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Type “Poland” in Google and it’s not difficult to see why the country has a reputation for being rife with racism.Images of hooded skinheads and football hooligans, sporting fascist signs, Polish flags and fireworks have dominated news headlines over the past couple of years; a symptom of the new climate of far-right nationalism under the ruling Law and Justice Party (Pi S).However, in the depths of the La Harenda on Warsaw’s Oxford street, that subculture feels somehow lost on the flurry of Polish teens, kitted out in hooped earrings and Xpressions braid extensions, competing for the title of local Dancehall Queen.It also becomes apparent that the majority cultural exchanges taking place in venues like these happen to be between Black men and Polish women, black female migrants are almost non-existent in Poland.However, there is also a surprising history of black diaspora communities choosing to settle in Eastern European countries.In the 1920s and 30s, the Soviet Union was considered a safe haven for African-Americans escaping segregation in the USA.
Later, I get a chance to speak to Dorotka, a Polish dancer who recently went viral with her Azonto routines, and ask her how she feels taking on African culture.
When they built a new mosque in Warsaw, this lady threw a pig’s head in there, it was terrible”.
Stories like Julia’s remind me that Poland’s internal wrestle with multiculturalism isn’t far off what’s been happening in many countries across Europe.
Despite the obvious undercurrents of hostility and xenophobia, it was refreshing to meet some many people from different ends of the cultural and social spectrum engaging with African culture and attempting to cultivate, in their own way, a different image of Poland that is more inclusive and hybrid.
However, James still believes they have a long way to go before minorities can truly feel part of Polish society: “Breaking down barriers is a double-edged sword.