At the beginning of this post, I’d like to claim that some sensitive words may be used in the text. My goal is to show you the way Poles think of foreigners and people of color. I am not racist, I never judge anyone based on their skin color. However, the words I am using may be considered pejorative by some. Please keep in mind that my intentions are good, I am a tolerant person, however, the culture and language of Poland are different than this in the US. That’s why some may consider this post offensive, while in fact, this text is as unbiased as possible.
Is Poland A Racist Country? A Cultural Background
To start with, one needs to understand the culture of Poland.
I couldn’t find the official data of how many people of color are living in Poland, however, I may assume that it’s less than 5% of the entire population.
Being a native Pole, born and raised in a small town, I see how the world is changing every year.
It may be surprising to you but I was a teenager when I saw someone who is NOT white for the first time. I was so happy and intrigued by the beauty of these people I saw abroad.
Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I started traveling the world– to discover different cultures, meet foreigners, and see something that is different from what I got used to.
Polish “Racist” Songs and Words
To start with, let’s go back to the beginning. I started writing this post when I was 29 years old. It was sitting in the drafts for a long time. I am publishing it at the age of 32. The things I am writing about are true for the majority of Polish society.
When we were kids, we were taught songs and rhymes that may be considered VERY offensive for people of color.
They may be seen as the language of hate, but I think they were written out of curiosity.
You need to understand that we don’t have a slave history in Poland, most Poles haven’t even met any people of color before they were adults, so the stories about black or yellow people are something we have only heard on the TV.
On African land lives Bambo and the Browns
His chocolate face shines even when he frowns.
As soon as the Sun appears on the horizon
His new book is what he’s keen on.
And when he comes back home from school
He plays tricks as he thinks it’s quite cool.
“Come drink some milk” – his mummy says.
But he climbing the tree prefers.
“Come take a bath” – his mummy replies.
But Bambo does not want his skin to turn white
But mummy loves her little boy
As he is good and full of joy.
What a pity that Bambo clever and funny
Is not here to make the weather warm and sunny.
While it may sound racist, it’s really not. The intentions of both the author and the parents that have been teaching kids this poem were good. It was to show children that there are people with different skin colors somewhere in the world, and that they are playing, studying, and having fun as well.
I am a mother of two beautiful kids right now. I understand that this poem is wrong and I have never read it to my kids.
When I was a kid, a band called Big Cyc (Huge Boob) has written the song “Makumba”. It’s about an African student who came to Poland.
It may be considered racist, since the entire song is being sung in a childish way, with the wrong grama, showing that “Makumba” cannot learn to speak the Polish language in proper way.
Here are the song lyrics:
My father – Makumba – be a king of the village
I Lives in Africa, arrive to Poland
To study in your beautiful country
Skinheads don’t let me live in peace though
I Learn your hard language
and once got teeth punched out, while walk down the street
Polish people racists – everyone will say that
And no one here likes the black man
I wants to run away, prepare to leave
Though meet a girl, that’s got the beautiful legs
I burn with feelings and burn crazily
And so Makumba fell in love with Helena
We get married quick and got many kids
Parents from Africa sends presents
I still studying and learn ’til the morning
Helena’s happy about our apartment
I work a lot and can do many things
Polish mother-in-law’s worried about me
She keeps on praying to God:
“Only God, keep Makumba safe“
I ends studies and makes career
We got a car and bulterrier
I lives in here for a long and got no idea
Why they don’t want to accept me to KPN
Makumba, Makumba, Makumba ska
Poland – Africa, Africa – Poland
Makumba, Makumba, Makumba ska
Poland – Africa, Africa – Poland
Makumba, Makumba, wo le le le
After reading the lyrics you may be assuming that Poles think that all black people are from Africa. It was true when I was a kid!
Because of the Russian influence, the borders of Poland were closed until 1989, so almost no one traveled. After that, Poles were too poor to go abroad. Things changed in 2004 when Poland joined European Union.
So as you can see, the minds slowly started to open at the same time as the borders. It was only 19 years ago!
When traveling became more accessible, Polish people discovered that there are some countries where people of all colors are living next to each other.
Poles started to get married to foreigners, thus more of them moved to Poland.
That word is really controversial! Many Poles will use this word to call a black person.
I’d say this word is considered normal for the majority of people aged 50+.
The younger generation understands that the word may be offensive.
Why? Because of the poem I quoted at the beginning of this text.
Or that we have a saying “bądź moim murzynem” that can be translated as “be my slave”. So it’s really offensive!
I am ashamed to admit that I was sometimes using these slang words when I was a youngster. I don’t do. it anymore.
There is a really interesting Instagram account called “Black is Polish” where they are explaining what they consider offensive and what not.
They think the word “murzyn” shouldn’t be used and I think they are right. You can read more about it in this article.
Still, I encourage you to be understanding to older people who use this word. It’s probably because they don’t understand it’s offensive.
The War In Ukraine
Poland became even more diversified after the war in Ukraine started. Poland was (and still hosting) refugees from Ukraine but also people from other countries that have been living in Ukraine.
In my opinion, the last year was a breakthrough. Poles have finally opened themselves to people that look different.
I am so happy it finally happened! The streets of Poland are getting more colorful. And I am not talking only about skin color but about the traditional clothes from different countries.
Is Poland Safe To Travel For People Of Color?
My answer is: YES!
Poland is safe to travel for people of color.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can be irresponsible. Just as in any place in the world, take care of yourself.
Watch your bags, and don’t go out with a stranger without telling someone about it.
If you are traveling to the countryside, you still may catch the curious looks. Please don’t think they are racist! The people will probably be curious about what you are doing here and WHY you decided to visit this place.
Many Polish people still struggle with low self-esteem so they probably think there is nothing interesting in the place you are visiting.
I am really sorry about that because I think Poland is so beautiful! And I am so sorry many Poles still don’t see that they are surrounded by this beauty.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, one of the reasons I started traveling the world, was to meet people from different cultures.
I remember when I was traveling the London tube for the first time. I was standing right next to the beautiful black woman. I couldn’t stop looking at her! Her hair was so thick and strong. I imagined myself having her like that. I still remember the color of her skin and her hair. She was so pretty.
If she caught my look, would she think I am racist to stare at her? I hope not!
My call at the end of this post is to try to see the good in people. Maybe someone wants to look at you for a little longer or touch you because they think you are beautiful.
Even if it’s not true, please think about yourself only this way!