Racism In Poland- Is Poland Safe To Travel For People Of Color?

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.

Murzynek Bambo

One of the most famous Polish poems for kids is about Murzynek Bambo (Bambo The Black Kid). Here is its literal translation:

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.

Makumba

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.

Murzyn

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.

In cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, or Wroclaw, you will feel the vibe of any other European city. No one will even look at you, you will be just another stranger in the crowd.

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.

My Story

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.

BTW, I share my stories on my travel blog.

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!

19 Responses

  1. Racist is a negative word. It labels people without allowing any understanding of the person, place, or time. Learning what offends others does not make you a racist but helps towards understanding.

    Your article is very good and I appreciate you writing it.

  2. Thank you for some great information. I’m part Polish and was raised with that “Polish not good” attitude. However, I’m proud of being Polish and taught my kids that too.

  3. You say that “Murzynek Bambo” is not racist and yet you won’t read it to your children. Then why not? It’s actually quite charming and shows that children in Africa are not very different from children in Poland.
    As for “Makumba” I think it sends a very powerful message. So he doesn’t speak proper Polish. So what? Polish-Americans butcher the language, too. Makumba is a student; do you expect him to speak like a PhD in Polish philology? Polish is a very, very difficult language and it takes years to master it.
    Ukraine? Last year? No, Poland took in Ukrainian refugees long before that, despite the many years of Polish-Ukrainian tensions. Shows Poland’s tolerance and forgiveness.
    “Be my murzyn”? Oh, please. In America we say things that are far worse.
    My, my. You really are quite the Liberal, aren’t you.

    1. “Murzynek Bambo” was not intended to be racist when it was written (before World War 2!!). The word and people’s awareness have changed over the years. The borders are now open. Today, I found the poem inappropriate.
      Plus, I listen to black people that live in Poland (Black is Polish, I talk about it in the article). They don’t consider the word “murzyn” ok and I just follow their wish.

      I am a white privileged woman so I have absolutely no idea how it feels to live in Poland and look a bit different. I want Poland to be the country where everyone feels good.

      I am sorry to read that you have far worse sayings in America. I hope you don’t use them.

  4. As a 100% white Polish woman I’m not offended at all even if Poland was racist. I was born in Detroit, Michigan and when we would go to Detroit to visit my grandparents my parents would always say the Polish version of “look a black person”. Then all you could hear was the doors in the car lock.
    The reason for my parents acting this way is because the blacks burned my grandparents garage down and they feared for their life.
    Looking back at it now, I would say that I was brought up racist and rightfully so!

    1. I feel you! Guess who lives in Oakland and was tricked into meeting a pimp. Or whos boyfriend was beaten on the regular be he was white in Richmond Ca…still high ranking in being the murder capital.
      I still have amazing black friends thankfully. We gave a mutual understanding.
      Those who still live in Europe have a strange fantasy about colored people lol!!

  5. Hi
    A good write up on culture and reasons for attitudes towards foreigners.
    I love Poland and its history and culture. Enjoy each and every visit.

  6. The video was unavailable to me 🙁 Beautiful understanding in your story. I am white with Polish and Czech parents.
    When I visited Poland in 2002, when going out I saw people ‘looking’ at me also. I believe they knew me as a stranger (it was a smaller city, don’t remember which one). Or it could have been because I wore makeup, (foundation & lipstick).
    What I found in the Polish and the Czech Republic people was warmth. They wanted to know about me and my Chicago life.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I am happy you had a nice experience on your trip to Poland and Czechia. That’s right that people are friendly in here :). I think they were “looking” because the language you spoke, not makeup. It’s just unusual to hear foreign language in small towns/villages.

    1. Hi Gary!

      It depends. It’s safe in big cities for sure. When it comes to the countryside… LGBTQ+ is a taboo. So you won’t see two men or two women holding hand or kissing.

      The law is very strict and homosexual people can’t even get married in Poland, not to mention have kids.

      I am really sorry about it and I HATE this about Poland. I really do!!!
      I can’t understand why two people who love each other can’t be together. As long as they are adults, they should be able to live however they want. I hope Poland will change its law soon.

      We can’t live like that anymore. It’s ok to be LGBTQ+ but sadly, not all people in Poland think that way.

  7. Keep welcoming “them” and u will have the same problems with “them” as the U. S. A. and U.K. and some other countries have.
    “Give me, give me” is their cry.
    You’ll be sorry.

    1. Your comment is so racist, I am really sorry to read it. There are no “them” and “us”. We are all the same!! Come on, how can you judge people only by seeing their skin color? It’s SO UNFAIR.

  8. I am 100% pole but born and raised in the U.S. first and only one in my entire family.
    My high school was 80% Asian. What frustrates me the most is how dismissive young curious Poles are about those who grew up in a diverse area. We deal with alot of hate.
    Trust me. As “white girl” because that is all I am to some neighborhoods in the bay area…I am not welcome in those neighborhoods.
    Also being labeled homophobic and assumed I encourage hate towards LGBQT group….which by the way is hate group in themselves.
    Those in my shoes experience has been ignored, bullied by those who claim they are diverse…not realizing that I am from probably the most diverse part of the world.
    And I watched ignorant hate towrds Pole grow thanks to recent Media. It was never like this before. Nobody cared if Poland was anti-gay…even the Gay couples I know!
    Poland doesnt owe anything to anyone.
    Have some Pride and dont be shamed out of it.

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My name is Karolina, I was born and raised in Poland. I love my homeland. Even though I’ve been to 50+ countries in the world I’ve never hesitated to make Poland my base!

My mission is to show you the beauty of Poland and help you plan your trip!

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