The Born Identity

The Born Identity

Arise Magazine
Issue 12

Sarah Bentley

Photography by Liz Johnson-Artur

Thirty-six year-old Egor Belov has just told a childhood anecdote about scrubbing his face until it drew blood. He’d been playing in the snow and wanted pink cheeks like his friends. His dark complexion was never going to turn his desired shade but as a six-year-old living in a home otherwise occupied by white children, he struggled to understand why. The gathering of St Petersburg-based Afro-Russians (the collective name given to Russian nationals of mixed African and Russian parentage) with whom Belov shares this tale all smile knowingly and begin to offer up their own stories.
Some tales, including lovers who were shocked that black skin is lighter on different parts of the body, are humorous. But others, such as how school years were marred by bullying, fights and adolescent paranoia, are indicative of the challenges of the Afro-Russian experience. A candid confession from Marie Madlene, a striking 44-year-old with a blonde afro (pictured below), gets a raucous laugh: “I’m so used to being stared at that when I travel to more diverse countries, I miss the attention.”

Although the group has previously only met online through the ‘black-Russian-Ukranian-Belorussian-Kazakh’ page on Kontakt (Russia’s answer to Facebook), its members have developed instant camaraderie. After all, they are all mixed-race people living in a country that, despite its obvious multiculturalism (almost 180 ethnicities live in Russia), has one of the highest race-hate crime rates in the world. There are around 150 active far-right groups, many with ideologies of racial intolerance…

Read the entire article here.

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