A few insults, an illegal invasion—throw in a visual jab involving bananas and a spanking—and the relationship between Russia and the United States has seen better days. At first glance, many Russians seem to delight in attacking President Barack Obama personally and racially in a way that is shocking even for a people known for their caustic humor.
But what explains some of this hostility toward Obama and a general xenophobia gaining ground in Russia? The best answer comes from Phil Jones, aka Philochko.
You may never have heard of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born actor and YouTube star, but he’s doing a better job of explaining Russia’s views toward the Obama era than any number of PBS specials.
Two years ago, Phil Jones was a small-time actor scraping together a living in bit parts of Sex and the City and We Own the Night. In other words, living the life of most black actors trying to make it big in New York. Then, fulfilling a lifelong curiosity, in 2013 he took a job teaching English in Russia, and videos of him teaching American slang to Russians and his Borat-like cultural adventures quickly turned him into an Internet star.
Philochko, as he’s known in Russian, has more than 95,000 YouTube subscribers, and his commentaries on race, culture and the sex life of a young black man living in Russia has transformed him from a teacher to a traveling celebrity in the former Eastern bloc.