At times 2015 has seemed like a year of moral outrage, but this latest story about U.S. President Barack Obama reminds us just how far we have to go in order to eradicate prejudice from society.
Russia has a mixed record when it comes to combating racial discrimination, and its soccer fans have garnered a reputation for racist behavior which has at times driven black players away from clubs. Now an upscale Russian store chain has been forced to apologize after it sold products which depicted President Barack Obama as a monkey, according to AFP.
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Obama chopping boards withdrawn from upmarket stores
The Bakhetle supermarket chain had been selling chopping boards which featured the racist imagery, and the U.S. embassy called for their withdrawal. The product shows a family of monkeys, with Obama’s face digitally added to the face of the smallest monkey.
A spokesman for the store claimed that it had not been aware of the image, but had now withdrawn the item from its shelves. “Sales of the chopping boards have been stopped,” said Valentina Moiseyeva, a spokesperson for the Bakhetle supermarket chain, according to TASS agency.
“We are sorry that such product was on our store shelves. For us it is unacceptable that a store is used as a place for political provocation,” Moiseyeva said. In addition the store has made a formal complaint with the company that manufactured the boards.
U.S. Embassy outraged by product and demands action
The design of the board is supposed to be a calendar for 2016, which is the year of the monkey in the Chinese zodiac system. Bakhetle is a chain of supermarkets that is based in Tatarstan, a traditionally Muslim region of Russia, but it has stores around the country.
“Disgusting to see that such blatant racism has a place on Russian store shelves,” Will Stevens, the spokesperson for the US Embassy in Moscow, wrote on Twitter. After the chain published their apology, Stevens took to Twitter to express his gratitude. “Thank you to colleagues in Bakhetle for issuing an apology… We appreciate this,” he wrote.
The product only came to light after a customer bought a chopping board in the city of Kazan and published pictures online.
Prejudice a common occurrence in Russian society
It is not uncommon for pro-Kremlin figures to engage in racist outbursts against Obama. A growing tide of Russian nationalism has led to the demonization and ridicule of the U.S. president, even by public figures that should know better.
Former Olympic gold medalist and United Russia politician Irina Rodnina published a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama looking at a banana on Twitter. The incident occurred in 2013 and exposed the lack of condemnation of racist posts on social media. Rodnina later claimed that her account had been hacked.
Analysts are worried about the possibility of racist incidents at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is set to be hosted in the country. Russian football fans have a long history of racial prejudice, and anti-discrimination campaigners claim that the number of incidents has doubled this season compared to last.
There have been 10 racist incidents this season, compared to 5 in 2014. Campaigners believe that racist incidents will be “inevitable” as soccer teams and fans from all over the world travel to Russia for the World Cup. Authorities claim that they are working to reduce racist incidents, but it appears that there is a long way to go before people of color will be treated equally in Russia.