Dzhokhar Tsarnae​v Was ‘Black’ in Russia. Is He White in America?

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (AP Photo)
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (AP Photo)


(The Washington Post) – What do Americans see when they look at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? And do Russians see the same thing?

This week, the court is selecting a jury for Tsarnaev’s trial on charges stemming from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. As any viewer of “Law and Order”knows, Tsarnaev is to be tried by a “jury of his peers.” But, as Masha Gessen points out in a recent New Yorker post, “very few of the twelve hundred prospective jurors resemble Tsarnaev.”

This question of “resemblance” could have real-world consequences. In a recent study, Northwestern University professor Nour Kteily found that participants were significantly more likely to demand harsher penalties for the Tsarnaevs if they believed the brothers were “not white.” (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, was killed in a shootout with police after the bombing.)

The bombers’ racial identity has been a thorny issue for some time now. It was a problem even before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev himself had been named in the case. One of the many instructive ironies surrounding the intense speculation about the Boston bombings involves the racial identity of the suspects: from the elusive “dark-skinned male” and columnist David Sirota’s hopes that the bomber would prove to be a “white American” to the identification of the Tsarnaev brothers as the alleged bombers, the American media and blogosphere have puzzled over the extent of the men’s whiteness.


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