21 July 2011

La Gente Está Muy Loca

Walking around Novosibirsk late one night, I stumbled across an outdoors dance floor.  The dance floor was filled with mostly Siberian young men having a blast tearing it up with their own unique dance moves.  By "unique," I do not mean "good" or "skillful."  I mean "unique:"  I had never seen anything like it before.

Resembling a pack of schoolboys collectively under the spell of an epileptic fit, these kids where absolutely having a blast making rather uncoordinated movements to some repetitive dance tune made from a scratched record, or perhaps by scratching a record.  I tried to make sense of what I was seeing and finally excused the situation by a dismissive remark to the tune of "these folks are just crazy."

Just then, the disco tune's riffs stopped and a female's voice rang over the repetitive beat by saying "Johnny, la gente está muy loca*"  [the people are (in a transitive state of being) very crazy].  No lyric could have fit the moment any better - or could have been funnier at the time.

Another "funny" aspect of Novosibirsk was how I was frequently received by strangers on the road.  As I was hiking around the city, I noticed that as I approach people on isolated sidewalks, I found them startled to the degree that they switched the side of the road in order to avoid crossing paths with me.  That was a somewhat empowering experience, knowing that I could frighten strangers by merely walking down their streets' sidewalks.  But, when I was barred entry into two restaurants in the downtown area, I realized that something more sinister was afoot.

The explanation, as it turns out, is that my complexion resembles that of person coming from the Caucuses region of Russia, including folks from Chechnya (referred to in Russia as Caucasians).  Time and over again, I was told strange tales of massive criminal activity by every Caucasian (just "because that's who they are").  More reasonable explanations were along the lines that there is a massive emigration flow from the Caucuses (true) and emigration waves can have a disproportionally high representation of criminals among them.  As such, people's attitudes become tainted and stereotypes set in.

And, it follows that I am to be barred entry into some Novosibirsk eating establishments.  While this is amusing to me personally, I can see its pernicious effects at the social level if it is (and it appears to be) practiced at a wide scope.  One only needs to consider the self-destruction that racism in America has created as it has systematically locked out otherwise productive members of the society from the mainstream.

To put things in perspective, racism is not a Russian or American problem; it is a sad human condition.  Years ago, a Swedish friend was complaining to me about a sign on a Swiss restaurant that read "No dogs or Swedes allowed."  More recently, while I was discussing the merits of various Lithuanian cities with a young Lithuanian man, he stated that Kaunas (a smaller city) was a much better place than Vilnius (a larger city and Lithuania's capital).  When I asked why, he said "there are too many Polish people in Vilnius.  Kaunas is much nicer."

Let's go back to the aforementioned lyrics on the torturous dance floor:  La gente está muy loca. How unfortunately true ...

* Loca People - Sak Noel

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