Racism or bad taste? Or a technical error?

“Did you know Barack Obama has Polish blood? Yes, his grandpa ate a Polish missionary”

This is a ‘joke’ I heard in Poland last week. It was attributed to Poland’s Foreign Minister (!), Radek Sikorski. The politician later had to explain that he did not actually tell the joke, he only used it as an example of racist jokes he claimed Polish people made.

Whether he did say that or not, a ‘joke’ like that should not be associated with any high government dignitary, let alone with a top diplomat. And this is I think the problem with Polish racism – despite appearances, it’s probably not more widespread than anywhere else, but it’s more visible due to a shocking lack of appropriate examples and guidance from Polish leaders.

Poland is – and has always been – a very welcoming and hospitable country. But it also is – or was – dominated by one religion and one race. Under the Communist rule it was also very isolated and to a degree it still is suffering from the destructive influence of such isolation. Most people have not had enough exposure to different religions, different races, different sexual preferences etc. And even though the nation in general is nowadays a bit more aware of the fact that certain comments are perceived as racist, homophobic or xenophobic, it will still take a long time – and a lot of work – to make people respect any differences more than they do now. Particularly, when political and religious leaders themselves allow for such cock-ups to happen.

When Barack Obama was announced as president-elect, one of Polish opposition MPs called it

‘the end of the white man era’.

Last week, a Polish Catholic magazine for children distributed a leaflet which read:

“A lamp without oil is dark. So is man without prayer”.

The leaflet was illustrated with a picture of a dark-skinned child saying “Pity prayer doesn’t brighten the skin”.

In both cases, apologies were issued after a widespread storm in Polish media. In both cases, the people responsible for the offending quotes/materials explained their actions, saying that ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ or that it was ‘a technical error’. A technical error?

It took just a couple of minutes to explain to the person who told me the Obama ‘joke’ why in a multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-race society such a joke would largely be considered racist rather than just in bad taste. They understood that, even though a few minutes earlier it was still funny and ‘innocent’. And I guess many, if not most people would understand too – if they had more exposure to other faiths or races or beliefs.

Or if their leaders were less ignorant and less arrogant.

UPDATE: The minister in question is not going to step down, Polish PM is not commenting and the joke might have been originated by the brother of the current Polish president, says the Daily Telegraph. No culprits, no victims. No issue. 7b2fc9179318d4f9935422422a02092a

6 thoughts on “Racism or bad taste? Or a technical error?

  1. With a view to giving some tired old anti-racist fart the pleasure of calling me a racist, I wish to announce that I am a racist – on the first of the three senses of the word as defined in the Concise Oxford dictionary. Now I suspect that the average sanctimonious anti-racist has never looked a word up in a dictionary in their life, and moreover, that half of them can scarcely read.

  2. My jaw dropped reading this.

    I grew up as a Polish immigrant in the US and had to experience racist comments, which to this day are still not seen as insulting for various arguments, such as it being a English word, not Polish (which why the Poles would have a racist word against themselves in their own language is idiotic), that it is spelled similarly to the Polish word for Polish person (I can’t even begin to discuss how absurd that argument is), that Polish Americans use that word (again, really?), etc.

    I really think people should celebrate their heritage because it celebrates their ancestors.

    However, that does not and should not make you a bigot against others. Which I have been called because I like to cook Polish foods, etc.

    Makes no sense. Especially since we just saw how extreme racism can become with WWII, which was not so long ago.

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