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!