You might consider yourself a confident and proud individual. But nothing prepares you for the humiliation brought about by racism. It’s a type of degradation you cannot learn to accept, but come to bear.
You might see yourself as a thick-skinned and tough person. But when a random stranger stares at you unashamedly with a combination of amazement and disgust, you will feel more vulnerable than you ever thought you could be.
When you walk down a road and someone points you out to a group of people who then shout at you trying loudly to catch your attention, all you’ll want to do is run away.
When you turn every person’s head who passes you by on the street, you won’t feel flattered. You’ll want to scream: “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT?!”
Eventually, you won’t want to look at anyone who ever crosses your path because it’s easier that way. And all the emotions you feel will slowly turn into aggression, before they become a mixture of apathy and sadness.
It was a sunny afternoon and I was able to leave work slightly early. So I caught a shuttle bus from the Main Press Centre to the hotel and headed into the village to run some errands. It was the first time I had been walking around on my own, having previously always been part of a group.
I was used to some attention – I am a mixed-race girl in Russia. They don’t get them so much. Since I’ve been here, I’ve spotted one black girl and, more recently, one black man. I wasn’t new to being the odd one out. But that day – probably because I was by myself – the stares became more obvious, the turning heads more annoying, and the people more daring.
I hadn’t been shouted at before. Or pointed at. Or gossiped about right in front of my eyes. So when it happened that day, I was caught off guard. I didn’t understand the language, as it wasn’t Russian, but I think the conversation went something like this: “Oh my God, a *insert offensive term for black girl*! Look! Come over here! Look, she’s walking down the road!” – “Ooooh, Ey, girl! Giz a smile, love! Oi! Khello, khau are you!”
I didn’t react and carried on walking, attracting more looks and glares.
The sun was about to set and I realised that my errands had taken me almost to the seaside. So I went to have a look. The waves were higher than I had ever seen them before. I sat down close to the water and stared into the sea. I was mesmerised. One by one, each one of my worries was being washed away by the waves. I instantly felt calm and relaxed.
I was there for a good 30 minutes, after which I realised that it was cold and I was hungry. With my newly-found Zen, I prepared myself mentally for the walk back. I went to a cantine around the corner where the lady serving the food complimented me on my Russian and treated me to some chit-chat and a few genuine smiles.
Having filled my belly with Russian soup, rice, shashlik and beetroot salad, I headed back to the hotel, thinking that I won’t let a couple of ignorant idiots ruin my Olympic experience in this lovely small town.
If you ever feel like you’re about to explode, just remember, there is always the possibility to tell people to F*CK OFF. Or, alternatively, you could see if this one-minute video of Sochi’s soothing waves will chill you out enough to shrug off all the crap this world throws at you and get on with your life.