March 7, 2022- The African students approached the border between Ukraine and Poland. Border guards intercepted them, and told them to head south, to Romania. Being on foot, tired, hungry and freezing-like their Caucasian counterparts, the men and women then spent two hours negotiating back and forth with the Ukrainian guards, until word came from Kyiv that all were to be allowed crossing, regardless of “colour” or ethnicity.
This represents the larger challenge facing ethnically and “racially” homogeneous eastern European countries. They have long admitted people of colour, from all parts of the world, to study at their universities, but at the cost of frequently facing the wrath of those who are not used to seeing people of other nations as anything more than a nuisance. It is not just Ukraine, or Europe, for that matter. East Asians have only recently begun being more open to people of African descent living among them, and people of colour across the Americas have a long way to go, in achieving true equality with people of European descent.
This brings me to Russia, and to the case of Brittney Griner, a star player in the WNBA and an Olympic medalist, accused of being in possession of a controlled substance, whilst preparing to board a plane out of Moscow. Ms. Griner is African-American and a member of the LGBTQ community. The first is said not to matter to the Russian government; the second, matters greatly: Russia officially bans LGBTQ activities. Complicating matters further, however, is Ms. Griner’s celebrity status as a basketball player in the Russian leagues, commensurate with her salary and perks, which are presently much higher than her earnings in the States. It is also complicated by the concurrent imprisonment of two former U.S. Marines, both Caucasian, in Russian jails. There is no easy resolution of any of the three cases, in isolation from the other two. All three pretty much need to be resolved close to the same time, if the flames of partisan rancor are not to be further exacerbated.
Those pushing for the release of the former Marines have so far met with scant empathy from the current Administration; then again, it’s been two years since their imprisonment, and not much was done in 2019-20, either. Ms. Griner and the men will likely sit in confinement for a good while yet.
War brings suffering to a good many more people, in often overlooked ways, than the immediate targets of the aggressor.