"As if I Were an Illegal": Racial Passing in Immigrant Russia

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This article examines how immigrants from post-Soviet countries engage in practices of racial passing to challenge ethnic stereotypes in Russia, the world’s fourth-largest migration destination. Ethnographic research reveals that immigrants shed signs of illegality to pass not necessarily as white, ethnic Russians (russkie) but instead as ethnically heterogeneous Russian citizens (rossiiane). The need to pass points to fundamental tensions within Russian society about belonging, tensions arising from a particular configuration of race, ethnicity, and language that emerged during the Soviet era. I show how ethnic Russianness operates akin to whiteness, the invisible ideal against which racialized bodies are marked, despite Soviet-era anti-racism campaigns and contemporary claims of Russia’s multiethnic diversity. This article contributes to scholarship analyzing migration and citizenship as racial projects by demonstrating how locally nuanced inflections of whiteness interact with global and transnational movements of white supremacy. 
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)653
Number of pages678
JournalCultural Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • passing
  • whiteness
  • race
  • migration
  • citizenship
  • Russia
  • Europe


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