Russia elected it’s first African into a public office this past summer. Russia has a history with not being very welcoming of foreigners to put it lightly. Of the few amount of African that live there, over half of 200 people surveyed reported physical, racially based attacks (Greene).
Jean Gregoire Sagbo, born in Benin, Africa, was elected as a municipal counselor in the summer of 2010. The position is actually unpaid, but he is being called “the Obama of Russia”.
When interviewed by NPR representative David Greene, Sagbo expressed his feelings about the title. He mentioned that he doesn’t like the title at all because he feels it is solely based on race.
“The Obama of Russia, just because I’m black?” Sagbo says. “If you say that I’m as serious a person as he is, working for the good of the country I live in, then yes, sure. However I don’t like this cynical boasting of, ‘Look, we’ve got our own Obama too!’ No. That I don’t like.” (Greene)
On top of being compared to our own president on what seems to be based only on race, Sagbo also expresses feelings of having to do well in his position as to not further confirm Russia’s stereotypes of blacks.
“My responsibility is to not fail. If I fail, it would be an embarrassment for my entire race. And I wouldn’t want them to say that I failed because I am black. So I must do well, very well.”(Greene)
Would this cause him to focus so much on not making a mistake because he’s black, that it will take away from him worrying about other important things? If he does make a mistake for that reason, he will still be seen as another black man that screwed up. It’s a shame that a government official would have to balance issues like this. How can people expect their leaders to be efficient at their jobs if they are constantly worrying if they are going to disgrace their race in the eyes of the public? Is comparing Sagbo to Obama Russia’s way of saying ‘Hey look, we’re not really racist!’? If that is true, why not make an effort to combat the vast amount of racial attacks on people? This article mentions many times about the railroad system in Russia being the main area where foreigners avoid due to racism. Sagbo’s girlfriend in college actually got kicked out of school and beaten by her parents when she became pregnant with his child. She and Sagbo are now married and still fear hate crimes against them in public. His wife refuses, along with their permitting their children to go on television with him because of the repercussions they might face in public where safety is lacking.
It seems to me that Russia has a lot of racial tension that needs to be resolved in some way. I hope for Sagbo’s sake, that he does very well and starts to break down the stereotypes that cause him to focus so much on race in a political position where it shouldn’t really matter.
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