Friday, March 18, 2011

Dispatch from the Trenches: A Bohunk in the Ivory Tower

Polish Americans complain about their absence from, or misrepresentation in, journalism, films, and academic curricula.

Polish Americans are correct. Polish Americans are often erased, at best, and demonized, at worst, in American media and academia.

Ethnic groups: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans; Religions: Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims; Socioeconomic Groups: upper class, working class, white collar, blue collar; Other interest groups: gays, feminists, communists: all compete for access to the microphone, to the bank account, to the truth.

Novelist Milan Kundera described this warfare perfectly:

"People are always shouting that they want a better future. It's not true. The future is an apathetic void of interest to no one. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past. They are fighting for access to the laboratories where photographs are retouched and biographies and histories rewritten."

Polish Americans have not significantly, united, organized, and supported each other in this power game. As a result, Polish Americans lose.

I offer the anecdotes, below, from my own experience. I have heard anecdotes like these from others, others who choose to remain anonymous.

It's not easy for me to tell these stories publicly. Often, when they were happening, I told myself, "Forget this ever happened. Tell no one. There is no benefit, and much risk, is letting anyone know that this ever happened."

Now is as good a time as any to tell these stories. As a wise man, Rabbi Hillel, once said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

It's my first semester of graduate school. My mother, an immigrant, had to leave school when she was a child. Her father was a coal miner. He had contracted emphysema. She, fourteen years old, had to support her family. My father also left school as a child. His father, also a coal miner, was bushwhacked and beaten by American men who called him "The Little Polak." My mother cleaned houses; my father worked in factories. I supported myself in college by working as a nurse's aid. I graduated magna cum laude and scored very high on the GRE verbal. I have no money.

My advisor and department chair says to me, "You are the wrong minority to receive funding. I have to give the funding to an African American. They are underrepresented." I reflect: I've had African American bosses and teachers, and bosses and teachers of a wide variety of ethnicities. I've never had a Bohunk boss or teacher. Aren't we underrepresented?

The African American student who receives the funding is middle class; her parents are white-collar professionals.

My advisor puts me to work as a live-in domestic servant for the mother of a friend. This woman tells me, "I had to take you in because you are Catholic. Catholics have too many children and can't support them. That's why you are poor."


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I'm in a grad school seminar. My fellow students are all future PhDs. I'm feeling the low-level, background discomfort that poor, white Christians and blue collar ethnics feel in grad school. We are among the most discriminated against groups on elite campuses like this one. We are, simply, unwelcome.

The grad school seminar I'm sitting in on this day has nothing to do with Eastern Europe. The professor mentions, in passing, that none of the countries of Eastern Europe had existed before the Versailles Treaty of 1919.

I send the professor a polite e-mail after class, mentioning that, yes, Poland had existed prior to Versailles, and that it had a significant history.

Our next class is bizarre. The professor puts the day's scholarly agenda on hold. With chalk, she draws a sloppy map of Eastern Europe on the blackboard. She locates Poland. She says that Poland had a history, but that it mostly was a history of oppressing Jews.

There is a Jewish student in the class, a young man from South America. (Yes, that same South America that provided warm refuge to Josef Mengele.) He sits across from me. He stares at me, with a combination of righteous rage and sorrow. If the Poles would just own up to their horrible nature, the professor, says, and apologize.

Yes, the Jewish student says, staring at me. If the Poles would just admit it, and apologize. There is no predicate. There is no "If Poles would just own up to their horrible nature and apologize, then we could recognize them as human as we are human." Nope. Poles just need to, over and over, admit to being horrible, and apologize, over and over. Period.

Every student is staring at me now. Why won't that woman just apologize and get it over with? I do not apologize. I am suddenly very unpopular.

There are offices on campus devoted to African American students, gay students, Hispanic students, Native American students, international students, returning women students, veteran students, physically handicapped students, cognitively impaired students … there are special scholarships, parties, speakers, monies, procedures, counselors, deans, days, cafeteria tables, recruiters, retention experts, dedicated to making all of the aforementioned students' lives easier, their graduation assured, and their post-graduation employment a cinch.

There is no campus office for me, or others like me, though, poor, white Christian ethnics are among the most discriminated against and unwelcome students on elite campuses like this one.

There is no national Polish American organization I can approach with this matter.

There will remain an impenetrable wall of hostility between me and this professor. Collegial relationships with powerful professors are the key to success for graduate students. This professor's unofficial role is mentoring outspoken feminist students like me. So much for that.

Officially, though, the incident slides down the memory hole. It never happened. "There is not now, and there has never been, discrimination against Polish Americans." Of course there hasn't been – events like this go undocumented.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

It's the same class, the same professor, later in the same semester. The professor mentions that immigrants who arrived in the U.S. early in the twentieth century often faced discrimination. She reports that that is because those immigrants were darker skinned than Americans. It's just another example, she says, of white oppressors putting down dark-skinned people.

I know that what the professor is saying is false. I know that the c. 1880-1924 immigrants, including Poles, were often quite white, and faced serious discrimination.

This truth must not be spoken, though, because it would violate the dogma: whites oppress; dark-skinned people are oppressed; no whites have ever been oppressed. Polish-American history must be expunged in order to serve the power narrative.

I remain silent. It's not that I am afraid to speak the truth in this class. It's that I know it will be, as it was when I mentioned that Poland had existed before 1919, a waste of time. The professor will deny what I say, and the other students will find my comments peculiar and unnecessary and stare at me and just wait for the disruption to blow over and for our indoctrination in the power narrative to continue.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I'm a graduate student. My professor, multiply published and honored, asks to talk to me one-on-one. I am excited. Perhaps he has seen something of value in my work. Perhaps he will encourage me, point out opportunities I've missed, mentor me.

I report to the professor's office. "Why are you here?" he asks. "It's so obvious that you identify with the working class. You dress like a working class person. You don't fit in here. Why not just go back home? You're making yourself and everyone else unhappy."

I am suddenly finding it very difficult to control my facial expression. I had entered this professor's office with hope. I now wrestle with hurt, outrage, and anger, all of which I am too polite to show. I surrender trying to control my facial expression. I stand up and leave.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I'm a graduate student, focusing on my chosen topic: Polish-Jewish relations. A Holocaust scholar with an international reputation, neither Polish nor Jewish, warns me, without prodding, "You are Polish and Catholic and you write about Polish-Jewish relations. You will never have a career in Academia."


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

A caring advisor pulls me aside. "You're writing about people no one cares about. You will never get funding. You will never get a job. You lived in Africa. You speak an African language. There's lots of money for Africa, lots of jobs. Forget the Poles. Or do the Polish stuff on the side. Do Africa. Then you can get a job."


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Indiana University plans to host a discussion of Jan Tomasz Gross' book "Neighbors." From what I've been hearing, "Neighbors" is being used to buttress the Brute Polak stereotype. I contact the organizers and ask to speak. I say that I am a PhD candidate at IU, and that I'm a Polish American. I would like to speak against using the Jedwabne atrocity to demonize all Poles. I point out that the 1992 L.A. Riots, during which African American men tortured truck driver Reginald Denny on camera, should not be used to demonize all African Americans.

I provide my bona fides: I've published two previous articles about stereotyping of Poles. One, "The Polish Ogre on Frontline" which appeared in 2B: A Journal of Ideas, addresses stereotyping of Poles in popular culture. Another, " Golem as Gentile, Golem as Sabra: An Analysis of the Manipulation of Stereotypes of Self and Other in Literary Treatments of a Legendary Jewish Figure" which appeared in New York Folklore, addresses stereotyping of Poles in Jewish folklore and literature. My work has also appeared in local media. I've broadcast essays on WFIU, the local NPR affiliate, about stereotyping and the Holocaust (here and here).

I'm denied permission to speak on the panel. There is no local or national Polish organization that contests this. No one to say to the Indiana University community, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't use 'Neighbors' to demonize all Poles."


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I'm almost done with being a graduate student. I've jumped through all the hoops. I'm now writing my dissertation on the role of stereotypes in Polish-Jewish relations. My committee, consisting of noted scholars, has approved my plan enthusiastically, and I've been absorbed and beavering away, days from five a.m. to 11 p.m.

Years into the project, one committee member, having gotten a whiff of the controversies involved, gets cold feet. "I can't let you do this," he says. "You are Polish and Catholic. You can't be trusted. Your ethnicity and religion disqualify you."

This professor is the most famous. Reluctantly, two other committee members cave in. A third is too intimidated to say anything. None of these professors is Jewish.

If an African American grad student were told by a powerful professor, the kind whose books are reviewed on the front page of the NYT book review, that she could not pursue her topic for no other reason than that she was an African American, that story would make the six o'clock news.

Al Sharpton, the NAACP, Cornell West, and a crack team dispatched from the White House would be on that story like white on rice.

But this happened to a Polish American, so it's not a story. It never even happened. It never happened because no one discriminates against Polish Americans.

Simon, my best friend, is a lawyer. He's also Jewish, by the way. His outraged advice: sue the damn university. He offers his services pro bono.

I make an appointment with a dean. I enter the dean's office. I introduce myself. I never have to broach the topic of a lawsuit. We've never met, but the dean immediately recognizes my name – I've been locally active in gay rights; my name has appeared on the radio and in newspapers. He stops me before I can even begin to tell my story; he just picks up a telephone. Within five minutes of my entering the dean's office, my permission is restored.

My work, that would become the book "Bieganski," was rescued by my best friend, who is Jewish, and a non-Polish, non-Catholic dean, who appeared to be appreciative of my work on gay rights.

At that point I'd been actively working on Polish matters for years. I'd been an activist; I'd been publishing; I'd been in touch with other Polish American individuals and organizations via the internet. When a committee member threatened to shut down my research on the basis of my ethnicity and religion, there was no one from Polonia who voiced to IU a peep of protest or support.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I've been poring over academic job listings for ten years. Painstakingly reviewing these job announcements in the vain search for a tenure-track job has taught me much. Academic job announcements in the humanities value some ethnicities more than others. African American and Hispanic American identities and/or areas of research and publication are most frequently cited as making a candidate attractive, or even as the bare minimum requirement, for academic employment.

After that, one earns points for Native American, Asian, Gay, Arab, Jewish, and, in a few rare cases, Italian, and Irish identities and research and publication focus.

Never, not once, in ten years of looking at thousands of job announcements in a wide variety of humanities jobs, including teaching freshman composition, film, creative writing, folklore, world literature, and gender studies, have I seen any Bohunk ethnicity or focus listed as having any appeal to an employer at all. The University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania's heavily Bohunk anthracite coal region, emphatically defined Bohunks out of an "ethnic literature" job announcement.

Bravo to African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Arab, Gay, Jewish, Italian, and Irish activists for making themselves visible and valuable in academia. For making their scholars employable. For making their stories known. For endowing their worldview with authority and respect.

Bohunks – Polish-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Slovak-Americans, etc, have not done the same work, and they suffer for it. Their literature, film, experience, worldview, are disrespected, misrepresented, stuffed down the memory hole, trashed.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I am in a Farmer's Market. A vender is selling shiitake mushrooms. We get to talking. My name invites him to tell me that he is married to a Polish woman.

I eventually meet his wife. She is lovely. She learns of my work. She mentions a manuscript. Hand-typed. Unique – just one copy. She, this woman I hardly know, with a heartbreaking resolve, determines to get that manuscript to me. She entrusts to me a family heirloom, this unique manuscript.

The story is overwhelming. One of her family members had been rousted out of her home, packed into a cattle car, and sent to a living hell in Siberia. It's an amazing, gripping read. I can't help but note that this manuscript is very much like a dozen Holocaust memoirs I've read. The same elements: the irrational, random persecution, being targeted only for one's ethnic and religious identity – in this case, Polish Catholic – the terror, the cattle cars, the unknown fate. The genocidal dictator – Stalin, not Hitler.

But the Holocaust memoirs I've read were all published, all known to the world. As I read these pages, I realize – I am their only reader. There is only one copy. After I finish this manuscript and return it to the lovely lady met by chance in a Farmer's Market, these pages may never be read again.

I've been working on Polish issues for years, and I know no one, no Polish American individual, no Polish American organization, no Polish American publication, no Polish American scholar, that would accord these pages any attention at all. There may be such people. They've never made themselves known to me.

I mention the manuscript to fellow Polish Americans. They do not respond by offering suggestions on how to publish the manuscript. Rather, they respond, adamantly: "Isn't it a SHAME. How the Jewish story GETS TOLD. But nobody tells OUR story. What a SHAME." No mention, none, that maybe, just maybe, we, Polish Americans, could and should support each other and tell our own story.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I'm visiting Chicago. I'm staying at the apartment of a friend, "Fred." Fred is an African American. We've been friends for over 25 years. We're having an all-night conversation. I begin to talk about my family, and mention that one of my family members, a Polish immigrant to America, was lynched.

"Lynched? What do you mean?" Fred asks, suddenly hostile.

"I mean lynched."

Fred is incredulous. I mention that 27 percent of lynching victims were white. That the largest mass lynching in American history, 1891, New Orleans, was of Italian immigrants. That Leo Frank, white, was lynched in Georgia in 1915. That my family member, a Polish immigrant, was lynched.

Fred shrugs contemptuously. "White boy gets lynched. Why should I care?"

Fred is a dean at the University of Chicago. Fred is one of the people who decides which student's woes the University of Chicago will allocate resources to addressing, and which student's woes the University of Chicago will dismiss. Fred, as a University of Chicago dean, helps determine which group's stories are worth telling, and which group's stories go down the memory hole. White boy gets lynched? Shrug. Why should the university of Chicago care.

"White boy gets lynched." Lynched Italians in Florida. source



I'm an adjunct professor at a large taxpayer-funded university. I'm waiting for a printout from the university's printer. A student's paper comes out ahead of mine. I read it as the machine spits it out. This student paper regurgitates the contents of his professor's lecture. German Nazis were peripheral to the Holocaust. The real planners and perpetrators of the murder of six million Jews were Polish Catholic peasants.

I have no outlet. There is no official body to whom I can protest this matter, or work for any change. There is no national Polish American organization I can approach – I've tried contacting them; they don't respond. There is no local Polish American organization with a presence on campus.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

A state-funded university shows "Sophie's Choice" to educate students about the Holocaust. The film grossly distorts history. I complain. Those who hear my complaint smile and nod. I'm the only one complaining. They screen the film. There is not even a local Polish organization, never mind a national one, that would join me in this.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

My student asks, "Why did the Nazis persecute only Jews? Why didn't they persecute any Christians?" I question the student. He really doesn't know that the Nazis committed mass killing programs of handicapped people, Gypsies, Polish priests and intellectuals, Soviet POWs. This isn't just any student. He's an honor student; he's president of the campus Catholic club. He's intelligent; he's devout, and intellectually ambitious. And he has no idea, none, of Nazism's plan to eliminate Christianity.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

The television sitcom, "Back to You," tells viewers that for Poles, collaborating with Nazis is in their Polish blood, like bowling and eating kielbasa. I know of no Polish organization I can go to with my outrage. I write to the program as a private citizen, and post my letter on the internet. Other Polonians quote it, without ever contacting me and suggesting that we work together for change.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

At a conference devoted to study of working class people, I meet a scholar. He's multiply-published, both in academic and popular venues, and an award-winner. He fashions popular and scholarly understanding of working class people. I tell him that I study Polish Americans. He says, first, "Why are you working on Polish Americans? Polish Americans don't exist. They've all assimilated."

Later, he says, "Why are you working on Polish Americans? They're all working class slobs."

Still later, he says, "Why are you working on Polish Americans? They're all bigots, racists, drunks, and anti-Semites, without any culture."


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

"Bieganski" has been kicking around university presses for a number of years. I relive the same "Groundhog Day" over and over again: at first editors express interest. The writing is good; the topic is timely. Eventually editors get a sense of how controversial the book might be, and drop it. "Bieganski" is at its latest university press. A previously enthused editor begins to waver. I visit him in person. I want to see his face as he talks to me.

This episode took place on the campus of a Catholic university; the editor was not Jewish. The editor is frank. The majority of the board wanted to publish "Bieganski." A minority objected. Their position, as the editor paraphrased it to me, "She can't say this because she's not famous. She can't say this because she's Polish and Catholic. She can't say this because it may harm this university's relationship with the Jewish community."

Do Not Blame the Jews – that stance is false, it is immoral and it is a complete waste of time. This was the position of the editorial board of a Catholic university. I applaud Jews for making their voices heard by such boards. My question for Polonia is, where were you? A major university told a writer she could not say what she said because she was Polish and Catholic. Will you be there the next time this happens? Is there an organization in existence today that would stand up for a Polonian writer in that situation? If there is, I am unaware of it.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Through the internet, I've been conversing with "Marek," a very intelligent young man. He writes beautifully. He is a current-events junkie. He is deeply engaged not just with the headline news, but with the big trends and clashes of ideas behind the headline news. I have a PhD and he works a grunt job, but he introduces me to big thinkers I'd never heard of.

He is Polish-American. He's a devout Catholic. He is fluent in both English and Polish. He has a masterful command of scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic.

One day he says to me, "Since I've been talking to you, I've given it a lot of thought. I think I'm going to enter a graduate program."

I am thrilled. He will bring his unique perspective to American scholarship. We talk about programs, professors, fields of study.

A few weeks go by, and the plan is scrapped. "I have a pointless job now, but I can pay rent and I have health insurance. If I entered grad school, what happened to you would happen to me, I just know it. I don't agree with the people in power politically or culturally. They'd tell me how wonderful communism is. I lived under communism and I know it's not wonderful. They'd tell me how oppressive Catholicism is. I don't see Catholicism their way. They'd tell me I'm just another white male oppressor, but people in my family were murdered by dictators. I'd never get funding. I'd never get a job. Forget it."

Every sharp and pointed and well-informed contribution Marek could have made to the national exchange of ideas is lost. He's still working his grunt job. It's a cliché. It's true. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

When one of my African American students or Hispanic American students tells me that he or she wants to go to graduate school but isn't sure how to proceed, there are African American and Hispanic Americans professors I can send that student to. These are professors who have identified themselves as willing to mentor younger scholars. I know of no Polish American scholar I can send Marek to. I have been approached by African American and Hispanic American professors who want to mentor the next generation. I've never had that kind of encounter with a Polish American scholar.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

"Wanda" has been my student for years. She is perfect, the kind of student who leaves other students in her shadow. She's always in class, always on time, always reads everything, is always the first to understand, always gets every assignment done to perfection. She's also beautiful and a genuinely nice person.

In a better world, Wanda would be fully funded and respected. She's "the wrong minority," though. She's Polish-American. She pays for school herself, and supports herself by working a pink-collar job.

This semester there are cracks in Wanda's perfection. She's missed a class, and an assignment. I know something must be terribly wrong.

After class, we sit and talk. She is eager to unload. She is stressed beyond enduring. Wanda is a Christian. She let that slip in one of her classes. Once – she just mentioned it – that she is a Christian.

The professor in that class has been verbally harassing Wanda ever since. The stress is getting to her.

Another student pulled Wanda aside and said to her, "I'm a Christian, too, but I never let them know. I don't want to have to put up with what he's doing to you. Live and learn."

"We'll do something about this," I tell her.

We go to a campus higher-up. "I can't do anything," this person says. "Academic freedom … Tenure."

I'm stunned. What does harassing a student have to do with academic freedom?

Wanda says she just can't take the harassment any more. Though she has paid for the class out of the money she makes in her pink-collar job, she will drop the class, forfeit the tuition, and take any hit to her transcript that dropping a class will exact.

Later, I am at a conference with approximately ten fellow professors. I mention Wanda's fate.

The chair of the conference is a nice guy, widely beloved, trusted and admired. He is a senior professor, with responsibility for training other professors.

He immediately adopts a Southern accent (there are few students on our campus with Southern accents) and begins performing a Minstrel show mockery of Christian faith. The point: Christians are dumb, obnoxious, disruptive, and unqualified to study in English departments. Their insistence on eternal life cripples their ability to understand mortality, and, therefore, great literature.

This very same professor, in a previous meeting, had loudly and ostentatiously celebrated this campus' "Diversity." "We, the professors, departments chairs, we make very sure that our faculty, staff, and student body are diverse. We are deeply committed to diversity," he had said, as if announcing a really courageous stand.

Now he's making fun of Christian students.

No one in the room says anything. Ten professors present, in a wide variety of departments, and no one objects.

I e-mail the chairman after the meeting, and say that his mockery of Christianity and Christian students shocked me. He apologizes, but I am never invited to teach in that department again.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I've spent my professional life in the US on community college and university campuses. I'm in the humanities, and work with professors who teach literature, including ethnic literature, film, history, ethnicity, anthropology, racism, class. I can't remember ever seeing a book, an article, not even a poem about the Polish-American, or the wider Bohunk-American, experience on a syllabus, except in Polish language classes.

My NJ students descend largely from the c. 1880-1924 immigration. I know, because semester after semester, I ask. "Who here has grandparents or great-grandparents who came from Eastern or Southern Europe?" between fifty and ninety percent of the students raise their hands. In required literature and racism-sexism classes, they are assigned anthologies that define them out of America. "I envy people who have an identity, a history, people who matter," they say.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

"Jane" is a bright, charming student, amazingly well-informed, and an original thinker. The first time I met her, I decided that she was PhD material. She works full time in a pink-collar job. She lives paycheck to paycheck. Her parents do not support her. She is in my office, telling me she will quit college.

"You can't quit!" I insist. "Why do you want to quit?"

She's in a required class. To her the class feels more like indoctrination than education. Her professor kept going on and on about poor blacks and Hispanics. Jane raised her hand and said, "There are poor whites, as well." And the professor told her, "Their poverty does not count because they are white." For Jane, that was the last straw. It convinced her that college was just BS.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

In the past four months, two of my students, both under age 22, both hip, good looking, lots of friends, have told me that they are Polish, but have changed their names. They don't want me to use their real names. They don't want people to know that they are Polish.


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Chapter two of "Bieganski" exposes the Brute Polak image in American mainstream press. I read every Lexis-Nexis or Reader's Guide article I found that was connected with the Auschwitz convent controversy and the coverage of Jan Tomasz Gross' "Neighbors" and "Fear." As documented in that chapter, article after article, in the New York Times, in Commonweal, in Newsweek, depicts Poles as more monsters than humans. If I remember correctly, there were no mainstream press articles authored by Poles that interrogated these stereotypes.

During a comparable controversy, as "Bieganski" shows, when African Americans and Muslims were in danger of being negatively stereotyped, the very same publications – the New York Times, Newsweek – made sure to publish articles by African Americans and articles that exculpated African Americans and Muslims.

What was Polonia doing during these controversies? What was the hierarchy of the Catholic Church doing regarding the press crucifixion of "Rome's most faithful daughter?"


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

It's 2011. "Bieganski" is finally published. Concerned readers of my blog send me the Brute Polaks they encounter on museum websites, in films shown in museums, in online discussions of Polish Nobel-Prize-winning poets and Polish saints. I post about these hate incidents on this blog … but where is the national Polish American organization that will take action?


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Jan Tomasz Gross' new book, "Golden Harvest," is scheduled to be published in America in August, 2011. Articles about it have already appeared. Reader comments like those found beneath this Jewish Daily Forward article amply demonstrate that whatever Prof. Gross' intentions, his audience insists that his work proves that Poles are idiots, are cannibals, and are spiritually debased. Most troublingly: German crimes against Poland? Poles deserved it!

What is Polonia doing in March, 2011, as this book begins to have an impact on world readers?


***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I could go on. You could go on. You tell me these stories, too. You send them to me via e-mail. And then you tell me never to tell anyone about them. They could hurt your career. People would call you crazy, a whiner. They could make Polish Americans look bad. Why cause trouble?

Just ignore it, you say. It will all go away someday, you say. Why should I complain, you say. Others have had it worse, you say. Just fake it and forget it and ignore it. Get the degree and get out. Take the salary and lay low.

You tell me about the Polish American professor attempting to deliver a paper at a conference and being shouted down before he could even begin to speak. About the commitment to publication that evaporated. About the media that use the phrase "Polish concentration camps." The textbook that identifies Pilsudski as an anti-Semite.

I could go on. You could go on. We go on. We go on and on and on and on. In our little internet groups. Talking only to each other, changing nothing.

We can change this.

In the near future I hope to post another message addressing what we can do.

43 comments:

  1. Yes, I would like to know what else we can do. It seems to me that talking does nothing as people either listen because they already know, listen but don't hear, or refuse to listen. In relation to your story about the response to the lynching of your relative - so many groups seem to believe that racism can only be against certain groups, and that racist attacks on whites is not, somehow, racism.

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  2. I am not sure we can change this. But we must try to change this. Your book, and this blog entry, should motivate others to join in. This can not stand. I stumbled across the website of the alumni association for Alliance College which led me to the wikipedia entry about the college: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alliance_College

    From the wiki entry: Alliance College was an independent, liberal arts college located in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, offering a special program in Polish and Slavic languages (cf Slavistics). From 1948 until its closing in 1987, the college was an accredited four-year co-educational liberal arts institution. Student matriculation peaked at 629 in 1968."

    Following the college's closure, the campus was sold to the State of Pennsylvania, which in 1992 opened SCI Cambridge Springs, a minimum-security women's prison, at the site.[2]

    The closing of Alliance College is emblamatic of what has happened to any sense of Polish American pride in this country. But what we need is to have a new Alliance College stand up...and make you the president of it. Maybe not the brick and mortar type...but maybe an electronic version. Something must be done. One of the biggest missions of such a college would be to devote a chair to investigate the way which Polish history, especially WWII history is presented in high school and college textbooks and curricula.

    Dr. Goska, I knew you have had a rough time of it, but I had no idea it was as terrible you blog entry portrays. I am very, very sorry this all happened to you and you have felt so isolated. But from my own experiences, I don't doubt a word of it. It is nothing short of scandalous.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Danuta, thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    I had no idea that this post would get to be so long. My initial goal was to post a message saying what we could do, with a brief anecdote or two -- one hundred words, tops -- sketching what we confront.

    As I began to type out the anecdotes, more and more came to mind.

    but, yes, my goal is to post the "what we can do" post in the near future.

    Thank you again. People like you, John Guzlowski, Billy Szych, Krystyna Mew, Nona Marriott, Christina Pacosz, Denise, Eve, etc, all give me hope.

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  4. William H Szych - Well, this blog entry is meant to convey what we are up against.

    I could write another blog entry about the generosity and heroism I've encountered.

    A woman at IU was very helpful to me. She's another one who doesn't want people to know she's Polish, so I never mention her name publicly. But she was instrumental. I think of her.

    John Guzlowski held my hand through all this. Stuart Balcomb.

    Antony Polonsky is a personal hero of mine. Polonia owes Antony Polonsky a great deal.

    I'm very grateful to Lucille Bertuccio, a Bloomington activist, who ran a food bank that kept me fed.

    Alan Dundes is the one who told me I'm the "wrong minority" to receive funding. He said that to me my first semester.

    My second year at UCB, he got me a full tuition remission. He said he "pulled strings he didn't know existed."

    Professor Dundes strongly encouraged me to publish on Polish matters. He's the one who told me to publish my "Golem" article.

    In other words, there is the good side, too. I outlined the bad side not to whine, but to sketch what we are up against.

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  5. There's only been one other time I can recall in dealing with these issues when I have been so disturbed and agitated. That is when the Boston Arts Council had the Partisans sculpture removed from the Boston Common in 2006. But the good news from that episode,is that Polish Americans came together and changed the fate of a statue commemorating those who fought desparately, and eventually fruitlessly, for the freedom of Poland. The statue to freedom survived in America's cradle of liberty because "we" did not let it die. The lesson gives me hope...in fact, alot of hope.

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  6. Billy, when I get disturbed and agitated, I think of my grandmother, Mary Cernova, a peasant, who worked in the fields, and was subject to harsh consequences if, for example, she was sick and could not work. I think of my grandfathers in the coal mines. I think of Jan Karski ... and I can't quit. At least, I can't quit till what I face is tougher than what they faced, and that hasn't happened yet.

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  7. Yes, Indiana University and Polish institutions are not interested in Bieganski, though his credentials are solidly Polish. (Nor is this the only ivory-fortress where things Polish are not welcome.) That was clear to me in sending my essay about the 1917 Missouri Lead Belt riot to a Polish history publication, but even when I indicated I would be very happy to revise it, I was ignored for several months, until I queried again as to its status. Send it to a literary magazine came the reply. So it was reprinted by John Brown Press in Kansas City Kansas and sent to you Danusha, because this is a story that needs telling and Polonia and academia wish to not tell such stories. I identify as working class Polish American, though I am no longer Catholic. This identification wins me few adherents. My uncle, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel changed his name early on in his career with the Marines, which included fighting in the Pacific in World War II, from Kostrzewski to Koster to ensure commissions. I grew up with the knowledge that Poles were "other". Telling your story true may not be popular but how much we are in desperate need of these stories can be measured by the headlines. Christina Pacosz

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  8. Christina Pacosz, I am honored by your commenting here.

    I've come to know your work through the internet and it has enriched my life.

    I just read your poetic-historical essay, "A Great Deal of Doing: The Missouri Leadbelt Riot of 1917."

    I had never even heard of this riot before you introduced it to me.

    That says so much, doesn't it? I've been studying these matters for years and I had never heard of a riot that chased Bohunks out of their homes, right here in America.

    In addition to being informative, your essay is beautifully written. It reminds me of the best of Kerouac, with an added dose of social conscience.

    Reading your post, above, brought tears to my eyes. It upsets me to learn that a Polish publication ignored this contribution.

    I could tell the same story. I've been writing about us for decades ... the only overtly Polish journal to publish me is 2B. My other pieces about Poles and Slovaks and immigration and stereotypes have not appeared in Polish publications. Why not? I have no idea. I often get no replies to my submissions.

    What's going on? I don't know, but for things to get better, they've got to change.

    Thank you again, Christina Pacosz.

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  9. Danusha, I admire your courage in telling this story. I think that we need to keep doing the best work we can and encouraging other Polish Americans to not give up but instead to reach out to the academic community in general. I've gone to a lot of conferences of Polish American academics, and it seems they've given up. They've stopped talking to the larger Academic community and focus their attention on an isolated "ghetto" of Polish-American academics. They don't seem to realize that they are silencing themselves.

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  10. Droga Danusia

    No disagreement with anything you've said. In my mind, there is only one person in the US who has the stature to lead in a correction of the position Poles are placed .

    Dr. Brzezinski if he wanted to lead.
    Mika Brzezinska has a uniqe position enabling her to bring attention to this situation.

    Rysiek Kasprzak

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  11. I agree. I have only begun writing and already in my blog addressed some circumstances I have faced. This is the first article I wrote about it... http://polishmamaontheprairie.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-feet-in-two-worlds-brutally-honest.html
    I absolutely plan on writing more about it. It NEEDS to be addressed.
    I love your blog, your writing has always been clear, intelligent and not in any way anything other than truthful...

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  12. I agree with John. Giving up is not an option. But success is not a guarantee or even a given. Speaking truth to power has never been easy or rewarding. I long ago decided that pursuing an academic career in a unversity was not for me and hit the road a la Jack Kerouc, however belatedly. There's no money in it, but the memories of my experiences and my writing about them - and new ones, too - are what sustain me. Christina Pacosz

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  13. Rysiek, "if the people will lead, the leaders will follow."

    John, as ever, thank you for everything. If you feel so inspired, please share this link with other Polonians.

    Polish Mama, THANK YOU for being so brave as to write and post your essay. You and I have something in common: white rice. I remember my brother Mike trying to get me to eat it, when it was all we had to eat. Yech.

    Christina, I did both. I hitchhiked coast to coast alone. That's a whole 'nother story, a whole 'nother blog! :-)

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  14. :) I've begun writing guest posts adressing this as well, including being a foreign born mother. I also wrote about our trip to Poland for our honeymoon, how I even faced it from my own in-laws and even my husband a bit till he went. And saw. And learned.

    Maybe we can work together somehow on this. I would love to at least TRY to make a difference...

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  15. Danusha, you are a born memoirist. Your retelling of your academic struggles was insightful and moving. You seem like a very passionate and outspoken person. I often felt like an outsider in academe. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood but many of my professors were espousers of Marxism who came from upper-class backgrounds.
    --A few decades ago, a book called White Ethnic came out that argued what you are suggesting. The writer's last name was Novak. Anyone in academe remember this book?
    --The African American poet and playwright Nikki Giovanni has compared American slavery with serfdom under the Russian czars, saying that, in essence, they were no different. She caught a lot of flack for it.
    --The Lithuanian scholar and theoretician Violeta Kelertas has argued that the Baltics and Poland should be considered post-colonial nations according to Hommi Babha's criteria. I'll try to find the essay.
    Daiva

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  16. Polish Mama:

    "Maybe we can work together somehow on this. I would love to at least TRY to make a difference"

    That's what I wanna hear. That we at least try to do something. Thank you.

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  17. Daiva,

    "many of my professors were espousers of Marxism who came from upper-class backgrounds"

    So ironic, of course, because you are Lithuanian, and the Lithuanians suffered so badly under the Soviets.

    There were mass deportations of Lithuanians. I don't know the exact numbers.

    Daiva, are you talking about Michael Novak? I've tried to contact him over the years; he never writes back. This upsets me. I'll try again. I'll send him the link to this blog post.

    I didn't know about Niki Giovanni's statement, and I'm glad to learn of it.

    I agree with Violeta Kelertas. I'm reading your book now and reading all these Lithanian names. Bending my brain!

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  18. Thank you. I have linked to this on my own blog (to be published tomorrow).

    I sense that I was fortunate to be a working-class son of Irish immigrants at university in the 1950s, before America began to obsess about certain designated minorities. We were all minorities then, and we got along just fine. As for grants, there were few, but then the tuition was $125 a semester. I graduated with more money in the bank than I had when I enrolled.

    Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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  19. There has to be a Millionaire, Polish or not, who sees the need to fund individuals who work full-time @ addressing these issues. Try Ed Roski. My philosphy is to alwayas approach issues from a place of strength and dignity.

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  20. A friend emailed me a comment and I asked the friend if I might share it here. The friend said yes, if I removed identifying details. I did so. The comment:

    What you write is frightening. I recall our Polish friends, M– and E– W–, whom my sister introduced me to at [name of Ivy League university].

    M– was a Fulbright scholar from Poland. He was terribly disappointed in the lack of true discussion in American academia. He was continually frustrated by political correctness.

    It is hard to believe what you have lived through in academia except for the fact that I recognize it for the truth.

    My sister is teaching at [name of large university] and is astounded by the contempt with which certain students (in this case, students from [name of country]) are treated.

    You are a truth-seeker. Possibly most American institutions of learning have no place for truth-seekers. I perceive it even in the high school where I work. It is that much more to your credit that you continue to speak your voice though I realize that life is more difficult then.

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  21. This is definitely not a lost cause. My goal is to get every Pole and every other group together in a NATO like coalition to promote and improve the image of Poles and Polish Americans. I am writing a letter today to try and get funding so we can work on this full-time. There will be no negativity or complaining. We will operate under the assumption that the Poles are a sophisticated and noble people and that if everyone knew the truth, we would all be loved. I am composing a letter today to get funding so we can work on these issues full-time.

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  22. I received another comment from a poster who chooses to remain anonymous:

    I went to the institutional research people on campus and was told that non-traditional students not only have the worst graduation rates (abysmal), they have the least systemic support in college.

    Reading your blog settled a few things into place for me after that. Non-trads may not all be white ethnic working class, but absolutely my being of that background is what made me a non-trad, *and* what made me choose the more difficult path at every fork in the road once I started.

    Your blog entry and the comments mention not only non-trads but non-non-trads or non-starters & dropouts (or lay-lows, a kind of functioning dropout - the intellectual walking dead).

    When "working class" is a label (spoken or unspoken!) you cling to at all personal cost (because other options might make you describable as a "welfare case"), then you and everyone you meet - unconsciously or consciously, it doesn't matter exactly how because the result is the same - transform whatever institution you are at into a voc-ed or trade/tech college.

    You don't realize you're in a voc-ed bubble, because even those who see it will not point it out - never mind pop it.

    It's not just Polish people. As you say, I have white ethnic working class in my courses (including this semester, in which one student told me that she is treated as if she has no culture because she's Irish, so we can't leave them off our list yet!), where will I come across them when I can no longer teach these courses?

    They will be the first to opt out of them to save money and time. Whose interests are served by that happening is the rhetorical question we two don't have to ask. How to act before this upcoming Fall semester is over is the question we have to start asking now.

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  23. I received a very dynamic message from Marie Ciliberti, who gave me permission to repost it here:

    Well, if anything, this is a call to action. And I'm an action person by heritage and by choice. As you aptly put it, we can talk and talk but that doesn't improve the situation or effect change. That will only come from concerted action and motivating people who feel the same as you or I do.

    Where is Polonia in all this? Where are the organizations who will help fight overt discrimination? Polish-American Congress? Have you appealed to them? Chicago has the wealthy and profitable Polish Roman Catholic Union which issues a Polish & English newspaper.

    Perhaps, it's time for a Polish Anti-Defamation League similar to the Italian anti-Defamation League and the Italian Civil Rights group formed in the 1960's. Talks with those groups and learning their techniques could be profitable.

    With TV shows like the Sopranos and Jersey Shore, Italian-Americans are constantly demonized and portrayed as big-mouthed, violent knuckle-draggers. The Italians have NIAF, the National Italian-American Foundation (check it out on FB) which gives scholarships to deserving Italian-American young people.

    Each year, they have a banquet at the Hilton with more than 3000 Italians from across the country at which they honor Italian-Americans who have enriched our culture in the arts (DeNiro, Pacino, Scorcese, Pavarotti et al) finance – the head of the NY stock exchange & CEOs from all kinds of businesses, politics. There is always extensive press coverage. The money they make from this national event and the many regional ones goes for scholarships to fund students.

    In addition to the banquet, they have workshops and demonstrations of Italian cooking and books by prominent authors, concerts, a whole variety of events. There's also a youth NIAF group many of whom study the language that their parents forgot and are taught to exult in their heritage. This is an example that Polonia should emulate.

    Many of the Polish churches which had parish schools that fostered ethnic pride in the Polish heritage are no more so another focal point must be found. There's a John Paul II Center here in DC. Could they be approached? And if all efforts fail to enlist support, I would advise starting a group of your own.

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  24. Marie Ciliberti's message, continued:

    Among the anecdotes you posted, there were many young people that would join such a movement where they wouldn't have to hide their Polish identity. During the Cold War, I remember going to a synagogue gathered for the purpose of focusing attention on the plight of Soviet Jewry. Mayor Koch spoke. A movie was shown. As we exited, we were asked to sign a postcard to the attention of the Moscow prosecutor regarding the plight of Soviet Jews. Hundreds signed and this was repeated in other synagogues. A great political action vehicle which deserves admiration. Jewish people have their own Yeshiva schools here in this county where again, their young are taught to have pride in their ethnic identity.

    The chronicle of events you experienced in academia are quite disturbing. In giving one negative event after another, I know what you were doing in painting such a dark picture but it may have been more effective if you had mentioned the bright spots, the food bank that sustained you, the professor who did help you, the kindnesses you received that mitigated the elitist, unbelievably cruel treatment that you and others were subjected to.

    What about the law in all this? Did you seek recourse under Title VII, discrimination on the basis of national origin or religion? Was there no recourse through the teachers' union? Federal law is supposed to prevent such things.

    Now that the elites are busy savaging the Tea Party as the knuckle-dragging ogres and despoilers of American society may be the perfect time to form a Polish Pride Society as their attention is diverted by the prospect of middle America rising.

    Judging by the comments on your blog entry, the time may be ripe for the establishment of counter-measures.

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  25. Replies to Marie's questions.

    Over the years I've sent several messages to various Polish groups, including KF, PAC, and embassies, and also big name professors, both Polish and Slovak (I'm half Slovak) and I've either gotten no replies or negative replies. In other words, there is either no response at all, or a response saying no to anything I ask.

    I find this dispiriting and for that reason I have not pursued it further.

    About the law -- it was my friend Simon Stern (who now teaches at Toronto) that I sue IU when my committee withdrew my permission, but, as the anecdote above describes, in the end it was not necessary to sue.

    Lawsuits in the academy don't work, I don't think. Everything is based on personal relationships. Your committee provides you with letters of reference when you go on the job search. If you sue them, that creates ill will.

    Some other way must be found to generate respect in the academy for blue collar ethnic Christians and their concerns.

    You ask if we should form a new organization. Yes, I think we should. There should be an organization that is committed to all of Polonia, not just the szlachta aspects -- balls, Chopin concerts. I'm sure these are good things, but we need an organization that embraces working class Poles and descendants of peasants, as well as upper class Poles.

    And we need an organization focused on the future as well as the past. I think of my young Polish American students now, and their needs. They have a different story, and we need to hear them, and meet their needs.

    Yes, I agree that we should learn from other groups. I think every American should watch "Eyes on the Prize" about the Civil Rights movement. African Americans can teach us much about organizing for change.

    Yes, I acknowledge that my post is quite negative. I promise you, I had no idea the post would get that long. I thought I had one or two anecdotes to tell -- but events just kept tumbling out of my memory. And I thought, heck, if I'm going in for a penny, I'm going in for a pound. Believe it or not, there are many stories I did not tell.

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  26. I had a roommate in college with mixed blood -- Vietnamese mother and white American dad (GI). At University, he tried to join a minority club and learned
    a) Not enough minority blood.
    b) Not the correct minority.

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  27. Denise Jachimowicz CoughlinMarch 21, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    Danusha, It's a great article. Thanks for being so passionate about your work. You are a wonderful writer and a profound thinker who speaks for so many Polish Americans. The only advice I can give is that you must keep doing what you are doing. As time goes on you will garner more and more support from the Polish-American Community with great articles such as this one. For me bringing this subject to light has been very emotionally draining at times. It is a great comfort to know there are othere who are at work helping to dispell misinformation and are beginning to stand together in Solidarity. This is a large step towards gaining more recognition and validation for Polish Americans and their families and is a tremendous step in changing the way the world views Polish hisory. I believe as more people study Communist history a greater understanding of the plight of Poles and the complexities of their situation will allow a more enthusiastic acceptance and representation for them in the academic community. Once again thank you for all your great work.

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  28. Denise, thank you for your post. I hope you don't let that feeling of being emotionally drained get you down. Take care to feed yourself as well. Reading stories of inspirational heroes helps! And know that your book, "Dragon in My Pocket," touches children.

    Here's your page: http://www.denisecoughlin.com/books.htm

    Here's the Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0976590506/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=5920443149&ref=pd_sl_6o2xus9pu_e

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  29. Anonymous, thank you for your comment about the discriminating fraternity.

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  30. A blog reader sent this interesting link:

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2006/08/novak-the-rise-of-unmeltable-e

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  31. Danusha, thank you for your blog entries and for your passionate call for history to be re-written, corrected--and for Poles to be exonerated from certain perceptions and attacks, claims (most notably in regard to the Holocaust).

    I did not see the "whole picture" of how Poland and the Polish have been treated over the last hundred years until I did extensive research to write Maps and Shadows, which (as you know)tells the story of my father's family's deportation to Siberia in 1940 and the aftermath. Some books, out of print, were handed to me by my aunt. Aquila Polonica is working hard to get many out of print books back into print so that Polish history is represented and available. I am grateful that I wrote the book so that others may know the history, the true story of how the Poles were treated as individuals and as a group.

    The issues of diversity, affirmative action, and liberalism in this country are very complex, yet unfortunately too often are simplified, watered down. In the academy and the business world, I have seen non-whites given entry, financial aid, promotions, etc. As you mention, many of these non-whites come from financially-stable, even affluent, families while lower class whites are perceived as still having doors open for them. When I taught at City College, during a discussion on affirmative action, one of my students said, "But you always get the job." I know for a fact that I would have a very different job right now if I were considered a minority (and I know that this is politically incorrect to say).

    I realize that racism is still rampant in this country and globally and that skin color is a visual marker and also a box to check on self-identify forms when applying for grants and jobs. However, identity, background, and the chance for opportunties or lack thereof are much more complicated.

    You are doing excellent work. History is written by people. We need more people to speak, to care, to be engaged in correcting erroneous perceptions and beliefs. We are all human. All of our stories are valuable. No one voice should be priviledged above another.

    I want my book Maps and Shadows to find readers, to sell, so that more people can realize how Poland was treated during and after WWII--not just by Stalin and Hitler-- but also by England and the United States. Yes, it was all very complicated. People need to know about all of the complexities and the reality of what really happened and why.

    In the twenty-first century there is almost too much information and yet not enough truth. The stories we leave behind will be the stories read by future generations. We can't let false accounts remain as the truth--or the absence of any accounts.
    As others have commented, thank you for your passion and energy,
    Krysia Jopek

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  32. Krysia Jopek, author of "Maps and Shadows," attempted to post the message, below, here, but for some reason it is not visible. I'm posting Krysia's intriguing message again:

    Danusha, thank you for your blog entries and for your passionate call for history to be re-written, corrected--and for Poles to be exonerated from certain perceptions and attacks, claims (most notably in regard to the Holocaust).

    I did not see the "whole picture" of how Poland and the Polish have been treated over the last hundred years until I did extensive research to write Maps and Shadows, which (as you know)tells the story of my father's family's deportation to Siberia in 1940 and the aftermath. Some books, out of print, were handed to me by my aunt. Aquila Polonica is working hard to get many out of print books back into print so that Polish history is represented and available. I am grateful that I wrote the book so that others may know the history, the true story of how the Poles were treated as individuals and as a group.

    The issues of diversity, affirmative action, and liberalism in this country are very complex, yet unfortunately too often are simplified, watered down. In the academy and the business world, I have seen non-whites given entry, financial aid, promotions, etc. As you mention, many of these non-whites come from financially-stable, even affluent, families while lower class whites are perceived as still having doors open for them. When I taught at City College, during a discussion on affirmative action, one of my students said, "But you always get the job." I know for a fact that I would have a very different job right now if I were considered a minority (and I know that this is politically incorrect to say).

    I realize that racism is still rampant in this country and globally and that skin color is a visual marker and also a box to check on self-identify forms when applying for grants and jobs. However, identity, background, and the chance for opportunties or lack thereof are much more complicated.

    You are doing excellent work. History is written by people. We need more people to speak, to care, to be engaged in correcting erroneous perceptions and beliefs. We are all human. All of our stories are valuable. No one voice should be priviledged above another.

    I want my book Maps and Shadows to find readers, to sell, so that more people can realize how Poland was treated during and after WWII--not just by Stalin and Hitler-- but also by England and the United States. Yes, it was all very complicated. People need to know about all of the complexities and the reality of what really happened and why.

    In the twenty-first century there is almost too much information and yet not enough truth. The stories we leave behind will be the stories read by future generations. We can't let false accounts remain as the truth--or the absence of any accounts.

    As others have commented, thank you for your passion and energy,

    Krysia Jopek

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  33. Krysia Jopek, I want "Maps and Shadows" to sell, too.

    I want Aquila Polonica to turn a profit.

    I want John Guzlowski's "Lightning and Ashes" to sell.

    I want "Bieganski" to sell!

    I want publishers to say "Yes!" to socially conscious Polonian writers.

    Here's the snag, though -- we have to get our books on syllabi.

    We must.

    Till we do that, we are just spinning our wheels.

    We need to unite, support each other, and act.

    I'm ready.

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  34. Danusha, you are absolutely right.
    Count me in!
    Krysia Jopek

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  35. Thank you for your work and persistence. I have kids going to be going to college. With Polish surnames they are visibly Polish.

    Are the humanities, being culture bound, far worse than the physical or biological sciences for this kind of stuff?
    Same question for business, or mathematics or computer science.

    I would guess that the humanities are far worse, pretensions of the hums to great cultural sensitivity and social enlightenment notwithstanding.

    Do you think your dean, in the tale above, would have acted the same if you had no visible record of social activism, particularly with one of the university approved - (I think the apparatchik word is "suspect classes") - social groups, in this case, gay?

    Why was your dean so accommodating?

    Would it be good for Polish Americans within the university Beast to adopt some from of camouflage, to deflect the "working class slob, bigots, racists, drunks, anti-Semites" stereotype and suspicion? Say, environmental activism, Buddhism, being a vegetarian, etc.
    Something to deflect the Bieganski label, but not fall victim to thought and action control by jumping on their "suspect classes" bandwagon?

    How does Bieganski play out for males vs. females in the university setting?

    Nemo

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  36. I have another question. Is the kind of interaction you are describing here mostly a phenomenon at the graduate student level?

    I would guess that it is, because if they are going to sanctify you with a higher degree, you need to be thoroughly vetted and interrogated before they give you a higher degree with its greater credibility, and paycheck (one hopes).

    Are undergraduates then not really prepared to face and deal with this kind of thing? Does a more benign undergraduate experience set them up to be blindsided when they encounter the apparatchiks at the graduate levels?

    anyone?

    Nemo

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  37. Nemo, you ask if the sciences are less susceptible to the hostility, described above, than the humanities.

    I've not done a thorough study of the question, but, from what I know, the answer is "Yes."

    I once approached a Bohunk in the sciences on these matters, and he thought I was delusional, from the moon. He'd experienced no problems associated with his ethnicity or class. Even when confronted with hard numbers such as those provided by Espenshade and Radford, he was dubious. I think he was a chemist.

    OTOH, I can't say I've ever approached anyone in the humanities about this matters and not gotten a big "Amen." Everyone knows it's going on.

    One WASP professor told me that an applicant to his department, English, was turned down because he was "too male."

    Others have told me of not being able to hire good people because the powers that be let them know that they had to hire members of very specifically delineated ethnic groups. They hire as they are told, and end up with colleagues who are incompetent and whom no one likes. But if they breathe a word of complaint, they are racist/sexist, etc.

    The weird part is I think I've talked to one person who thinks things haven't gone too far – in other words, people who are the most left-wing and multiculti (as the academy defines multiculti) in public say in private that things have gone too far.

    My guess is – and I can't prove this – that the dean helped me because he had encountered my name in the media and he decided that no one was going to mess with this local voice for gay rights. I think he may either have been gay or, like me, sympathetic to gay rights. And he made a snap decision, before I could say much of anything. If I hadn't had that record, I'm sure I would have at least had to explain myself, and then who knows what would have happened.

    An added part of that story – Simon advised me to go to the ACLU. I contacted them via e-mail and was told that they protect only people who are discriminated against, and no one discriminates against Poles. I wish I had saved that e-mail, but I can't find it.

    I don't agree with the camouflage approach, but that's what most people, not just Poles, do. That's what males do when they are told that they are oppressors, and that's what white kids do when they are told that "white poverty does not matter." I think that that camo strategy has got to stop, and people have got to change this.

    The males v. females question is interesting, and I don't know the answer.

    No, this is not just about grad school. Again, look at Espenshade and Radford's numbers. This is very much about undergrad.

    No, undergraduates are not prepared to face this kind of thing. I could tell you stories about undergrad! About one of my profs sitting on her desk and teaching us James Joyce by telling us that she found Catholicism disgusting, oppressive, offensive (she was a devout Protestant!). I would have to guess that every kid in that class was Catholic – this was a very blue collar campus – and not a single one of us knew what to say. We sat there, silently, being insulted and humiliated. Honestly, I love this professor. I think she's a great person. I think what she said was vile.

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  38. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    "The weird part is I think I've talked to one person who thinks things haven't gone too far – in other words, people who are the most left-wing and multiculti (as the academy defines multiculti) in public say in private that things have gone too far. "

    I don't understand the above, would you rephrase?

    "We sat there, silently, being insulted and humiliated. Honestly, I love this professor. I think she's a great person. I think what she said was vile."

    They say you know a tree by its fruit. Doesn't the above feel like sidling up to the back side of an elephant?

    My point about undergrads is that I suspect that they will not encounter the to the left, to the right, aspect of the adacemic selekcja until they are post grads, and by the time they figure out what is going on, it's all over.

    Nemo

    ReplyDelete
  39. Reviewing your experiences in academia, have you devised any criteria to predict in advance, without prior testing of them, which academics are most likely to be Bohunkophobic? Which departments, colleges likewise?
    the presence of a critical mass of any particular social group within a department? their spouses/partners?

    do their personal publications predict it? their co-authors? their ethnic or religious background? their general political attitudes? the cars they drive? the vacations they take? the books on the shelves of their personal libraries? their past political and social activism?

    Nemo

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hi, a quick answer -- I'm sort of the poster child for Bohunkophobia because I'm Catholic -- a devout Christian -- working class, and Polish with an obviously Polish name, and both my parents were peasants in the Old Country and manual laborers here.

    So, I have no saving graces -- no white collar, no atheism, no WASP name to protect me.

    I think being an atheist, who openly laughs at the Judeo Christian tradition, really helps in academia. As does being white collar.

    As for allies -- it is as it always is when it comes to the trenches. Men who have been in combat tell you you can never tell in advance who your allies will be.

    Alan Dundes turned into a great ally to me. He's Polish Jewish, not religious, told Polish jokes in class, made disparaging comments -- but he was impressed by my work, and became an ally and supporter.

    Another person, whose name I won't mention here (to protect the person) has supported me greatly, though she is agnostic, and very, very far left and into the whole multiculturalism / diversity thing.

    OTOH, I have some hairraising stories to tell about people who share my ethnicity. One of America's most prominent Polish American scholars, whom I knew personally (I was uncomfortably on the scene for one of his extramarital affairs) would not lift a finger to respond to me in any way. Even when it came to something so simple as asking him a brief question about a citation. I could tell more stories like that about Pole on Pole action.

    In another post on this blog, "Light Shines in Darkness," I talk about one of my biggest, most valuable supporters -- a Rabbi.

    Really, you can never tell till you are in the trenches.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Thank you. Your dissertation story seemed a bit hair-raising, with you putting in the work, and then having them nearly nix your project at the last minute. I was hoping there would be a way to avoid such near misses. It sounds like the quality of personal relationships has much to do with it, from your above. Nemo

    ReplyDelete
  42. I appreciate all of the comments. I have heard them all my life as well. I think my Polish ethnicity has caused problems for me as well, though my name is not obviously Polish. It is unfortunate that this continues.

    ReplyDelete

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