Ordinary Racism: What Vladimir Solovyov, Andrey Illarionov and Mark Solonin Have in Common
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
June 10, 2020
First, three quotes.
Quote No. 1. “I’m waiting for when Russia’s ‘beautiful people’ go to kneel before African Americans and repent. But where will they go? The US embassy? There’s not much space there. Maybe it would be better to go to the Pushkin monument [in downtown Moscow]? After all, [Pushkin’s] great-grandfather was brought from Abyssinia by force.” (Vladimir Solovyov, TV presenter)
Quote No. 2. “Non-punishment (or less severe punishment) for similar crimes by criminals of one group, who enjoy their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to an even greater increase in crimes and even greater aggressiveness on the part of this group of criminals.” (Andrey Illarionov, economist)
Quote No. 3. “At their own expense and effort, white people, often risking their lives (storms, crocodiles, snakes, virus-bearing mosquitoes) transported many, many Negroes from Africa to the very best (yes, yes!) country in the world. Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped away live in paradise.” (Mark Solonin, writer)
These words were written by three very different people, who evoke contradictory feelings.
Solovyov has become a mascot of the Putinist information wars and incitement to hatred, deserves the deepest contempt and a criminal trial.
Illarionov has evoked respect and sympathy for his profound, scrupulous analyses, and his clear and consistent anti-Putinist stance.
Solonin, a meticulous researcher of the Second World War and a furious debunker of the official Soviet-Russian version, has furnished important food for thought about a crucial event in Russian history.
What all three men have in common is that they are racists.
Solovyov’s racism fits seamlessly into his overall profile. And this additional touch to a notorious scoundrel’s portrait would not be worthy of separate consideration if this exact same mockery of kneeling by American police officers and officials had not become a mass phenomenon, encompassing Russians with reputations as liberals, humanists and democrats, as so-called decent people.
The whole world watched the slow sadistic murder by a white police officer of a detained African American man, who was lying face down in handcuffs and clearly was not putting up any resistance. Police officials initially defended their sadistic police officer, saying that the victim had resisted, although the video showed that there was no resistance, and police “experts” initially lied that Floyd had died not as a result of suffocation, but due to the consequences of an incorrect lifestyle and bad habits. Only after the protests began, and the protests turned into riots, was the sadistic police officer dismissed from his post and charged with murder.
This story has many aspects, which we should examine separately, point by point. Solovyov and the “decent” people who have sided with him find it quite hilarious that police officers and politicians in the United States have been taking a knee in protest against racism. Many “decent” people are indignant, wondering why these officials should repent for something that was not their fault.
In 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the victims and heroes of the Warsaw ghetto during a visit to Poland. Brandt was not personally involved in the Third Reich’s crimes. On the contrary, he had spent his entire adult life fighting Nazism and was involved in setting up the anti-fascist underground. Hitler’s government stripped him of his German citizenship. Brandt was one of those Germans who had every moral right not to feel responsible for the Holocaust and the Third Reich’s other crimes. But he did not explain to the Poles and Jews that he wasn’t a Nazi, and that post-war Germany was not anything like the Third Reich. And by making that gesture, by kneeling, he clearly showed that he was not a Nazi and that Germany was not the same as the Third Reich. I think it is the same story with kneeling in the United States. People just want to visibly and demonstratively delineate themselves from racism and racists. In my opinion, they have succeeded.
Quote No. 2 is taken from Andrey Illarionov’s article “Institutional Racism in Reverse, or The Privileged Position of Black Criminals,” which was published on the websites Kasparov.ru and Echo of Moscow. The article is chockablock with statistics intended to prove that, although many more African Americans per million are killed by the police than other Americans, this is because African Americans are much more likely to resist and try to escape the police, and much more likely to commit violent crimes than the average white person.
Although Illarionov stipulates in his article that he does not touch on the “philosophical and ethical issues,” these issues simply scream from every line. Their essence is in the paragraph I have quoted, in which every word is a gem: “Non-punishment [of black criminals], who enjoy [!] their privileged position, leads to impunity and, consequently, to a even greater increase in crimes.”
The way George Floyd enjoyed his privileged position for eight minutes and forty-six seconds has been seen by millions of people on the planet. And unabashedly using their privileged position, American Blacks die on average several years earlier than their white fellow citizens. I was not able to find exact data on the distribution of deaths from Covid-19 in the United States as a whole (they write that there is no such data), but in some regions the statistics look like this. Blacks make up 30% of the population in Chicago, but they constitute 70% of coronavirus-related deaths in the city. African Americans make up 15% of the population in Illinois, but they constitute 43% of the coronavirus-related deaths in the state. And so on.
Illarionov’s article is meant as a commentary on the events triggered by an African American’s agonizing death. Illarionov writes that Blacks in the United States “enjoy their privileged position.” What has to be wrong with your brain to write something like that?
When statistics are used selectively and purposefully, they can “prove” anything or almost anything, prompting the most monstrous conclusions. For example, one of the favorite games of anti-Semites is counting up the number of Jews who were involved in the October Revolution, as well as who of them served in the Cheka and its successor agencies. True, the game usually involves tons of typical anti-Semitic lies, but even if for some reason we count honestly, it is quite possible that the percentage of Jews in these organizations was higher than the percentage of Jews in the overall population. And what of it? What conclusion does this statistic suggest unless it is part of a serious historical analysis? That “the Jews destroyed Russia”?
From Illarionov’s statistical analysis it directly follows that “the Blacks have gotten out hand,” that they “enjoy their privileged position,” their “impunity”, and that means the police should act more harshly towards Blacks to even the balance, as it were.
Andrey Nikolayevich, are you sure that pushing such conclusions on your readers is not tantamount to pouring fuel on the fire?
Mark Solonin writes how noble whites, risking their lives, brought ungrateful Blacks to the best country in the world. At first, I thought Solonin was being sarcastic, but then I looked over the entire text and realized the writer was absolutely serious. Over the course of 400 years, whites sold more than 17 million blacks into slavery and transported them across the Atlantic in the holds of ships. One in six died along the way, and of those who survived, half perished from disease and the sadism of slaveholders.
Solonin writes, “Compared with those who remained in Africa, the descendants of the people who were shipped off live in paradise.” In other words, Solonin does not seem to understand that people tend to compare their lives not with those who live in another continent, but with those who live in another neighborhood of the same city. He is apparently unable to understand the trauma of others, a trauma brought on by centuries of slavery and subsequent decades of discrimination, things that have ended just now, during our lifetimes, and as discrete manifestations have not yet ended. Solonin, apparently, is unfamiliar with the concept of historical and social inertia, which shadows the lives of the young men and women who grew up in Black neighborhoods, with their criminal subculture, poverty and drugs.
The spotlight of American racial upheaval has shone on the Russian “liberal” crowd, revealing spatters of racism even in places where it was categorically impossible to suspect they would be found. Viktor Shenderovich, a person for whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote that he considers it “a collective dislocation of the brain” to condemn a journalist who, when asked about his attitude to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” replied that “all lives matter.” His detractors reminded the journalist of the Holocaust, asking him how he would respond to the claim that since not only Jews were killed, there was no need to “overhype” the Jews, because all lives matter.
Shenderovich’s reaction should be quoted in full.
“It is a monstrously vulgar analogy. And a false analogy. It would have been accurate in the time of the slavers or the Ku Klux Klan’s heyday, but none of this can be observed today. Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes.”
Historically, in the milieu to which Shenderovich, Illarionov, Solonin, Solovyov (no matter how disgusting that might sound), and your humble servant belong, anti-Semitism is regarded as an absolute evil, an extremely indecent disease that must be carefully concealed. This is understandable, given the fact that the Holocaust swept through our land, many of our compatriots were its victims, and it was followed by decades of official anti-Semitism in our country. Therefore, someone who gives off the faintest odor of anti-Semitism immediately becomes an outcast. The tragedy of Blacks took place across the ocean. So, in my Facebook feed, I have no trouble finding the wildest racist statements, such as the proposal to “send all that biological waste back to Africa.” And the main thing is that, on the social media pages of quite “decent” people, such racism provokes no resistance.
Shenderovich thinks that the comparison between the Holocaust and the tragedy of Blacks in America is a “monstrously vulgar” comparison. “Blacks in the United States are not burned in ovens and do not have distinguishing insignia sewn on their clothes”? Nor is this the case with Jews at the moment. Despite the fact that any analogy is always lame by definition, the historical tragedy of the Jewish people and the Black population of the United States is quite comparable in terms of the number of victims and the depth of the trauma suffered by these peoples.
What is happening now in the United States and generates such profound misunderstanding among the Russian “liberal” crowd is not a “collective dislocation of the brain,” but a further development of humanism, in which the West is still at the forefront of humanity. The whole history of humanism is its expansion, the extension of empathy to more and more categories of Others, who are made equal not only in terms of legal rights, but also in terms of their right to empathy and compassion.
The fact that a person with a criminal past has become the symbol of the protest movement is a manifestation of the further evolution of the humanism that is so bitterly rejected by the majority of Russians, including the Russian “liberal” crowd. It is telling that even those Russian human rights activists who quite rightly speak out in defense of inmates who are beaten by guards in Russian penal colonies, insist that the victim “was not a moral person”—although at the time of his death, George Floyd had already served his time and was on the straight and narrow.
What the American spotlight has highlighted in Russian society, including its enlightened segment, bears a strong resemblance to a deep pathology. It is as if an old floorboard has become accidentally dislodged and a stench has filled the room. Either there is an old corpse below the floor, or the sewer pipes have burst. Life in our little Facebook and YouTube world had been so nice and amicable: it was so cozy when everyone could chew out Putin and Stalin in unison. And then the damned Americans screwed it all up with their problems!
Translated by the Russian Reader