When I speak Russian in front of others, I’m usually greeted by one of two reactions.
The first, more common reaction, is: “A Russian-speaking black person? You must be a spy!”
(They mean it in jest, of course…or maybe they’re serious. These days, you never can tell.)
The second reaction: “You speak Russian remarkably well.”
I’ve been told I speak nearly like a native, that I carry not a shred of the common American accent, that I nail every “Ы”.
(I’m not sure what’s more remarkable: the fact that this comes after only four years in the game [the majority of them independent study] or that no one ever seems to mention my on-and-off again rolling Rs.)
This response is followed by a completely predictable (yet nevertheless strange) question: “Are you part Russian?”
I guess it’s so weird to find a black person interested in Russia and Russian that it can’t possibly be caused by mere human interest in the region. No, she must have some direct connection to the country.
They scrutinize my high cheekbones and thick eyebrows – features I likely inherited from my Seminole grandfather.
They look at my surname, but it’s English.
They ask about my background, hoping to find some ancestral tie to the Motherland, but finding only humble beginnings in a small Southern nothing town – and on the plains of Guyana.
Were they to test my DNA, they wouldn’t find a trace of Slav.
Truth is, I’m not Russian. I’m only determined.
But why and for what, I can no longer say.