Rethinking 'Us' & 'Them': Integration and Diversity in Europe

Chapters 2 › Unit 2: Who to you is a 'real German' (or anything else)? View instructions Hide instructions

Who to you is a 'real German' (or anything else)?

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Tell us: Who to you is a 'real German' (or Spaniard, Brit, Canadian, or anything else!)

In this chapter, you've been given a lot of food for thought on identity and belonging as it is understood on the personal and academic levels in Europe, Canada, and beyond. This is a topic that has likely hit home for many of you who may or may not be tied to particular borders, have questions or concerns about who belongs in your society, or may still be unsure about the whole thing. The 'Us' & 'Them' course community would love to hear from you:

Here are some guiding questions to draw from:

  • What do you think the criteria should be for becoming a 'real' citizen or resident of your country?
  • What makes you a 'real' anything? (German, American, Spaniard, Turk, etc.)?
  • Do you see a cognitive vs. emotional dissonance in the way your society sees immigration, belonging, citizenship, etc.?
  • How do you identify with the word 'multiculturalism'? Do you see yourself or your society as multicultural?
  • Who is represented as nationals or residents of your country in public life?
  • How do politicians and public figures in your society or country portray multiculturalism? As a good, bad, or normal thing? What about schools and museums?
  • What type of language do you use to talk about the 'Other' or what kind of language do you prefer others use in reference to you? (e.g. migration background vs. migration history, 'Turkish-German' or 'German with Turkish roots', etc.)

Now what?
Click 'Start in Journal', and fill out the entry. How you do this is up to you: You can use just words, or add pictures or links to articles or videos to highlight your point!

Is this journal assignment required?
No! Nothing in our course is 'required', and there are no grades, but we encourage you to reflect on these topics and share if you feel comfortable, so that others in the course can benefit from your experiences.

What Does a 'Russian' Usually Look Like You Think?


First of all, I would mention in this connection that the term "Russian" in itself may be misleading to a lot of foreigners. What somebody from the former USSR associates with the term Russian and what somebody from the USA associates with the term Russian are two different things. People who were raised in and around the former USSR understand all the subtleties and complexities of the term Russian. I will try to address some of these subtleties and complexities in this post.

Let’s take the term "American" as an analogy. The term in its current interpretation implies someone who is either a Native American or is a citizen of the USA, whose roots can go back to anywhere in the world: Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, etc. The term Russian in its current interpretation is somewhat similar: it means that someone is either of Russian origin (their ancestors were Russian, at least to some degree) or that they are a Russian citizen whose origin can go back to any one of the former Soviet Republics or to one of the many lands that are or were owned by Russia. I would dare say that pure Russians would be extremely hard to find these days due to the sheer number of peoples that coexisted on Russian lands for many years. Despite the fact that some of them desperately try to preserve the purity of their people, migrations and mixed marriages did and do exist, perpetuating further mixing of the bloods.

Each and every one of the former Soviet Republics represents a people with distinct physical features and cultural heritage. For example, peoples from the Caucasus region, such as Armenians and Georgians, typically have dark curly or wavy hair, dark brown eyes, olive skin, and more prominent noses; on the other hand, the Byelorussian people tend to have light hair, blue eyes, fair skin; the people of Udmurt Republic (which is a part of Russia) typically have red hair, a lot of freckles, and wider shoulders. I can go on and on about other peoples and nationalities that are or were a part of Russia at one time or another but my point is that all these people were and still are shaping the way an average Russian looks today.

Let’s briefly look at my family tree. My grandparents on my mother’s side are from Zaporozhia (currently Ukraine, part of former USSR), they moved to Orenburg, Russia when they were young; they have dark hair and brown eyes. My grandmother on my father’s side was born in Russia from a German family who were a part of the German settlement; she had blond hair and blue eyes; my dad’s dad originates from a family of Don Cossacks; he has dark hair and brown eyes, they both met in Orenburg when they were young. …Eventually my mom and dad (who both have dark hair, light green eyes, and pale skin) had me. I have dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. Orenburg has a fair amount of Asian people from Kazakhstan because it is right on the border. Had my mom married a person from Kazakhstan, I would have been half-Asian, but… still Russian.

The bottom line here is this, I guess:

-Russia is still a very big country that houses more than one people

-In the not so distant past Russia was an even bigger country that housed even more peoples who migrated and mixed all the time

-You can become Russian in 2 ways: by being born in Russia or by moving to Russia and acquiring Russian citizenship.

-After the collapse of the USSR, some people chose to emphasize their origin (they say they are Armenian because they are of Armenian descent, even if their passport says Russian), while other people chose to emphasize their citizenship (they say they are Russian because that is what their passport says even if they are of Kazakh or Turkmen descend, which means they belong to the Asian race).

Now, with all of this in mind, what do you think a Russian person might look like?

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