Does racism exist in Central Asia? Absolutely.
Will it be a problem for you as a traveler? Sometimes, yes.
Racism towards black people
There are very few black people in Central Asia, the occasional English teacher from Nigeria or the US aside. Travelers on the Silk Road are 99% white or Asian. Most village people have never seen a black person. So you will *definitely* stand out.
An excellent article on traveling while black comes from the hand of Roobens, one of the very few black travelers we have met so far while traveling in Central Asia. He talks about all the things you will for sure encounter: issues at immigration, blatant stares and endless requests for pictures, people assuming you are a rapper together with all the other stereotypes. If you say you are not from Africa or the US, no one will believe you (by the way, the same thing goes for white Africans. Simply does not compute.)
Black women are often presumed to be prostitutes.
It’s tragicomic really, since people from Central Asia can be quite dark-skinned themselves. But they were colonised by European Russians, and even though Russians explicitly saw them as “our Negroes”, the process of decolonising the mind has not begun in earnest yet.
We had never heard about violence against black people (then again, we are not black) until this deadly incident in Kyrgyzstan. Like Roobens says, an isolated event shouldn’t be your main reason to completely boycott a country. But at least in Kyrgyzstan, you should watch your step.
Travel for South Asians
Dark-skinned people from South Asia, usually medical students or business men, are a little bit more frequent in the major cities of Central Asia.
In general, Central Asians have a great fondness for all things Indian, from yoga pants to Bollywood hits. But they are still absolutely not used to seeing someone like you in real life. You will definitely get the same stares and requests for pictures as any black person, as soon as you leave the major cities of Central Asia.
We haven’t heard of really negative, violent experiences from South Asian travelers, except for targeting by police and immigration officers. Then again, we never asked before. Are you Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi? We could use your input!
The Chinese government controls Central Asia’s politicians. Refugees or escapees from Xinjiang’s concentration camps are immediately sent back or imprisoned, and activists protesting against Chinese interests are threatened or arrested. While elites have fared well under China, the 99% hasn’t, and this, amongst other reasons, fuels a strong undercurrent of sinophobia in the region.
As a Chinese person, you don’t necessarily stand out in Central Asia by your looks. The only people who know you are Chinese are the immigration officers and the police. They could give you a hard time.
For Chinese people traveling in Central Asia, things seem to be quite smooth. Lots of travelers from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have easy access to Central Asia and have not reported trouble beyond requests for bribes by the police.
The anger of locals seems to be directed exclusively to Chinese workers, not to travelers. If you are working in Central Asia, well, you probably already know the drill. Keep your head down.
Do let us know if you disagree! We need more data points and really welcome your opinion.