Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Memoir of a Polish-American Cleaning Woman & "White Privilege"

Polish and other Bohunk-Americans are in a bind. We are Bieganski the Brute, but we are also classified as "white," and as enjoying "white privilege." It's a particularly vicious bind, very well described by Mary Grabar in her essay, "Yes, We Are Bitter."

Recently I published "Green Vase" about my experiences as a cleaning woman, like thousands of other Polish and other Bohunk American cleaning women. In the essay, I describe being falsely accused of stealing something. 

Jennifer Swift-Kramer, my fellow professor, mentioned to me that my experience defies Politically Correct guidelines. Poor but white. A cleaning woman. Accused of stealing. This can't happen -- whites enjoy "White Privilege" and are never accused of stealing at the workplace; only "people of color" are. Check out Peggy McIntosh's essay "The Invisible Knapsack."

And please read "Green Vase" here


  1. It is certainly true that being accused of stealing is not solely the lot of black cleaning women. Perhaps the vulnerability of cleaning women of ALL nationalities to such accusations stems in part from the perceived lowliness of the occupation, and in part because cleaning women have unsupervised access to the belongings of the persons who have hired her to clean their house. The same considerations apply to personal possessions in hotel rooms.

    When I was much younger, we had a cleaning woman--a Pole like us. One day, some non-valuable object disappeared. We were in an uncomfortable situation. Who else but her could possibly have stolen it? On the other hand, it would have been out of character for her to do such a thing, and of course we had no proof to support any such suspicion.

    So we said nothing. Fortunately, some time later, the object turned up. It turned out that she had relocated and misplaced it during the cleaning process. We were more relieved that our trust had not been betrayed after all than we were to effectively have the object back again.


    This is particularly stunning - and for two reasons. On the surface, it seems like typical right-wing prejudice against the other. But once we know that mr Boot is Russian, it's an entirely different kind of prejudice - "all Slavs are like us"


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