Does it make sense to celebrate Black History Month in Poland?

Noemi Ndoloka Mbezi

“Once, a strange woman at a bus stop put her hand in my hair, I instinctively grabbed her nose. She stopped and asked, surprised, why I had done it. I answered by asking her the same question”. A conversation with Noemi Ndoloka Mbezi.

Every year in February, Black History Month (BHM) is celebrated in the United States, Canada and Germany. However, what exactly is Black History Month?

The tradition originated in the United States in 1926. The idea was born to honour the contributions of black people to the development, history and achievements of the country, to raise awareness of the issue and to combat racism. Black History Month was officially recognised in 1976.

Black History Month can be celebrated in other months. In the UK, for example, BHM is in October.

Black History Month in the UK is celebrated and expressed in various ways, whether that be raising money for charities like Stop Hate UK, Black Lives Matter UK, UK Black Pride, attending Black History Month events, supporting black businesses, educating yourself on racism, and reading books by black authors.

First launched in London in the 1980s, Black History Month has become an important way for local communities to educate themselves about parts of British history that were not taught in schools and to challenge racism while encouraging racial equality.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, seeking to highlight racism, discrimination, and racial inequality, the murder of George Floyd in the US in 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic, further emphasised current and historical discrimination and inequalities in communities in the recent years, compelling communities to come together to raise awareness on inequality. 

Black History Month is more important than ever, with the Racism at Work Survey, finding that 60% of black participants have experienced racism in the UK workplace.


Although there is no official Black History Month in Poland, there is an emerging movement in Poland against racial Injustice.

There are activist movements in Poland such as the #DontCallMe movement, which grew in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, extending to countries around the world and places like Poland. The #DontCallMe is a movement in which Black activists united in campaigning against racism and the M-word racial slur in Poland – a term that Black Poles find racist and derogatory.

In 2020, Marta Udoh, Sara Alexandre, Noemi Ndoloka Mbezi, Aleksandra Dengo, and Ogi Ugonoh, released a video for the #DontCallMeMurzyn campaign to share and highlight experiences of racism and anti-blackness in Poland. Since the campaign, BlackisPolish has been launched to educate people on Racism in Poland, and celebrating successes of BAME Poles. 

Below is an interview with Neomi Ndoloka Mbezi, one of the people behind the #DontCallMeMurzyn campaign.

Dawid Mliczek: Do you see any sense in celebrating Black History Month in Poland? How could it be celebrated?

“African and Caribbean people have been a part of European history, society and culture for centuries. Their presence, values ​​and contributions to the social and economic life of Europe are often overlooked.

Unfortunately, in Poland the sight of a dark-skinned person still arouses controversy and surprise. We are in the 21st century, travelling around the world is easier than ever, almost everyone has access to the Internet, and yet when faced with the cultures and histories of dark-skinned people, we make big eyes and push out the truth. And the truth is that African and Caribbean people are part of European history, and have been creating this history continuously for many years. I believe that celebrating Black History Month always makes sense, because this story applies to all of us, regardless of skin colour and country of origin. I am glad that there are more and more dark-skinned people who decide to live in Poland, they too are a part of our history and celebrate aspects of our culture that are important to us, Poles.

Where I live in London, the celebration of Black History Month is a special time for me, which I always look forward to. Special events are organised, such as: author’s evenings of dark-skinned writers in libraries; the so-called food markets, where we can try delicacies from African and Caribbean countries; music festivals; museum exhibitions; special lessons for children in schools.

I think we could easily take advantage of these sources and ideas to start introducing Black History Month in Poland. It’s that simple, all you need is a little willingness. I know everyone would benefit from it.”

Noemi Ndoloka Mbezi: How do you think racism manifests itself in Poland? Do you think it is difficult to change Polish society or is there already some progress?

“I can definitely see changes, especially in the younger generations. It is a process that will take time, but I believe that it is worth participating in. Fortunately, there are more and more people in Poland who are open and aware. As I mentioned earlier, the sight of a dark-skinned man in Poland can still arouse controversy, but more and more often I meet people who, even if they have any prejudices, want to get rid of them and ask how to do it. Our prejudices are related to the fear and stereotypes we learn from others.

Racism manifests itself in different ways. The racism that I sometimes experience in Poland is mainly micro aggressions, i.e. comments or behaviours (conscious or unconscious) that express a prejudiced attitude towards marginalised groups. Usually I hear: “You can’t be Polish. But really where are you from? ” or “How did your parents meet?” Are these the questions we usually ask people we meet for the first time? Some people also grab my hair without asking to check its structure, which irritates me a lot. Once, a strange woman at a bus stop put her hand in my hair, I instinctively grabbed her nose. She stopped and asked, surprised, why I had done it. I answered by asking her the same question.

Before we ask about someone’s origin, their stories, let’s think first if we ourselves would like to be interviewed by a newly met person and tell them about our personal, sometimes painful experiences.”

You said in a previous Salam Lab interview that ‘education is important’. What do you consider the most important in terms of institutional changes in the Polish educational system to fight racism and educate Polish society about it?

“It would be worth starting with updating school readings. Over the years, so many valuable literary works have appeared that could be used in the education of the youngest. Reading books shapes our worldview.

As a child, reading Henryk Sienkiewicz’s In Desert and Wilderness, I felt embarrassed. The presentation of black Africans as primitive and inferior to white people caused me great sadness because I am also dark-skinned, and my dad was black and came from Africa. As a child, I didn’t quite understand what colonialism was, but I knew perfectly well what racism was because I experienced it. Sienkiewicz’s book for my peers became a code of racist behaviour for which I was the recipient. “Naomi eat, Naomi drink” has become a favourite slogan of children, and questions about whether my dad hunted with a spear and ran around in a bamboo saucer are questions that will stay with me forever.

That is why I dream of a change in the education system. I would like learning about people, their cultures, habits and beliefs to become something natural in Polish education. It is important to teach children to respect anyone who looks different from themselves. Some time ago my mother showed me a picture from a geography textbook, probably for the sixth grade of primary school. The photo shows Maasai in his beautiful traditional dress. There was a caption under the photo describing this outfit, unfortunately I am not able to quote it exactly, but one word stuck in my mind, the word “strange”. What may seem strange to us is part of their identity for others.

We should never suggest to children that something is strange or worse just because it is so distant, unusual for us, and we cannot identify with it ourselves. In British schools, children learn about the cultures of their colleagues. Even several year old children know what Diwali or Hanukkah is. How many Polish students have this knowledge? We will not change the past and we will not erase the pain and suffering that people have caused each other, but we can influence the future and teach the youngest that through mutual respect and education, we can really change our future.”

About the DONTCALLMEMURZYN campaign: what have you achieved in this campaign and what else needs to be done in this direction?

“Most of all, this campaign allowed people to hear our voices. It’s a bit like breaking through a glass ceiling. For us, dark-skinned Poles and Polish women, it strengthens our self-esteem, because it turns out that we have many wonderful people around us, friends who support us in what we do. Until now, many people were afraid to speak out loud about racism, to fight it, this is changing because people want to educate themselves and educate others. We have so many ideas, so much we would like to do. We will not have enough life to implement all our plans, but we will do everything so that the next generations of Poles will grow up in a different consciousness.”

Can you tell me about the BLACKISPOLISH / CZARNEJESTPOLSKIE platform?

“This is an Instagram profile that I didn’t know I dreamed of creating. We created it together with Marta Udoh, Sara Alexandre and Ogi Ugonoh and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else. The fact that we are friends with each other certainly helps us in running BIP. It’s been probably over 2 years since our first post appeared. Thanks to BIP, we can educate, discuss, discuss important topics and also have fun – see our profile for a weekly Sunday quiz on knowledge about Africa! We also listen to the voices of our recipients, because we create this profile for them. This platform was and is very much needed in Poland. It is an opportunity for us to mark our presence and talk about matters that are often swept under the rug. We also want to be the voice of our dark-skinned friends and families.”

Written by Dawid Mliczek.


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