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Dec 30 2010

Something cool happens in Poland

As you’re reading this, my vacation time is officially over. I’m back in Vancouver, and depending on what time it is right now I’m either having breakfast, sitting at my desk working, or at band practice getting ready for CROWN’s New Year’s Eve gig in Kits.

At the time of writing this, however, I am sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ condo in Toronto, happily digesting a turkey sandwich and frantically typing out this week’s posts. I am a bad blogger, in that I write in fits and starts rather than putting up fresh stuff every day. I’m a good blogger, I think, in that I haven’t yet missed a post. It’s a trade-off for me between consistency and timeliness – I am satisfied to err on the side of consistency.

The reason for this personal disclaimer is that I’m basically just posting this stuff without what I feel is my usual level of comment. This story probably deserves a fuller discussion than it’s going to get today:

John Abraham Godson, a Polish citizen born and raised in Nigeria, has been sworn in as the first black member of Poland’s parliament…

It is still quite rare to see black people even in the Polish capital Warsaw, Poland’s most cosmopolitan city, the BBC’s Adam Easton reports. Racism is still a problem in Poland, where it is not uncommon for well-educated people to make racist jokes, our correspondent says.

I roll my eyes whenever someone invokes the “we have a black president now, therefore racism is over” argument. It’s almost completely without merit – one high-level appointment does not negate the entire history of a struggle. However, there is some good that can come as a consequence of electing a black public figure, particularly to such a visible position.

Black office-holders help erode stereotypes about black people, by providing a conflicting narrative about the black experience. All of a sudden everyone in Poland, even those who have never met a black person before, has a ready example in their mind of a black person who doesn’t conform to the misconception about what it means to be black – he’s a well-respected member of parliament rather than a gang-banger or an illiterate hood rat, or whatever the stereotype is there.

However, this is a double-edged sword for many black people. If Mr. Godson succeeds, he will be described by some as being “not really black”, or as succeeding despite of his blackness. However, if he fails, he will be described by those same people as failing because of his blackness. His failures will be seen as emblematic of all black people, whereas his success will divorce him from that same group. It’s a common problem facing high-profile black people, one that certainly moves many to try and hide their ethnicity by taking on the characteristics and mannerisms of the majority group.

Of course the real answer is to do the exact opposite – wear your race on the same sleeve as your successes, wedding those two things together to such an extent that they are impossible to separate. Of course, you’d better succeed, otherwise you risk doing much more harm than good.

All that being said, I’m glad to see when things like this happen, even when they’re not in my own country.

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