One thing I noticed, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, is how often kids adopt the same views as their parents, and many people I know have grown up in a very insulated environment, not being exposed to many cultures, beliefs, or experiences other than their own. The public high school that I attended was very diverse, but what I noticed was that many white students held very conservative, and often quite hateful, views. Many of these students attended the same elementary and middle school, a school that was almost all white. Many others attended a different elementary and middle school, but what was clear was that they seldom interacted with people who did not look like them.
When these students interacted with those who may not have held the same views as them, they often got angry and automatically assigned labels and beliefs linking them to what they were told, often by their parents, about people who did not hold conservative beliefs. Many of these students did not understand the concept of white privilege; many would go further and say that white privilege does not exist. Many of these students have made statements that were discriminatory and racist towards Latinos, Black people, and indigenous groups. Further, many of these students have never had any desire to introspect or reconsider their views. These students would not even try to listen to those who called them out on their views.
Many of these students were and are Russian. For me, also as a Russian person, this is very concerning. I’m Jewish; my grandparents survived the Holocaust. Many members of their families were killed by the Nazis. Other Jewish people have similar accounts of what I have just described. But, the anti-Semitism and oppression did not end with the conclusion of the Second World War. In the Soviet Union, after World War II, there was still rampant anti-Semitism. My mom would tell me how people would hurl anti-Semitic names at her and her family. One of the reasons my aunt moved to the United States and became a doctor here was that, in the Soviet Union, they would not let her become a doctor because she was Jewish, despite her having very good grades. Throughout all this, propaganda was ubiquitous in the Soviet Union, with media being controlled by the government. Due to this widespread persecution, eventually, my mom and dad immigrated to the United States.
Despite all this, so many Russian people I know who are either from the Soviet Union or have family from the Soviet Union, hold views that are often hateful. I guess that they fear the idea of communism and the lack of economic freedom above all else. So, they associate the Democratic Party with communism and the Republican Party with capitalism and economic freedom. Instead, what I’ve witnessed throughout my life is so many of the same people who have been lied to by their government – and have immigrated to the United States in part due to that too – are now fully believing every single thing they see and hear on the Fox “News” primetime shows, such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.
I have personally been sent numerous videos that were blatantly fake news, sharing right-wing propaganda and “facts” that were demonstrably false. This makes me think of how the very same people who fled the Soviet Union to live in a country without state propaganda fell into believing that very same propaganda. I, as a Jewish person, am often very disheartened when I hear Russian people hold these hateful views, as this often sounds all too familiar. Many Russian people in America who have fled to the United States to have more freedom, hold many of the same racist and anti-Semitic views that people back in the Soviet Union held. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and so when I see so many Russian people support Donald Trump, a man who called the neo-Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people” at the rally in Charlottesville, I am very disappointed and concerned.
Of course, I am only writing on behalf of some of my experiences with people whom I know and have interacted with. There is a stark generational divide in these views. I believe that is in part due to young people not living in a bubble of only the people who are extremely similar to them, and then relying on news that only reinforces their previous biases. Instead, young people read news from different outlets, and they interact with people facing these struggles daily. Furthermore, there are many Russian people in general who do not hold these views and understand that the struggle for equality is intersectional. They realize that we need to stand boldly against racism and anti-Semitism and that the fight for equality among different groups of people is not mutually exclusive.
Since the BLM protests have started, I have seen Russian people whom I have known since elementary school post consistently about how they have changed their views, despite hearing differently from their parents all their lives how they have become more informed and now understand the need for change. I have even seen some people who I never would have imagined attending protests, attending protests. So many people have gotten off the sidelines and joined the fight against racism, against anti-Semitism, against homophobia, and against other forms of hate and oppression. So, I think we have more reasons to be hopeful about our future than we have to be pessimistic.