Dont call me Murzyn: Black Women in Poland are powering the Campaign Against a Racial Slur!!!
Like many Polish people of African descent, Sara Alexandre still remembers when she first realized she was seen as different. “For me it was kindergarten,” says Alexandre, whose father is Angolan, describing an incident when she was barred from playing dollhouse. “I was five and [another girl] didn’t let me in, saying that she cannot allow a little Murzyn in it. That was the first time I knew I was different.”
A campaign against the word “Murzyn” — a Polish racial epithet used widely to describe and address Black people — is at the center of an emerging movement in Poland to reckon with racial discrimination. The movement, which unites Black activists and allies under the hashtag #DontCallMeMurzyn, shows how a renewed focus on anti-Black racism inspired by the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 and brutal policing on Black communities has gone global. The movement that grew in the wake of the killing by U.S. police of George Floyd now extends beyond countries with sizable African diasporas from slavery and colonialism to places like Poland, where 97% of citizens are white.
“The hashtag was mainly thank you to George Floyd,” says Nigerian-born Arinze Nwolisa, who lives in Warsaw and co-founded the anti-discrimination Porta Foundation in 2014 with his wife Lidia. “Now people say, ‘why are you protesting something that happened in America?’ But the reality is that we still need to stop something that Americans are facing but we in Poland are [also] facing as Black people. Because that is what we are facing. It [racism] is a sickness.”
The word is not just a symbolic focal point of anti-Black racism, he says, but an unwanted term that Black Poles find insulting. “I don’t want to go out there and have people call me ‘Murzyn,’” Nwolisa continues. “This is very, very offensive, I’m telling you.”