“Hey, wetback!” (Not an exact translation–the real word was more insulting.)
Last Saturday, two toughs in leather jackets and jeans sat opposite us on the Metro train, aiming their invective at a darker-skinned young man, probably from the Caucasus regions, slumped in a corner seat near us.
“Go, Russia! Russia is best! Isn’t that right, wetback?” they pressed their taunts on their unresponsive target. We couldn’t help remembering the Manezh race riots of Saturday, December 11, 2010. That riot had followed the murder of a football fan by a migrant from the Caucasus. On December 11, anyone who didn’t look Slavic was subject to violent attack–even subway passengers were pulled from trains and beaten. On the next day, when we took the Metro to church, the tension in every car was unmistakable. On one car, passengers included men in hoods and ski masks.
Back to last Saturday: Continuing to smirk, the two unruly passengers turned their gaze on the four of us—Judy and me, and our two guests from the USA. More or less simultaneously, I was doing three things: praying, recalling video clips of subway attacks by skinheads, and calculating the distance to the next station. Surely we looked like tasty morsels to these guys—clueless foreigners, hence fair game.
Judy, however, followed an immediate and intuitive leading: she fixed those boys with the warning stare of a stern Russian grandmother. As we rolled into Krasnopresnenskaya station, they looked away, visibly chastened. We got out and moved to the next car, keeping them in our sight. The immigrant, if that was what he was, also left. His taunters did not pursue.
We were a bit embarrassed that, after a day of seeing the best that Moscow had to offer, our visitors ran into this sort of incident. But this too was reality—and not only in Russia. Unkind and fearful attitudes toward “others” can be found everywhere. Judy’s response was just the opposite: she drew on the nonviolent authority of familiarity—of family. The human family.