk
5 min readJan 25, 2023

Quoting life

I don’t remember when. I don’t remember how. I don’t remember the tone. I don’t remember the context. I don’t remember my reply. I don’t remember the exact details. I just remember how — while sending me on my educational journey to a land far far away — my mom said: please don’t bring a black girl home.

Many many years later, the phrase still sounds sudden in my head, sharp and surprisingly well-formulated. My mom really thought about what she wanted to say at that moment. A kind of farewell to protect me from dangers that await on the green and free fields of British Islands. Perhaps, she knew that it’s an island where black people exist and live and often thrive — something unheard of for the place I come from.

Why did she have to say that? Something anxious and irresistible had to force her from inside. Was she, indeed, scared for me? She knew that I was capable of doing “outrageous” things. She knew I could really like a black girl. She knew I could really fall in love with a black girl. She knew that I could bring a black girl into our family, into my absolutely white hometown and make everyone there uncomfortable. She knew that I was boundless inside so I had to be bounded externally.

She was wrong. It’s funny how ungrounded her fear actually was. I couldn't and would bring a black girl. Could I bring a black guy? That’s another question! Oh, wait, maybe she actually knew I could do that and she wanted to switch my focus to something as provocative but more acceptable for her — like if you want to rebel, better do it with a black girl, okay? Yet, neither of those scenarios would be an act of rebellion for me — it would be an act of love for the person I would be bringing with me.

All of that doesn’t matter now.

What matters is that her phrase was racist. A very specific subtype of racism. It’s a kind of racism that grows from total and complete ignorance. My mom isn’t a unique vessel of that racism — it used to be everywhere, it use to be the norm. Yes, the plague was in me too!

Let’s call it the post-Soviet racism.

The past

The post-Soviet racism is when you grow up having zero real-life exposure to non-white people BUT you also grow up in a highly-mixed ethnic environment. I grew up with people originating from Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Georgia and other countries. Thus, deep down, we grow up being relatively tolerant of otherness.

Unless it’s too exotic.

Exotic is actually a very accurate word to describe how people felt about black people in the past. Black people were like fictional characters from a fantasy book that we also kinda knew existed in real life. The strange mental attitude that allowed us to treat an image of a black person as some kind of dummy to throw our ignorant jokes. Yet, we didn’t really understand what we were actually doing. A default space of racism without clear intentions to hurt.

When you’re ignorant and afraid of something, you create a word to hide the significance of that under a simple, degrading label. For black people, we had this incredibly offensive slur— černožópyj (black-assed). It was originally used for dark-skinned people from Asia or Caucasus. As more black people started to get into our mental space, the word černožópyj expanded to cover them as well.

At the same time, I remember how black people began to pop up on some signing competition shows — looking totally legit and real, and competing on pair with their non-black contenders. A black woman with Congo roots named Gaitana represented Ukraine on Eurovision in 2012. At that time, she was also one of the popular singers in Ukraine with her songs becoming radio hits and etc.

Yet — ten years ago — a black woman representing a very predominantly white post-Soviet country caused some racist tension. Did it cause outrage among ordinary people? I’m not sure it did. I think many people saw Gaitana as a Ukrainian woman with black skin. She wasn’t just some image of a fearful black person in our heads — she was real, she was talented, and she was nothing like those ignorant tales about black people.

The future

Now — ten years later — a duo TVORCHI with a black frontman are representing Ukraine on Eurovision again. This time, they won the public vote. Ukrainian people voted for a black man to represent them at the peak of the national uprising. Does it mean that the Post-Soviet racism is the remnant of the past?

Probably not.

We still don’t have many black people living in Ukraine or in many other Post-Soviet countries. You can occasionally see black students on the streets of Kyiv, but they’re definitely not a common sight. That, of course, means that casual, habitual, ignorant racism is still present in the public space — probably more so with the older generation. Yet — when it comes to younger people — I can sense some dramatic shifts. Living in a globalised and digital world means that we — people living in countries with very limited exposure to black culture — we know what’s happening to black people.

We know about Black Lives Matter.

We know about George Floyd.

We know about the hatred black people face around the world.

We, probably, don’t understand the significance, the history and the deep roots of that hatred — but we’re aware of it, and we’re getting less ignorant with every new day.

Everything that’s happening around us — it all makes me hopeful that when you come to our countries to work, to have fun, to live, to love, we’ll meet you with more widely-open arms and with less fear in our eyes.

It makes me hopeful that future moms won’t be telling their children to not bring a black person or a person of any other colour home when sending their offspring to foreign countries.

It makes me hopeful that we will blend into a big blended family.

And, well, vote for Ukraine!

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Anton Kutselyk

I live in Kyiv and write about everything I see around