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October 17, 2021



Commentary: Czech "hero" reports the racist news from a children's playground

20.9.2016 8:00
Adéla Gálová (PHOTO: Jana Plavec)
Adéla Gálová (PHOTO: Jana Plavec)

The Czech media panopticum has offered consumers a lot recently:  Olivie Žižková and her man filming themselves during attacks of paranoia on mass transit in Prague, the "schizophrenic Barbie" running for office with her untreated Messiah complex - and now there's another. An editor at the newspaper Lidové Noviny, Přemysl Houda, has written a column called "Playground Racism" in which he laments an episode he recently experienced among the slides.

The first question that insistently brushed up against my mind after reading his article was as follows:  "Was the gentleman visiting a children's playground for the first time in his life?" It is necessary to say that playgrounds are actually very specific environments and some people, myself included, don't exactly love going to them.

Usually this is because of their unpredictable situations, which significantly differ from case to case and will necessarily arise when several tempting attractions are combined with doazens of hell-bent, recalcitrant children. This is especially so because the reactions of the parents present are no less unpredictable and varied.

However, even a parent who is just average in terms of diffidence and being run off his or her feet can, after some time, store up frustration and actually snap over some of the playground skirmishes involving classic examples of individual children who are "bossy", or the usual dilemma of whether slides are sports equipment meant to be climbed up as well as slid down. Not Mr Houda, though, who describes his knees buckling during several negotiations in the sandbox, on the slide, and finally in that last place of refuge, the swing, where he and his daughter fled after an "evidently more neglected and fatter and older" Romani boy allegedly unleashed terror on the rest of the playground.

That child is described as first throwing sand, then trying to charge money for access to the slide, and at the end of his rampage taking other children's toys away until the playground is absolutely empty. All of this is described as taking place under the horrified gazes of the rest of those on duty and the absolutely lax approach taken by the adults responsible for the enfant terrible.

Those adults apparently sat on the other side of the fence, calmly drinking beer and smoking as if Armageddon were not playing itself out in front of their eyes. It is clear from this description that if any of the other parents, including, God forbid, Mr Houda himself, had personally intervened against this dangerous preschooler (or was he a first-grader?) that it would have been absurd to do so at such a moment.

Houda does not conceal that the rest of those staffing the playground, all women, mutely chose him for the superhero who was supposed to rid them of this evil, but he does self-reflectively admit that he ultimately did not leap into action. It's difficult to say what wide-ranging consequences it could have had if the editor had decided to speak directly to the boy concerned, for example, by saying "Please don't do that."

I don't even want to think about where things might have led if he had actually traversed the fortress separating the world of the irresponsible from that of the responsible and gone to speak with the smoking parents. This hero, fortunately, wisely judged that the best solution at such a moment was to back down, write up his little fable, and publish it in one of the biggest Czech dailies there is.

Like many other readers, I, too, recalled several incidents from my own childhood when reading his little sociological survey. When I was a preschooler playing in the park at Karlovo náměstí, I guilelessly asked a Romani child if he was a boy or a girl and got punched for my efforts. Later, in that same park, a different Romani boy said "Hands up, panties down!" to me, took my scooter, and set off with it God knows where for some date.

As an adult I have experienced several encounters that I do not consider highlights of my life:  A young woman stole my wallet, I encountered one sexual aggressor, and one lady who enjoyed threatening me through SMS messages. God knows why, even after these incidents, I have never had the need to reassess them as my "bad experiences with Romani people".

Maybe it was because in all of these specific situations I was distinctly aware of the circumstances:  One person was in a bad social situation, others were hurt or unsure of themselves, others were just children - or jerks. All of these are characteristics that I have encountered during my life and encounter to this day among other people irrespective of their ethnicity - and if I were ever, God forbid, called upon to write the negative history of my "white-to-white" relationships, nobody would be able to read such a description all the way through even if they wanted to.

So, yes:  In life one is sullied, many times, figuratively and literally, by one's fellow human beings. Of course, just as I have no idea why my Romani friends Monika or Renata should bear responsibility for the fact that somebody stole my scooter once, I also see no reason why I should be ashamed of my fellow non-Romani colleague, Přemysl Houda, even though his article was extraordinarily stupid.

Adéla Gálová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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