Poland’s black community in the news

The thumbnail image is from another item that came to my attention this week – the amazingly not-politically-or-in-any-other-way-correct but nevertheless best selling Taiwanese toothpaste, “Darkie”, or “Darlie” as it is now re-branded. I think we can all appreciate that teeth look a lot whiter against a darker background but in “the west” this is as offensive as Robinson’s golliwog. In “the east” however, things have not progressed beyond black people being rare and exotic attractions and so images such as this do not (yet) carry the same emotional baggage. I suppose that will change soon.

I was struck by the recent flush of items in the news connecting black people and Poland. Does this suggest a serious effort by the government to raise the profile of race relations as a delayed aftermath to the killing of the Nigerian in the marketplace, or just a coincidence?

Konrad Zdzierak

Konrad (Conrad?) Zdzierak

Leading the charge in Polish overseas race relations is young Mr. Zdzierak who is charged with six robberies across the state of Ohio while wearing a mask to disguise himself as a black man. Now, I know there’s a rumour that black people have larger noses but surely this is going too far!

August O’Brown

Uprising hero - August O'Brown

On a more positive note we have Mr. August Agbola O’Brown – codename Ali – who has emerged as a fighter for Poland during the WWII Warsaw Uprising. Not sure about the codename. Probably comes from that impossible to avoid at weddings song “Ali BaBa” but not exactly hitting the sweet spot in terms of racial stereotyping. He survived the war but decided that Warsaw under the communists was not half as much fun as it had been before the war and so he left for England after the ’56 “thaw” and never returned.

All this time and so many people studying the details of the Uprising and it takes until December 2010 to realise there was a black man fighting for Poland? What next, a hitherto undiscovered Polish commando unit made up entirely of Vietnamese? I sincerely hope that someone finds a place in the Uprising Museum for August O’Brown.

John Abraham Godson (formerly Godson Chikama Onyekwere)

John has the distinction of being the first black Polish MP. A former member of Łódż city council he was sworn in as an MP on December 14th 2010. Granted Polish citizenship in 2001, it just goes to show what can be accomplished if we foreigners really try hard! Good for you, John!

Known to his supporters as “The Polish Obama”, his political agenda includes;

Godson stated that his policy agenda will include the improvement of infrastructure, as well as increasing access to broadband internet.  Godson said he will also work on bettering diplomatic relations with African countries, adding that Poland only has four embassies on the continent and that he wants to see Polish oil companies investing there.

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17 thoughts on “Poland’s black community in the news

  1. The title is a bit misleading. Actually we can’t talk about any black community in Poland. John Godson is probably a member of his local (Łódź) community (mostly white). There is quite a buoyant Vietnamese community, mostly in Warsaw. There may be some small Nigerian or Ethiopian (? I don’t know) communities in Warsaw.

    Anyway, it is not a good idea to build a community around the colour of the skin. If the whites do that, they’re called racists. I can’t imagine my friend from Barbados living in Poznan to go to Łódź to meet John Godson from Nigeria to make up a community.

  2. Fair enough, I just thought it sounded better than “Black Poles in the news” or any of the other more kombinowaćed ideas to cover three diverse stories with only two things in common – skin colour and Poland.

    I’d be surprised if there is no sense of community between black people in Poland though, no matter how widespread they are. All minorities must feel some sense of togetherness whether blacks, Brits, Irish, Chinese……. Before anyone says it, I do appreciate the difference between Barbadian and Nigerian, for example, but for most of my life the message I’ve been given is that black people would like to be seen as one group irrespective of where they were born – e.g. African American, Black Power….etc.

    It would be refreshing and I think unusual if in Poland black people organised themselves into distinct communities based on nationality as opposed to skin colour, or of course ignored skin colour completely and just integrated with the local community.

    Anyway, this many stories in one week about black people & Poland has never been seen and the fact that at least two of them are serious and significant makes it all the more noteworthy, in my opinion. The comments would suggest I’m alone on this. Only one so far and that’s complaining about the title as opposed to commenting on Poland’s first black MP or whether August O’Brown should have a place in the Uprising Museum.

  3. Absolutely agree that the fact that black Poles (probably the so-called ‘real Poles’ would love to annihilate me instantly) are seen in public life is good and refreshing for this very public life of Poland.

    Solidarity based on the race stems from the struggle in the United States where blacks simply used to be slaves uprooted from their ethnic background. Racial self-consciousness was just a result of racist policy of the white minority in the USA.

    Creating a community understood as a group with the sense of common interest, roots, culture etc. in the country where it doesn’t exist yet, is an attempt to create a ghetto. Scatts, if you are a fan of early Malcolm X (I mean before his pilgrimage to Mecca), it’s OK. I admire the ideas of Dr Martin Luther King who “had a dream” of integration.

  4. The fuss about the new Polish MP’s skin colour annoys me. The physical differences between people are nothing when compared with the cultural ones. My husband comes from an African country so I am reminded about them almost every day.
    I googled up ‘poseł z nigerii’ and got only 48,000 results. I typed in ‘czarnoskóry poseł’ and got 680,000 results. It suggests that John Godson is defined by his colour, not his origin or even political program. Perhaps I am wrong, Scatts, but there is a sense of optimism coming from your article, that eventually Poland is catching up on building positive race relations. To me, all it seems to be doing is to employ more PC language than the Taiwanese toothpaste producer but to say the same: he is black.

  5. nettle, yes, I do have a sense of optimism but this is only driven by the fact that such matters are making the news, not because they are neccessarily being handled correctly.

    I see this as the first step towards a “proper” state of affairs, moving non-white-Catholic residents from the fringes to something more mainstream.

    Unfortunately, I think Poland might then go through all the stages everyone else did many years ago as the country seems unable to go straight from A-Z on any issue, it has to learn for itself by passing through B, C, D, etc… Your Google search is evidence of this.

    But, in general, the sooner we get started the sooner we will finish.

  6. Why should Poland “go through the stages”, why should Poland be like western europe ?

    Poles did not enslave and kill blacks, Poles did not invent concentration camps in South Africa (boer war). Poles did not create the apartheid system.

    Teaching Poles how to “behave” towards black people is a disgusting hypocrisy at its best.

    Poles (catholic missionaries and noble men) always helped the Blacks and south american people who were conquered and killed by the west europeans. And after the war thousands of african people studied for free in Poland. Mr. Richard Mbewe is such an example. In Poland there is much less violent racism than in other parts of the world.

    Here two examples:

    “When Kosciuszko was leaving America, he wrote a last will, naming Thomas Jefferson the executor and leaving his property in America to be used to buy the freedom of black slaves, including Jefferson’s, and to educate them for independent life and work.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tadeusz_Ko%C5%9Bciuszko

    Carlos Roloff Mialofsky

    http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/roloff.htm

  7. Stefan, sounds to me like you don’t think black folks can do anything by and for themselves:

    “Racial self-consciousness was just a result of racist policy of the white minority in the USA. ”

    And by the way, whites are still the majority in the US, at least for a few years coming..

    Do you really believe that you would not be racially self conscious in a sub-Saharan African country no matter the political situation?

    I think Nettle’s observations come closer to the reality in Europe. No matter what a person’s nationalilty, if somebody is black, he or she will be seen as black. And outside of one’s country of origin when situated in a European country will first and foremost see him/herself as black and then as a Nigerian or whatever.

  8. I must sometime read up on how it came to be that black people got grouped together by skin colour whereas for most if not all other minorities it was by country of origin. I suspect it was indeed because black people grouped themselves together first rather than anything else.

    In the UK, ages ago, the word ‘Paki’ was used as a collective insult for people from Pakistan, India & Bangladesh but this was mostly a matter of ignorance than of consciously using a collective noun.

    Most of the black people in the UK were originally from the West Indies but even then there was no distinction between Barbadians, Jamaicans or any others for that matter.

  9. “Poles did not enslave and kill blacks, Poles did not invent concentration camps in South Africa (boer war). Poles did not create the apartheid system”

    Neither did I.

    “Teaching Poles how to “behave” towards black people is a disgusting hypocrisy at its best.”

    I’m not teaching anyone anything.

    “Why should Poland “go through the stages”, why should Poland be like western europe ?”

    Doesn’t have to be that way, I just think it might be but happy to sit back and watch this famous Polish tolerance just wash all over me.

    “Poles (catholic missionaries and noble men) always helped the Blacks and south american people who were conquered and killed by the west europeans.”

    Yeah, like every British person was an evil racist and every Pole was a saint.

  10. Hey guest,

    You might want to discuss the matter of Polish tolerance towards blacks with the Nigerians who got busted (or the few who didn’t) in Warsaw not too long ago after an unarmed Nigerian was shot by police.

    Or any black soccer player in Poland.

  11. Black criminals/soccer players should be treated better than white ones, just because they are black ?

    Go to a Wisla-Cracovia or Legia-Polonia game, and then you will see that the (verbal)violence it has nothing to do with race. Guys like Manuel Arboleda have the biggest contracts in the Polish soccer league and it is absolutely OK.

  12. “Yeah, like every British person was an evil racist and every Pole was a saint.”

    Of course not. Put Polish bloggers do not put “Brits” and “racism/antisemitism” in one sentence as often as you (Brits) do. Poles also do not write annoying things like this about the British society….

    “serious effort by the government to raise the profile of race relations as a delayed aftermath to the killing of the Nigerian in the marketplace, or just a coincidence?”

    To make it short. Every Polish person is NOT an eveil racist, who needs to be educated by the government how to behave towards blacks. Really.

  13. NETTLE:
    “I typed in ‘czarnoskóry poseł’ and got 680,000 results.”

    Istn’t Obama “black president”? He is – 5,310,000 results for “black president” + Obama. He himself speaks a lot about “black people” and “brown people” (and I know, because I listened to quite a lot of his election speeches). So why do you get so hooked up on the phrase “czarnoskóry poseł”? “Black MP” doesn’t bother you? Reuters entitled its news on Godson “Poland’s first black MP says color no obstacle”. BBC – “Poland swears in Nigerian Godson as first black MP”. He himself said “”Being a black… has helped me in my political service because at least it has made me conspicuous”. Moreover, he added that “having a different appearance was less dangerous in Poland than in countries with large racial minorities.” Interestingly, Reuters focused on the bright side of the news, emphasizing positive changes in the Polish society, while the BBC emphasized the fact that racism is still a problem in Poland, etc., like it was not a problem enywhere else.

  14. The only thing interesting about this piece is the insight it gives into the mindset of Western European bourgeois liberals. The author has unthinkingly swallowed the establishment rhetoric that no country can be considered ‘civilised’ unless it has a large non-white population.

    Apparently destroying your own culture by welcoming in people who will never integrate and whose only desite is to pass along a version of their native culture from generation to generation is now considered ‘progessive’.

    If Poland ever gets like Britain, with a non-white population approaching 10%, do you really think the political establishment, by that time dependent on non-white votes in essential areas, will allow you to commemorate the Warsaw Rising? That will be a unacceptably nationalist, overwhelmingly white and dangerously racist activity.

    But who cares? We’ve got a Black politician. Just like on American television! Who cares about the fight against Fascism and Communism? Now we’re civilised!

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