Carrying Europe’s “white burden”: Young post-Soviet migrants’ claims to whiteness

Authors: Daria Krivonos*, University of Helsinki
Topics: Migration, East Europe
Keywords: post-socialism, postcolonialism, race, migration
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 42
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent scholarly work that has linked the postsocialist condition to the postcolonial one has foregrounded a hierarchically graded understanding of European space and the internal policing of the boundaries of Europeanness. However, postcolonialism has often been applied to analyze postsocialist countries’ subjugated position vis-à-vis the West, overlooking its complicity with global structures of racialized modernity. As Tamar Koplatadze (2019) argues in relation to Russian postcolonial studies, applying postcolonial theory only theorize Russia’s internally colonized position against the West runs the risk of reproducing Russian Orientalist and colonial discourses. Responding to the recent critique of “postcolonialism without race”, I analyze the ways young post-Soviet migrants actively reproduce and pledge allegiance to modernity’s racial hierarchies. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among Russian-speaking migrants in Helsinki, Finland in 2014–2016, I demonstrate the ways they reproduce Orientalized distinctions between the east and west of Europe, casting the East and the post-Soviet as unmodern and backward, and the West – represented to them by Finland – as modern and global. While narrating their catching up position in relation to the West, they also actively racialize and distance themselves from non-white postcolonial Others of Europe. Despite their own racialized status as “contagious Others”, young Russian speakers actively invest in their whiteness and break anti-racist solidarities with those who often take a similar socio-economic position in the labor market. The paper argues for the importance of articulating postcoloniality among Russian-speaking people together with race to show complicity of semi-peripheries with the global structures of coloniality, race and whiteness.

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