Natural in Russia- A Blessing and a Curse


A little background first: My name is Jacqueline Bailey-Ross. I am a junior at Swarthmore College, studying abroad for a year in St. Petersburg, Russia. I have been in this country for 9 months already. I am two years natural. I started off with a head full of brown hair (bleached) and due to harsh Russian water and limited care it all broke off, but after many months I finally figured out a regimen.

Being natural in St. Petersburg, Russia has been an amazing experience, but in some ways it's a bit of a drag. Obvious reasons are the non existent black hair care products and lack of a natural hair scene, yet what bothers me the most is the negative attention that it is bringing, and it has started to chip at my confidence. The attention, both positive and negative grows in proportion to the size of my afro, but Russia is the one place that you want to stay low key because you never know what kind of attention you will get.

However, low key is really not my thing and my hair and outfits are very eye-catching. I can't change that I have an American accent or that I walk like I own the world but should I change my hair styles or my dress because of fear of getting negative, aggressive, and downright racist comments and reactions? I noticed that if you are not Russian than you're expected to be quiet, and not seek attention because you're "other". But that doesn't fly with me. As much as my friend's appreciate my confidence they always warn me to not get them or myself killed because of my temper.

I only have 18 more days here before returning home but it's not the end of my Russian adventures as I plan to return and maybe even move here after college. So I had and will have to find a way to cope. I made the decision to keep my afro and my confidence and not to be shaken by the reactions of the natives. I am who I am and not even Russia's nationalistic and xenophobic culture can keep me from being me. This experience has definitely helped me grow in more ways than I expected. As many negative experiences as I have had here, I am definitely grateful for what I have learned about myself and how to cope in environments that are not so friendly to people like me. And I plan to return with an even bigger afro!

Thanks CurlyNikki!



60 Weigh in!:
Anonymous said...

This article really hit a nerve with me. Your attitude is why other countries hate the US. You are constantly being reminded of how not to act in Russia and yet your arrogance is preventing you from fitting in. If you want to stay loud and boisterous then stay in the US, since you choose not too then you need to take your friends advice and stay low key. Your hair is not even the issue its your whole attitude of being submisive.

Anonymous said...

Then why would you want to move to Russia? It's not your hair, it's YOU.

GJ said...

I like that you found a way to embrace your natural hair and your identity in a very different culture. That takes a lot of courage.

But I can't agree that it was wise to blow off the advice of your friends. "...they always warn me to not get them or myself killed because of my temper." If someone trustworthy in a foreign country is warning you that your behavior is dangerous, you should really listen.

Be safe.

Anonymous said...

Yeah,
I have been living in Europe for about 4 years now, and I get all kinds of stares and comments. I have learned that if you smile and make an effort to understand their culture, then they will learn to do the same with you. They even call my daughter a Chocolate baby, and they stop and ask to touch her hair and skin. Most of that is mere appreciation of our differences. Of course we stand out here, but there are all sorts of people who live all over the world nowadays. Globalization is on the rise! I just want to warn you to not be so naive and BE CAREFUL!!! Russia has one of the largest populations of skinheads and white supremacists and they are targeting Americans with that exact attitude that you have. I have seen many of my American friends get brutally beaten by these hateful groups. Good luck in your schooling, and I hope that you gain more of an open mind in the future.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments above. I was almost with you until you said that your friends are asking you to calm down with the temper. The best analogy I can think of is you don't go to someone's house and tell them how they should expect you to behave, you respect that you are a guest and conduct yourself as such. I understand that you don't want to be disrespected but being disrespectful isn't the way to prevent that.

Anonymous said...

wow anon 3:14 and 3:23 you guys are kind of harsh. I don't think people post their stories to be judged. A little constructive criticism doesn't hurt but her attitude is why other countries hate the US?? Come on! I agree maybe she might want to tone it down a bit but chances are people will be negative no matter what we do.

p.s. Countries hate the US because this country doesn't know how to mind their own business :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah,
I have been living in Europe for about 4 years now, and I get all kinds of stares and comments. I have learned that if you smile and make an effort to understand their culture, then they will learn to do the same with you. Of course we stand out here, but there are all sorts of people who live all over the world nowadays. Globalization is on the rise! I just want to warn you to not be so naive and BE CAREFUL!!! Russia has one of the largest populations of skinheads and white supremacists and they are targeting Americans with that exact attitude that you have. I have seen many of my American friends get brutally beaten by these hateful groups. Good luck in your schooling, and I hope that you gain more of an open mind in the future. You hair is indeed FIERCE!

Jackie said...

As I read the comments above you are absolutely right. That is how my article sounds exactly when it really isn't the case. I am alone 90% of the time, speaking in Russian most of the time. And most of the negative incidences happen at those times. Young children pointing and saying cherni(negative word), young adults laughing and calling out "nigger". Men trying to grab me, and the list goes on. I think my way of coping with that is what you see in the article. The few times I am with my English speaking friends I get a sense of enjoyment or reprieve if you will from the "fitting in" as you call it that doesn't quite work out that well.

I study blacks living in Russia. That's why I'm here and most of them say they stay inside and keep to themselves. Is that what I'm supposed to do to prevent these incidences? I think not. And yes in proportion to my afro the cameras do come out more. And once again I am alone most of the time when these problems happen.

And I am disgusted by the word submissive. I don't have to be submissive nor sit down and take racism. I use any chance I get to talk to my Russian friends about black experiences and use my "looks" as a conversation starter for the curious. You are right though about the tone of the article and it sounds like I only had bad experiences and that's is not true at all. I love Russia overall. And that is only one part of a much richer experience. I was just trying to show my hair experience. But it seems to be taken as my overall behavior.

Also, once people find out I am American that's when the attitude becomes more positive. Interesting.

I want this article to be about confidence in how you wear your hair and style when abroad. Russia is a whole different beast. I studied abroad and traveled before. I am not saying you need to walk around loud and boisterous. But don't be intimidated and keep your head up.

Kristen said...

Anonymity is something isn't it? lol She's not loud and boisterous, but apparently the way she presents herself in reference to appearance can be considered so. I had a friend who was also natural in Russia. It's not easy. Her hair aside, it is difficult being an American, Black woman in that country at times. So I'm sure her desire to appear the way she feels comfortable may not be readily accepted.

Angelique said...

To the comments above: Having been to Russia myself, I can tell you that it's not her attitude or personality, or the afro, or relaxed hair. She can be as low key all she wants, however it's a culture that is not used to outsiders, especially the darker skin toned "outsiders". As she states, "if you're not Russian...". Further, throughout history, including in this very country, African descendants were not accepted, wanted, and just walking the street or seeking an education were considered NOT keeping it low key. As a race, should we just abide by that? No, no other race has, and we shouldn't make it acceptable for us. Also, I doubt that her attitude is the reason other countries hates the US, she's not asking them to speak English because she refuses to learn Russian, she's not downing their culture because it's different from her own, she's being herself. In fact she sounds like she has fallen in love with Russia by her statement of wanting to move back, she's seeing it as a potential home and just expressing what it's like to have natural African hair in Russia. BTW, Russian people are loud and boisterous too, believe me. Jacqueline, I'm saying this with the hope that you are respecting the culture, as it's a beautiful, albeit, reserved and in many ways sheltered culture that just hasn't had many African immigrants. That being said, be yourself. Whether here or abroad, at the end of the day, you have to feel as if you know who you are, it gives you confidence. The worst thing you can do is try to be what others want, you'll never be "low key" enough for some and you will always be considered an "outsider" by them. Those that can accept you are the ones who are worth your time. Enjoy Russia, enjoy you.

Pecancurls said...

Your hair looks fab! Glad you found a regimen to work for you. I applaud you for being true to yourself. I would also caution you to take heed of some of your friends' advice since it sounds like they have your best interest at heart. Try and find a middle ground between doing you and acknowledging that you are a visitor in a foreign land. Perhaps gradually things will get better. All the best with your future plans.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:44 the first one...it may sound harsh, but it's true. That is the perception that people have of Americans in other countries. When people tell you to keep it quiet in other countries, then you need to do EXACTLY that!! They don't have the same laws that we have to protect people from racially charged violence, or discrimination and we need to understand that.

Madeaj said...

I am glad you are exploring other countries and rocking your natural hair. However, you are a guest there and if your friends tell you it is dangerous to be too outspoken, you should heed their warnings.

I traveled to a lot of countries and one of the things I learned was to enjoy myself, learn the local do's and don'ts and don't make trouble. Quite a few countries have a shoot/hit/break first and maybe if they feel like it, ask questions later.

I saw an american woman get beat with a club by policia, just because she happened to be in the way. The person actually causing trouble got worst.

Be you, but be safe.

Anonymous said...

Why you would want to move back to a place that you say is xenophobic and not compatible with your personality is beyond me. I completely agree with the first anonymous comment How old are you to be thinking this way? Я не понимаю.

Pecancurls said...

Jackie, thanks for the clarification about the scenario with the negative incidents. I had a mental picture of you and your friends possibly getting caught up in dangerous, life threatening situations frequently. BTW, what products are available to a natural sista' in Russia?

DeeDee said...

Greetings from Finland Jacqueline. I am finnish and keep my hair natural as well, and i too have the same problem of finding hair care products for my hair. A few years ago, before I found a regimen that worked for me, I used to stash up on products when I travel abroad.
more power to u in that harsh climate/culture ur in, things will change eventually. i know it has in finland (although we still have a long way to go), so if u ever get tired of Russia just hop in that train to Helsinki :)

DeeDee said...

Greetings from Finland Jacqueline. I am finnish and keep my hair natural as well, and i too have the same problem of finding hair care products for my hair. A few years ago, before I found a regimen that worked for me, I used to stash up on products when I travel abroad.
more power to u in that harsh climate/culture ur in, things will change eventually. i know it has in finland (although we still have a long way to go), so if u ever get tired of Russia just hop in that train to Helsinki :)

DeeDee said...

Greetings from Finland Jacqueline. I am Finnish and keep my hair natural as well, and I too have the problem of finding hair care products for my hair. A few years ago, before I found a regimen that worked for me, I used to stack up on products when I travel abroad...
more power to u in that harsh climate/culture ur in, things will change eventually. i know it has in Finland (although we still have a long way to go), so if u ever get tired of Russia just hop on that train to Helsinki :)

Jackie said...

@Pecancurls
none really. when African students return home they bring back products and you can buy them from them. I brought a ton of products from home so I'm surviving off of them. One of friends in Poland is using olive oil which is available almost everywhere.

And in regards to the advice from my friends and the whole comment about my temper it is merely meant as joke because in private I vent to my friends but believe me I know how to act in public.

Once again Russia is a different animal. It's one of those places where no matter what you do you will be ridiculed/persecuted/and glared at. It becomes more than just "understanding a culture" but survival and doing what you can do to stay confident and in your right mind. I love Russia and I've been studying it for 3 years. And yes I will return because it is my passion.

But sometimes I can't escape the drunk Russian men waving bottles at me. I've traveled before and I know exactly how to act abroad. It's how I survived Russia for almost a year. Would a person who hated Russia stay that long? Think about it.

Anonymous said...

Our generation amazes me! The point of her being in Russia is to study some of the same things she is experiencing and here we are telling her to buckle down and be safe. I'm glad my grandparents generation were not "safe" or a lot of us would still be riding the back of the bus here in th US.

I spent a year abroad in a VERY xenophobia region of asia and being black (with curly hair) in that part of the world is enough. Standing out mean having the nerve to talk! period.

A lot of my mixed race friends in asia have dealt with this (Hines Ward the NFL player, who is biracial, has a huge foundation in S. Korea supporting these kids).

She can be quiet and non-American and it will not matter! The point is she doesn't look like them...it is US in the 60s but worse because everyone thinks they're so forward thinking in 2011!
As for wanting to move there...it's her work! She may want to move there for that and because you can still like a country/culture if some of the people don't suck! Come on people...I mean there are other places to live besides the US, they may not be easy but change will not come if everyone avoids difficult.

I say all this to say---embrace your curly sister!

As for your hair. Can you get a attachment for you shower when you are back in the US? They have some that are adjustable and help with hard water. I used one in Korea and it worked great to keep impurities out!

Anonymous said...

This may sound a bit crass, but based on what you have described, I would NOT be scheduling more time in Russia

I would grab a bottle of some good Russian vodka (somehting they are known for), pour some libations, swig a little, be thankful for my
"Russian experience" and move to brighter ventures. Let Russians have their their attitudes and dark living. I wouldn't start trying to prove something to them or teach them something about being black. Life is too short and their ignorance is for them to deal with, not you. Good luck!

Christina said...

@ Anonymous 3:44 and all the other nay sayers, I can personally attest to the character of Jackie since she is one of my closest friends and I know that she is not only incredibly respectful and interested in other cultures but also values giving others a different perspective on how americans are. Reading your comments, you just sounded bitter and like you were going way to hard. Sometime you just need to be able to take a joke which is obviously what some of her comments were. I currently live in Spain and just like anyone other natural living in a european country, i get stairs and comments. Because of this I can completely relate to what Jackie is saying. So next time you want to go too hard on a website that's whole purpose is for the empowerment of black women, sit down.

Anonymous said...

I think they like you once they realise you're American because that means you're not the stereotypical immigrant.

I'm black + Britsh and I must say I do notice a difference in the way black Americans v black Europeans carry themselves. You have to remember that Europe didn't have a civil rights movement - racism is deeply entrenched in a lot of European countries and they won't apologise for it. They see as just a part of who they are.

I do and I don't agree with many of the comments above. If your friends are warning you - take heed! But you are your own ambassador and if staying true to you - even in the face of battle - is what makes you truly happy, do it.

And you're doing something you love - more power to you.

Anonymous said...

I honestly think that some of the comments that told her to try and assimilate or be quiet was in love. I think that no one wants to never hear from this woman again just because she is trying to live her life in a normal manner. With that being said, I have family members who have lived for extended periods of time in all places overseas and it's not easy. You are ridiculed and harrassed just because of the color of your skin, etc. I also think that the tone of the article in the way that it reads comes off as sounding angry. I am glad that the OP came to clarify her thoughts because I too was concerned about her safety. We all know of Amanda Knox, who is serving time in jail due to some bad luck in another country (not sure if she did it or not, but I don't think she got a fair trial). I appreciate that your love of different cultures (specifically Russia) is your passion. Stay safe and know that I speak this in love from one sister to another. Happy travels!

Anonymous said...

i feel like some of the anonymous post here are not sisterhood...after reading these comments i dont feel like the afro community is supporting one another. Some things need to be taken into account: 1. Russia has real violence issues with ppl who arent russian. they are called nigger and beaten. so imagine what its like to really be black and there 2. Black Russians have been on the cutting edge of black thought, so why cant she choose to live where she wants and study. 3. I feel like the natural community needs to support each other, Jacqueline obviously came to currly nikki for support not to be ridiculed.

that is all...a little saddened
gab

Anonymous said...

I've been to Russia and most of Western Europe and it's your skin and not your hair that makes you stand out. I'm not sure why everyone wants to make everything about natural hair as if you somehow were passing for white when you had relaxed hair. Ridiculous.
When I was in Russian, I was largely ignored. It wasn't just me, it was all of the people in my group (a mix of white, black, Latino, and Indian-all Americans though). I was actually surprised. The only stares I got were from the handful of blacks that I saw in St. Petersburg, kind of like "oh, when did the new girl get here?"

Now in India, I did get a LOT more stares. In the south they seemed to think I MIGHT be one of them. In the North, some were kind of mean, and in the West they were mostly curious but not hostile.

I would say though that in some cultures, regardless of your color, you might want to take the advice of the locals about how to carry yourself. There are parts of the world where that behavior could really get you harmed.

Everyone has to follow the rules of the local country, whether they are written or unwritten, and we certainly don't expect much less when people come here to the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the article could have been written differently. We don't know her so we had no way of knowing she was kind of joking. The article seemed more about her experience in Russia, and not about hair. I'm not sure what kind of hair advice she was looking for or if she was even looking for hair advice.

Anonymous said...

As an African woman who has traveled and lived throughout Europe and the US, all I can say is that living in Europe is NOT easy. If you think America is tough and racist; wait until you try living in Europe. I'm Nigerian, American born, and Nigerians are known for traveling to and living in some of the most unwelcome and inhospitable cultures. It's all about survival.

I have to applaud Jacqueline for her courage- what a brave woman you are. But I do have throw a word of caution in there as well. "When in France, do as the French do." It is a matter of survival! Russia may not be the time or place to start your own mini-revolution. Take this from someone who has traveled to Russia and has family and friends that have lived in Russia and barely escaped with their lives. Beautiful country; beautiful culture, but very dangerous.

Then again, the words of Marianne Williamson come to mind when I think about your struggles, with regards to not playing small and dimming our light in order to make others feel comfortable around us. At some point you have to hold your head up and walk with pride. I feel that that's what you're doing. Some Russians will be threatened by that and will try to put you back in your place. And that's the risk. Please be very cautious. Try and travel with a group when you can. You are in my prayers. Best of luck with your studies and hair journey.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people appreciate our diversity. but there are a lot of people who are not so open to embracing it. I have spent time overseas with friends that while, they weren't black, they didn't look like locals either. We all got the stares. But I got the mother load. Ad I was followed around in stores. And I was relaxed. I also has a great time, and was invited to go back. You're gonna stand out anyway. Heed the advice of those wiser than you. Those that live there. Russia can still get to know you without the loud fanfare.

Anonymous said...

Be yourself, do what you want because ultimately its your life...I apologize for all the negative comments because they spoken out of fear...You are there for school and you dont have to assimilate for anyone...Maybe other countries dont like America but these colors don't run (or change) for anyone...Also your hair is fierce!!!

Nickie

Anonymous said...

I think those that made the initial comments are ignorant of the area she is in...hopefully we can learn from REAL experiences and try to get the whole story before making judgements about people.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you Jacqueline for your accomplishments and your 'fro is fierce!
I, too, am a college student and have studied abroad in Europe and its an "experience" to say the least. I definitely understand the stares, but have never experienced anything to the extent of what it sounds like you have. Russia is a lot different from other parts of Europe in the sense that many want to preserve a "Russia for Russians" and exclusion is acceptable to a lot of people there. That attitude has makes me leery of going to Russia because of the neo-Nazi groups that are popping up and the anti-immigrant violence. (Here's an interesting video for anyone who's interested- http://www.hulu.com/watch/91531/vanguard-from-russia-with-hate)

No matter what, keep your head high and your 'fro tall, girl because your bolder than A LOT of people. If Russia interests you and its where you enjoy studying, pursue your educational endeavors. Most importantly, be proud of yourself for who you are and what you've accomplished, and never diminish yourself based on what others think of you.

-G

Anonymous said...

Jackie I understand where you are coming from. I applaud you for your courage and your drive.

But I don't think that your experience of racism would have been much different have you had relaxed hair.

Please just be careful. Unlike other european countries (I live in Italy)as a blak woman you are at risk of losing your life. A friend of mine was beaten while going to study and died in Russia.

Natural-E said...

Stay strong, I appreciate your struggle!

Evelyn of http://salonnaturelles.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Hey Jackie. Congrats to you on branching out to Russia. I think many folks here got your post wrong and read waaaaay too much into your negative experience I can't imagine going to another country and not having my tried and true hair products, let alone my Target or Sally's Beauty Supply. Be safe over there as I would tell you to be safe here in the US. Some folks are just closed minded and the include the US. I've traveled down south in the US, I get looked at weird just as I do in Montana. I agree that smiling first is an ice breaker. Best of luck to you.

Adaeze said...

OMG a black woman in Russia! Jacqueline can you please share some advice with a college sophomore?

One, how long did it take you to learn Russian? My college doesn't offer a Russian program so I will be learning it as part of a directed independent study (that is, I learn most of it myself and meet with a native speaker once a week for guidelines). Do you think this will be a disadvantage? Aside from classes, what else did you do to master Russian?

Two, I want to spend next summer in Russia, but keep hearing scary things about Skinheads and neo-nazis. If I'm respectful and avoid getting into altercations with aggressive and racist people, will I have to worry about hate crimes or are they completely random?

Three, how large is the black community there? Are they close knit? Are their cultural events like African performances or black appreciation months/weeks/days?

Four, how friendly are the Russian people to minorities, especially those of African descent? Is there interracial dating (I mean isn't Naomi Campbell with a Russian guy... so it must not be a foreign idea to Russians)? I know you live in St. Petersburg, but have you ever been to rural Russian and experienced those kinds of people and their attitudes?

Five, is it ever warm there or just straight winter? On a scale of Florida (woot! woot!) to Antarctica, how cold is Russia on average?

I know this is a lot, but I'd really REALLY appreciate it if you took the time to respond to my questions. Thank you!

Slinkyhead said...

This all just makes me so sad because I my boyfriend is russian and I want to visit so badly! My stepdad went there once and he had no problems but he's a pro boxer and a marine so I don't think he would be the black man to bother lol...but i digress...I wouldn't want to risk my life in a place like that. Its a beautiful country but that is just too much danger for me.

Lorian said...

I think people were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay, way, way too quick to jump all over the poor girl. She was simply stating her observations. Obviously, she is well spoken. So I don't think she's over in Russia acting like "'ol girl" from around the corner- being loud and acting a fool. She's saying no matter how she acts she is noticed and not always in a positive way- not that she's inviting negativity into her path. I almost feel like people on this forum are demanding that she conform. I was waiting for someone to tell her that maybe she should get a relaxer! Come on. READ! She's not in Russia to change them...she just told us her experience and it's supposed to be an article focused on confidence, not conflict. I feel like some of those responding are truly the ones looking for a fight! Geesh people!

You're gorgeous, your hair is out of control, have a wonderful time learning about Russia and its culture!

Alaina said...

ahhh as someone who will be going abroad in a few months this has scared me :[ i totally thought europe would be less racist than the u.s. (after all, they did do away with slavery before the u.s. - not that that means everything went away). i don't want to go there and have a bad experience. i'm horrible at dealing with racism here and i have no idea how i would deal with it far away from home ...

advice, please? of course i'd only be there for about a month, touring, not months as you are.

Namun said...

I just want to applaud you for learning to speak Russian. That is not an easy language to learn. I admire your courage for living in a country and within a culture as unique as the Russian culture. I've only visited the far east once on business and it was an experience I won't forget. I would have liked to learn more about the culture and diversity. Soak it up in Russia, learn as much as you can and then spread and share the knowledge and the valuable experiences you have lived through. Stay safe. Oh and on your next visit, take plenty of your own hair products.

Namun said...

I just want to applaud you for learning to speak Russian. That is not an easy language to learn. I admire your courage for living in a country and within a culture as unique as the Russian culture. I've only visited the far east once on a business and it was an experience. I would have liked to learn more about the culture and diversity. Soak it up in Russia, learn as much as you can and then spread and share the knowledge and your valuable experiences you have live through. Stay safe. Oh and on your next visit, take plenty of your own hair products.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I've travelled abroad I've tended to lay low, and do as the natives do. Why, oh why would I want to conduct myself as an "American" abroad? Especially in a "hostile" world climate like this? I don't have to walk like I own the world or be first in line and the like. I'm sure there is a healthy balance that this young lady can strike.

Полина said...

Здравствуйте!! Ah, I LOVE meeting other Blacks who are learning Russian. AND you're natural!

To the first few posters, I think its critical to understand that yes, while it is important to be not only aware of another country's culture but also humble whilst you are in said country - Russia is a bit different. Its not that they hate an "American" attitude - I have plenty of white American friends who've studied there with no problem. Russians literally have a problem with people of darker races.

I'm a Russian minor, and my first year in college I was discussing studying abroad with my advisor. I mentioned several places in Europe, but as soon I brought up Russia her response was a straightforward, "Well, we'll have to discuss the issue of race." Frankly, its a rather hostile environment for anyone of African descent.

But keep your head up girl! If I just aced my Russian exam today, you can do it!!

- Полина

Tai said...

Kudos to you Jackie for forging a path less traveled!!! Kudos to you for choosing to continue your time in Russia and not be detered. The road may not be easy but dont let the unenlightened scare you off. They will be angry with you for earning higher education, & just for being young , gifted & black.

Thank goodness our forebears didnt shy away from the civil rights movement or Harriet shy away from bringing slaves up North. Do be safe and be vigilant but go on with your studies. You are inspiring a new generation & some old heads to start traveling. Carpe Diem (& now back to my moisturizing routine)

Anonymous said...

Jackie, thank you so much for your story. I'm an African-American that wants to live/work overseas to expand my horizons and learn new languages. I found your story to be inspirational and a huge eye-opener (I thought most of the racism in Europe was aimed at the Muslim community). Please be safe, have fun and know that we are all praying for you!

Leslie said...

great post! thanks for sharing your story!

Edie said...

The first few comments were really hyper-hysterical, or from people who've never traveled three miles outside of their neighborhood. She indicated she may not take verbal abuse or intimidation lightly not that she was pulling her best Tasha Mack impersonation or risking her safety on trifles! She's obviously educated and not the mythic ABW ready to pop off at spilled salt, so RELAX people! She's not talking about Iran where customs must be maintained for threat of government mandated violence, she's talking about Russia for god's sakes! Regardless of their insular government and human rights record, it's not the third world and individuality and rights are still generally respected.

Jackie, I lived very close to Russia for years and know the environment of which you speak. Being a foreigner, especially an obvious foreigner, is enough to garner xenophobic remarks or stares or violence in extreme cases. I understand keeping a low profile doesn't necessarily keep you ignored or safe and also totally support your insistence on living your life rather than risk losing your mind because I did the same and found a working and enjoyable balance.

Kudos to you for soaking up Russian culture, I'd love to go! It's obviously one of those places where you need to bring your hair arsenal with you, Lol! Thank you for sharing your experience, I'd never have thought of harsh water conditions there as a factor. Great photo of you and your friends. I'd love to see Russia but worried about the isolation I've heard so many Blacks and Asians visiting for long periods or studying faced while there. I'm sorry some posters completely disregarded all of the wonderful things you had to say and advice and focused on BS, I loved your post and will be checking your blog! Your hair is gorgeous btw!

Anonymous said...

Let me preface with this; during some of my travels, I had a few HAIRY situations (in countries where natives get disappeared if you know what I mean), where if I had not LISTENED and ABIDED by the advice locals had given me on safety measures, I would have some unpleasant memories right now.

I WAS going to just let this post go, but after talking to a friend of mine who also travels abroad in "non-common black women/girls travel destinations"... we realized that this audience may consist of a lot of women and girls who don't leave America much, or spend time in the Caribbean. This post involves traveling to a probable hostile climate against black women. Ladies please don't follow Jackie's example in ignoring friends' LIFESAVING advice. The racism and attacks against black people in Russia are WELL documented, reported on, and talked about. People still travel & study there for their own purposes, but I sincerely don't want any black woman or girl to think that they can disregard a host country's (because you ARE a visitor) basic rules and way of life. This is serious business. Some folks DON'T come back home in the same physical condition they left while acting a fool, or "reacting" to the social climate. I'm not giving anyone a pass on being shocked at experiencing racism in Russia, nor the extremity. African students have been beaten in the streets by some of these neo-nazi gangs.

Black women SHOULD NOT be scared to leave America (it is a big world, go see it!), but all of this hip-hop, I-do-mah-thang-WHEREVER nonsense can get you killed in some places, and the first two commenters were DEAD right about the tone of this post.

Naijaprincess said...

@ Alaina

Please don't be discouraged by these comments. As in any situation, even here in the states, you have to be vigilant. Racism and xenophobia are everywhere! I studied abroad in Paris for 6 months and took the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. There were a few unpleasant encounters, but the positive experiences invariably outweighed the bad. I also spent a few months studying and working in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a neighborhood once known as the murder and rape capital of the world. I survived- tried to learn as much Zulu as I could. Of course it was easier to "blend in" so to speak as a black woman. All this to say, don't let fear be your guiding principle. Go out there and experience the world while you can.

@Jacqueline
Very, very courageous young lady. I applaud your courage and your desire to think outside the box and to be yourself in spite of the society that you're currently in, trying to make you feel less than. Your hair is beautiful. Keep on keeping on. You're in my prayers. Yes, stories abound about attacks on Blacks in Russia. She has made it almost a year though, so she must be doing something right.

Anonymous said...

Jackie, while I am a little too hot-headed to keep my cool when confronted with racists, I applaud you for what you are doing!

I actually studied Japanese in college and actually considered teaching English there. I have always wondered about the experiences of fellow blacks in countries where there isn't as much exposure to black people, so although Japan isn't nearly as hostile towards blacks as Russia seems to be, this post and the comments were enlightening.

Really though, exercise caution as I'm sure you're already doing :)

Jackie said...

Wow! Thanks all of you for your support! (most of you) lol

Yes, the post was a bit dramatic because I'm a dramatic person and even meant it to be humorous. But the article was specifically about confidence abroad and unfortunately confidence abroad = arrogant American to many people. And American=disrespectful. Wrong. It's not science. It's the golden rule. Treat others as you want to be treated or do what ya mama taught you which is respect others.

I didn't mean to scare anyone off about traveling abroad. Do it! Most of my experiences are positive and amazing. But I can't explain that in one post. I've been traveling and studying abroad since I was 15 years old. I experienced racism in Ecuador and Peru but nothing that would keep me from traveling. I studied 8 languages, speak 4 and soon 5. I took classes in Intercultural Communication and will most like master in it. So I know how to act.

Check out my blog, or facebook me for more information. http://blackgirlinrussia.blogspot.com/

Adaeze lets chat in another forum. Facebook me or leave your email.

j.danielle said...

Jackie! I saw the title and immediately knew it was you! I love that this is the 3rd Swattie feature.

Scrolling back up to read now, but I just wanted to say I miss you and I'll see you when I get back from Ghana for some more Black Hair Forums =)

Samster said...

I can COMPLETELY understand where she's coming from! I just finished a semester abroad in the Dominican Republic, and I'm two years natural as well. When I got there my hair was straight but because of that heat, I wet my hair and wore it natural for the duration of my trip.

People that have never been abroad have NO IDEA how hard it is to be the "other" and "different," not to mention NATURAL, something that is literally a foreign concept in some places. The hardest thing to balance being abroad and natural is straddling the line between assimilating and maintaining your personality.

As far as the safety issue goes, there are a lot of differences when you leave America, and as a student you should learn what's accepted/offensive in your host culture and abide by that. That's not to say that you should lose your personality, but just to keep you safe. Would you really want to put yourself in harm's way just for the sake of your personality?

When it comes to black women, depending on where you are in the world, we are the minority, and are often received with mixed feelings, hostility and awe being some of them. Wearing your hair in it's natural state during your time abroad is worthy of commending, but having an attitude that could be considered offensive and looking different is just another strike against you...

I could go on for days lol, but for the sake of someone's poor eyes, I won't. I'm glad this was posted. It goes to show that naturally wonderful women are traveling the world and sharing our awesomeness!

Anonymous said...

Girl, you better get with the program or get back to the U.S.A.! Those foreign countries don't play and you're not some celebrity or government official and you get yourself in trouble being an average joe and black, you'll be shivering in Siberia or dead. The Bible says there's a time for everything...a time to keep quiet and a time to speak and you need to keep that in mind...not in these foreign countries.

Anonymous said...

Some of you are naive and need to encourage her to be prudent in the way she communicate and carry herself with this culture because it could go very badly for her and it would be selfish on her part to think or expect her Russian friends to endanger their own lives trying to help her when she didn't have enough good sense to heed their loving warnings. All that feel good commentary from some of you will mean nothing if ignorant and racist thugs beat the crap out of her or worse because she feels the need to run her mouth to "show them". Maybe she should do some research and see what type of harm can be done to her over there via the KGB for those they deem trouble-makers.

Jasmine said...

why in the world would someone want to stay there if it is so bad? life is too short.

skinnypennie said...

Sounds like it's you not your hair.

msday said...

Ok, I also live in Europe, although in Italy. Looking at your photo, with some of those outfits, I hate to say it girl but you look like a Nigerian prostitute. It's not your hair. Your complexion may cause stares as well as your hair because it's different. But you have to watch what you wear and how you wear it.

Russians already know that Americans are kind of loud, and very outgoing. They watch TV. They know about black Americans, they listen to music, hiphop and Michael Jackson. They aren't stupid.

Sadly, sexual trafficking is a progressive black mark against black people. There African women, especially Nigerians sadly, that are constantly being placed in these areas to capitalize on the difference which is darkness.

Looking at those pics, you are dressed just like them. Flashy, look at me clothes. TONE IT DOWN! Sis, I'm telling you as another sister and from the viewpoint of an older sister. I look like a Brazilian in italy so life isn't a picnic for me either.

Amanda said...

"you look like a Nigerian prostitute" is a very rude thing to say. And, as a Brasilian, I feel very offended and confused with "I look like a Brazilian". Firstly, because you show you have a wrong idea about my people. And you show you know nothing about us with this comment. We, as Brasilians, DON'T have a general look. It's impossible to tell our nationality just by looking at our faces.

Jacqueline, your fro is beautiful. Be strong to other people's rudeness and for those who approach you with politeness, tell about your hair. If you feel like doing it, let them touch it. If all they know about black people is "Nigerian protitutes", then you're giving them a great oportunity of learning cross-cultural understanding. Be careful, follow the native's advice and enjoy =)

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