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Facebook Live | Pathways to Success: Russia, Race, and Careers in Public Service

Date & Time

Feb. 17, 2021
3:30pm – 4:45pm ET


Facebook Live

Facebook Live | Pathways to Success: Russia, Race, and Careers in Public Service

President Biden has recently taken steps that signal his desire to elevate the importance of diversity and racial equity within the federal government. The United States now has its first black Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, and Biden is working to address opportunity gaps for people of color in the public sector. While Biden has arguably put in place one of the most diverse cabinets in American history, career positions related to Russia, Eurasia, and national security more broadly have historically reflected a less diverse segment of the population. What are the pathways to success for people of color looking to engage in these fields? As part of the Kennan Institute's Black History Month programming, we held a discussion that featured Anna Makanju and LaNitra Berger, who shared their personal career journeys and offered insight on navigating careers in these fields.

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This conversation was part of an occasional Kennan Institute series featuring discussions with leading experts and thinkers on Russia and Eurasia.

Selected Quotes

Anna Makanju
“There is no one in Russia who doesn’t know who George Floyd is because that is something that Russian propaganda news channels show over and over, in part to show: “Look at the United States. It’s a complete mess, it’s super racist, it’s a disaster. You might not think Russia’s doing well, but frankly no one is. Democracy is no better.” […] And so being in the room as a Black American at the table with Russian counterparts is hugely important because they do like to actually also present this message to their U.S. counterparts, and it’s much harder to do when I’m there. It’s also to show [that] actually a person like me, where in Russia frankly I would never have been able to work in the Russian government at the level that I did in the U.S., it’s incredibly important [that] people who look like you be at the table.”

“I think one of the reasons to study Russia and look at Russia is because, in my life, I’m 44 and I’ve seen some pretty substantial change happen, obviously everywhere in Eastern Europe but Russia in particular. But for people in their twenties, they have only seen Putin be in power, and so this means that there has been kind of stagnation in terms of what is happening in Russia. It also means that in your guys’ lifetime, very soon there again will be some really significant, fascinating changes. And I have to say that, especially if you’ve been following at all what’s happening in Russia most recently, there is a tremendous amount of energy and agitation and hope, despite really violent resistance and reactions by the government. So I just think it’s a really interesting time to study and look at Russia, because […] there is no question that you will be a part of a huge and possibly cataclysmic shift in what’s happening in Russia.”

LaNitra M. Berger
“I have a lot of students of color who are very curious and interested in the Russian language… but they, or members of their family, are concerned about whether or not they’ll be safe in Russia and that can hold a student back, if they think that they’re going to go to a country and experience racism. And so my role at George Mason University as the Fellowships Director is to advise students on opportunities that will allow them to go to those countries, but as a woman of color and as an academic who is committed to social justice and addressing underrepresentation, I also know that I have a special obligation to help those students understand how to overcome those barriers.”

“It’s so important, as President Biden has said recently, that we show our power through the power of our example, and there’s no other better example for us to set as a country than having the diversity of America’s people be represented abroad. It is so much better for us from a foreign policy perspective for people to understand and meet people who are not traditionally thought of as Americans.”

Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, and the region through research and exchange.  Read more

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