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Racism in Russia, or How to Not Rent an Apartment

Oh, well, my initial idea was not to get political in this blog, but since everyone is talking about racism these last few weeks or days or months, self-isolation has it own timeline, I thought I would at least share a couple of funny, but not really situations that happened to me in Russia, with the intent of highlighting the different faces of this issue here in this country. Like the time I was walking in Gorky Park and a kid pointed a finger at me and said "Look, mom, a n*****!". Before you ask, yes, there is an equivalent word in Russian, and no, I am not joking. It was a kid! I don't expect a kid to understand what they are doing, but I also didn't expect a kid to know that word, to be fair. 

You look white...

If you feel like going to the comments section right away to tell me I shouldn't talk about racism because of white privilege or something, this paragraph here is for you: Despite my mostly "European" looks, I don't consider myself white, and never did. In Brazil, I would call myself a "pardo", which Google translates as "brown", but I'd rather just go with "dark-skinned" in English. 7 years of Russia kind of washed my tan away, but it doesn't mean I didn't suffer from discrimination against my skin color in Brazil and Russia.

Russians come in very different kinds of people and, of course, most of them are not filled with anger towards black or Latino people. In fact, as soon as people find out I am from Brazil, it is very easy to have friendly conversations with lots of questions about soccer and Brazilian women, which I find a tiny bit racist, but it doesn't bother me

What I must admit, though, is that in Russia there is a significant discrimination towards Central Asia immigrants, which is why the title of this post is "How not to rent an apartment". 

I'll explain everything, don't worry. People in general and landlords in particular tend to be very judgmental when it comes to renting an apartment in Russia, which I had the astounding opportunity of experiencing myself, despite not being from Central Asia. Who would have known, right? Ignorant racist people don't know the difference between Brazil and Uzbekistan! 

At one point life I made the mistake of getting buzz cuts because I was a poor student and it was cheaper to just cut my hair myself. That, combined with my not very elegant clothes, turned out to be an amazing invitation to have conversations with police officers all throughout Moscow because I was being stopped all the time to have my documents checked. Speaking Russian with an accent also didn't help much, though I must confess it was fun to see their puzzled faces when I would show my Brazilian passport. 

A particular inspection of this kind was not that fun, though. It was not fun at all, actually. As I was walking in a subway station, I was asked to come with the police officer to a closed room, which in of itself was already unusual and frightening. Then she started to check all my documents, one by one. Without telling me a word of what was going on. At one point she asked me for my registration (I'll definitely write something about this piece of soviet god-forsaken bureaucracy later), which I had left home. I was sure I was going to get fined or worse when she called someone, told my full name and passport number. I was scared to death at this point, but I guess she realized there was nothing illegal about being a foreign student, so she let me go. 

Of course, my passport has spared me from further scrutiny a few times, but it is not always effective, specially when looking for an apartment. I got refused so many times for being a foreigner! This discrimination is so blatant that you can find ads that are literally written as "One-room apartment ONLY FOR SLAVS!!!"

This map is from the above-linked Moscow Times' Article, showing the apartments reserved only for white people in Moscow. Quite telling that the red color is way more present than it should be, like, at all, right?

Why 'Slavs' and not Russian?

Well that's because they are conscious of the fact that not all Russians have Slavic descent and people from other countries can be Slavs as well. Isn't that adorable how their racism is conscious about citizens from other countries? They mean "white". That's why.

You have to be white to rent some apartments. Being a dark-skinned Brazilian (even though I am pale as a vampire now), I get thrown in the same basket as all the other non-whites that get refused when trying to rent an apartment, depending on the region you are looking at. 

Even then, it would be wrong to say that this reflects the mentality of the whole country despite being a recurrent thing when renting apartments. My personal experience, which is not to be confused with facts, is that most people will be quite friendly towards you when they get to know you better and that the discrimination people face is motivated by fear of the unknown, and not hate towards non-whites. Once you have exchanged a few friendly words, which might be awkward at first, the fear dissipates, and you notice people in general are not assholes, just shortsighted. 

Well, those are totally not all the stories of discrimination in Russia, I can assure you I have been through a lot of awkward situations because of my dark skin, and I am sure that people from Central Asia and other minorities suffer much more and more frequently, every day, but this article is already longer than planned, so I'll stop here.

Have you ever had any such experiences in Russia? Maybe you have witnessed something similar in your home country? Feel free to let me know in the comment section.  


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. So true, perfect Russian without accent does not help, as you can be mixed with Slavic person over phone. But then end up to be rejected when coming to see the appartment ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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