An Open Letter to Donna Welles
Blogger Donna Welles is having trouble understanding why Russians don’t understand why jokes about xenophobia are funny. Herein, we explain it to her.
Dear Ms. Welles,
We thought we’d help you out with your conundrum about Russians and xenophobia. You relate a “joke” about it told to you about Russia by a Russian who asked you why it was funny. You suggest it might be because the joke wasn’t invented by a Russian, and therefore isn’t tortuously illogical enough for a Russian to comprehend. But that isn’t it at all.
The reason is much more simple: For Russians, xenophobia and racism are normal, not unusual, and certainly not suspect. Russians believe that all people, just like them, hate those from other countries and want to see them destroyed. It’s necessary to view the world like that, you see, if you want to live by such a view yourself.
Similarly, Russians reject other liberal values like democracy and freedom that are embraced by people in normal, civilized countries. When given the chance, Russians happily selected a proud KGB spy to lead their country, and they applauded as he wiped out all the democratic reforms that had been implemented by his predecessor. Now, there are no real opposition parties in the national legislature and governors and mayors are appointed rather than being elected. Newspapers are under state control and television is actually operated by the state just like it was in the USSR.
These issues actually reinforce each other, of course. Textbooks in Russian schools don’t teach students about the values of diversity or the accomplishments of people in other countries. They tell Russian students (and by “Russian” they mean white and Slavic and Orthodox) that it is only their achievements that matter, and that the whole world is trying to destroy them. It’s the same tactics that passed for education in Soviet times, and many of the teachers are Soviet teachers, never replaced.
So a “joke” about xenophobia is no funnier to a Russian than a joke about democracy or freedom would be to an American.
You tell a story about your black friend Sean being pelted with snowballs in St. Petersburg. Sean was lucky! Many black people have been murdered outright for the crime of trying to use the subways in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and thus rubbing elbows with Slavic, Orthodox Russians and contaminating them. Russians approve of such actions as a people, and that’s why you didn’t notice any advocates for diversity or defenders of civil liberties in Russia. They’ve all been liquidated by the regime, most prominently the journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
But in the end, of course, the Russian was quite right: the “joke” isn’t the least bit funny. Because it reflects the sad fate of Russians as they try to go it alone it the world, not realizing that their pathetically backwards economy (which results from their pathetic ignorance) isn’t remotely close to being good enough to shoulder the load. As a result, friendless and isolated, Russia is once again on the pathway to national collapse.
Very truly yours,