Confronting My White Privilege as a Polish Immigrant

Polish immigrants must acknowledge their role as both victims and oppressors throughout history

Poland has a long history of experiencing discrimination, beginning with World War II when the country was divided by the Germans during their first invasion in 1939.

They were divided by the way their citizens looked. Those with blonde hair and blue eyes were labelled as pure and of the superior Aryan race, and people with darker features (like myself) were deemed inferior and assumed to be Jewish. Thousands of Polish people were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Many of my distant relatives were sent or nearly sent to be executed.

This grim history has put a chip on some Polish people’s shoulder, and turned them into victims of a war we never wanted. Eventually, many Polish people started to adopt the same racist ideologies they were running from. They were othered, and now they draw clear lines between different races. Many traditional Polish families still oppose inter-racial relationships or marriages.

Anytime I attempt to start the conversation of racial equality and police brutality with my family members, I am met with, “But what about what happened to our people? How was that fair?”

As every child learns early on in their social development, two wrongs don’t make a right. Those sentiments never quite made sense in my head because my family also raised me as a Catholic. We were never taught to hate a certain race in church, so why would we in our private circles?

I had to admit something to myself amidst this current fight for global equality: I was raised by white supremacists, and I have allowed racist comments and discrimination to occur within my household because these acts were committed by members of my family. It made me extremely uncomfortable to bring any person of colour around my family in fear of the racist comments they may make around my friends or partners.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, an American AI researcher, said on Instagram, “You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.” This really hit home for me.

Regardless of how many protests I participate in, BLM posts I share, or support I offer to my friends of colour, I can make the most impact through actively unlearning the racism and white supremacy that exists in my own family.

As much I never saw myself as a stereotypical “white person,” I also understand that when somebody looks at me, they don’t see the oppression and discrimination my ancestors and family faced. They see a white woman. That privilege has gotten me further than I could ever imagine, and I am confident that it has afforded me opportunities and leniency that somebody of colour might never get. I have never been randomly screened at an airport, I have never been pulled over by a police officer because they didn’t believe I could afford the vehicle I was in, I have never experienced police brutality, and I have never been called a racial slur. I will never know or begin to understand that pain, but what I can do is use my white privilege to silence harmful racial commentary when it arises and stand up for people of colour when I see injustices happening. If you’re in a similar position, I would encourage you to do the same.

We can further assist through reallocating resources and spending money on supporting local artists and businesses owned by people of colour. Do research before purchasing products that may be potentially supporting and funding politicians that endorse oppressive, white supremacist laws and behavior.

I am a first generation Polish immigrant, but I also want to be part of the first generation of anti-racist Polish immigrants.

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