All I wanted was to spend a sunny Autumn day exploring one of Russia’s most famous and beautiful parks. What I ended up with was a heavy dose of victimisation, racial profiling and police prejudice that should have social activists in an uproar. This is the harrowing story of my adventures through Moscow as one of the most marginalised people on Earth; an intoxicated Australian.
With Lena working again (which is just as well, because I’m sure as shit not bringing in the bacon), I rugged up and headed out towards the legendary Sokolniki Park, which lies a few kilometres north-east of the CBD. The park is a major place of recreation and relaxation for Moscovites, with beer gardens, restaurants, skating rinks, aviaries, gardens and seemingly-endless paths to wander along. It sounded like a great place to spend an afternoon, but getting there would be a true test of my determination, as I would face challenges that few would be able to handle.
I was minding my own business on the metro between Lubyanka and Sokolniki, looking cool and listening to some of my favourite wrestling theme songs on my phone, when a bloke with a shaved head and a scowl on his face pushed his way through the crowd and stood in front of me. I thought he might’ve been a fan of songs about punching people and invited him to groove along to the music, but he wasn’t a fan of the dulcet tones of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. He was a policeman, and I’ll never forget the words he said to me. They still send a shiver down my spine. Those words were, “Show me passport.”
And just like that, I had been stripped of my humanity. I was no longer a person, I was no longer a dreamer, I was no longer a walking poet with a heart of gold. In three words I had been reduced to nothing more than the colour of my skin. I mean sure, I just pulled out my passport and the cop left straight away, but I’d still been robbed of my dignity. At that point I could completely empathise with how black people feel when this sort of thing happens to them. Of course, black people can fall back on their natural sporting, dancing and rapping abilities, their enviable physical resemblance to Wesley Snipes, and their baseball bat-sized penises, so I guess I’m the real victim here. Some call me a hero, but I don’t like labels.
After my brush with the law, I did finally make it to Sokolniki Park, and it’s quite lovely. The main part, which is a two-minute stroll from the metro station, is usually packed with people walking around, or dancing to the music that’s blared non-stop over the PA system, or rollerblading around as if it’s still 1994. It’s a genuinely nice place to find in the middle of a busy city, and the park only gets nicer as you delve further into it. Lovingly-maintained gardens open up amongst the bush, and paths wind amongst ancient trees and past bubbling streams. Further in, the park is overrun by dense forest, which looks stunning as the leaves turn to gold and amber.
I was admiring a tree when I felt a tap on the shoulder, and turned around to see another stern-faced policeman was standing there. “Show me passport,” he demanded, further demeaning me and appropriating my sesnse of self-worth. I enabled his bigotry by showing him my passport, and it felt like I was handing over a piece of my soul as I did so. The policeman soon fled the scene of the hate crime, leaving me to pick up the shattered remnants of my psyche amongst the glorious landscape of Sokolniki Park.
After wearily staggering back to the station, I climbed onto a packed Russian train and did my best to hide my tears from the staring throngs. Nobody reached out to help me. Nobody cared. Dear reader, you probably think that I’m made from granite, with the heart of a lion, but the fact is that I’m only human. I broke down and wept, but then felt a warn hand wipe away my tears. “Spasibo,” I stammered.” “Show me passport,” a voice said. The weight of social injustice almost crushed me.
On the walk home, I planned out this blog entry. I imagined the uproar from my fans when they read it. I imagined protests. I imagined violence in the streets. I imagined people kneeling during the national anthem in an act of solidarity. Despite everything I’d been through – more than any man should experience in a lifetime, let alone an afternoon – I had a spring in my step. Things would change, and I would be a victim no longer.
I burst through the door’s of Lena’s place, and immediately started ranting about the nightmare I had survived, and the revolution that was to come. No longer would Australians be discriminated against. No longer would we be forced to carry passports like dog tags, just to visit the park. She took one look at me, told me to grow the fuck up, and forced me to do push-ups to prove my masculinity. Bloody hell, I need a safe space…