Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bieganski on WNYC, New York City's NPR Affiliate Radio Station

Laura R. Walker, President and CEO of WNYC
"Bieganski, The Brute Polak Stereotype: Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture" describes a pervasive, and entirely socially acceptable, stereotype in Western culture. This stereotype is not just of Poles, but of all Eastern European, Christian, peasant-descent populations: Lithuanians, Poles, Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians, Yugoslavs.

This stereotype is the common cultural property of all groups in the West. Some Polish-Americans and even some published scholars attempt to scapegoat Jews as responsible for this stereotype. That scapegoating is factually false, morally wrong, and an embarrassment to Polonia. "Bieganski" details example after example of the Bieganski stereotype. A minority can be attributed to Jews. As someone who has worked on this issue for over twenty years, I can state without reservation that Jews are among those first in line to fight this stereotype with effective action.

In "Bieganski," I talk about an ad that WFIU, Bloomington, Indiana's, National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate radio station, used to run during their fundraising drives. In the ad, a demented Polish man attempted to take over WFIU and play nothing but polka music. Listeners were encouraged to donate to the station in order to fend off that horrible fate.

This morning, May 22, 2012, I was working at my desk, listening to WNYC, New York City's NPR affiliate. WNYC is now conducting a fund-drive. One of their fundraising ads asked listeners to contemplate what prize they would like to win. Perhaps they would like to win a trip to magnificent, seductive Hawaii. Sound effects played up this delicious fantasy. Then, though, the listener was invited to consider a much less valuable prize: a trip to Pennsylvania, America's polka capital. Sound effects, including the sound of polka music, were used to emphasize the horror of winning this prize.

National Public Radio fashions itself as the righteous alternative, the source and supporter of all things virtuous – Political Correctness, Tolerance, Multiculturalism. It fashions itself as the enemy of all big, bad things: racism, sexism, otherism.

We are all used to that. We Bohunks are used to being the people it is okay to hate and mock, even among people so holy that their own feet don't stink.

Of course I thought of the very righteous Barack Obama's notorious mention, to rich supporters in San Francisco, of the "bitter clingers" – the working class, white ethnics he so dreaded encountering in Pennsylvania, home to many Poles, Slovaks, and other Bohunks whose ancestors mined coal, forged steel, and danced polkas in towns like Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Allentown.

So what. Who cares. So empowered, virtuous guardians of Political Correctness make fun of Polaks and other Bohunks. What difference does it make?

"Bieganski" argues that it makes a very big difference. But you'd have to read the book to find out.

Meanwhile, what is Polonia doing? Nothing. Because in Polonia there is a Crisis of Leadership, Organization, and Vision. So I will feel this moment of discomfort of another unexpected encounter with the Bieganski stereotype, and wonder when, if ever, Polonia will take effective action. 

16 comments:

  1. The stereotype is so alive and well the editor of a local press recently returned my essay excerpt about a journey I took to Haiti in 1987 to seek out at least one village where Polish Legionnaires settled after the revolution at the invitation of Dessalines by saying she had been to Poland, too, and how colorful it all was. On the very first page it states I am in Port-au-Prince and the less than 2,000 word essay makes it extremely clear why I am there. So I did the unthinkable in the lit world and responded by replying that I would be very careful about sending them any work in the future since it appeared they were NOT giving my work an accurate read. Apparently I am the stereotyped Bohunk in Kansas City.

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  2. As readers know I was stricken with a serious illness while a graduate student at Indiana University.

    In those days, I sent out creative writing on two themes: creative writing about being Bohunk American, and creative writing about chronic illness.

    The writing I sent out about illness was always treated with more respect than any writing I did on being Bohunk.

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  3. My dad (a fighter against bigotry)had always said that although the Polish-Americans had made great progress in ending overt bigotry against them, what remained as an obstacle was discrimination by exclusion. He thought that since Jews ran much of upper lever management and ownership of media, etc. and although it was a minority of Jews, it was enough to impact Poles negatively.

    I am reading a book about the great Polish-American baseball player, Stan Musial. Although the sports enthusiast of his day and baseball experts rank him above players like Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams, he was excluded twice in the two most famous polls of the greatest baseball players of all times whereas Mantle and Williams where included. I couldn’t help but note that a Jew, Sandy Koufax made it to #2 and even in the top 50 athletes of all time. I’m beginning to do the research and wondering if this is what Dad used to talk about? I know this to be true for example with Col. Francis Gabreski, the greatest American air ace who was excluded from the Greatest American Air Aces Series. I’d come to find out that the producers wanted to include him, but the two top studio execs vetoed them. When I spoke w Hoot Gibson, the Top Air Ace in the Series, he told me that I was wrong and that it would have been impossible to exclude Gabreski, but they did.

    What do you think about this? Especially the Stan Musial story? I’m just beginning my research.

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  4. Anonymous, thank you for your post. You wrote:

    "since Jews ran much of upper lever management and ownership of media, etc. and although it was a minority of Jews, it was enough to impact Poles negatively."

    Questions for you. I'd be really interested in your replies.

    Do you think that all Jews work against all Polish people all the time?

    Do think that that is the only factor having any impact on Polish people?

    Have you read "Bieganski"?

    Did you read the blog post "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision"?

    If your answer to the previous two questions is yes, then what are you doing about any of this?

    I've been working on these issues for decades. Much of my experience and opinions are to be found in the above-cited works, which I hope you read.

    It's hard for me to summarize everything I've written in these other sources here, and I am not enough of a baseball fan to comment on how players are commemorated, but I can ask this rhetorical question -- what has Polonia done to advance Stan Musial?

    If Polonia is not working to commemorate Musial, if Polonia is not working to commemorate Gabreski, if Polonia is not working on the Bieganski stereotype, how can members of any other group be held responsible? Is that rational? Is that fair?

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  5. Do you think that all Jews work against all Polish people all the time?

    Of course not

    Do think that that is the only factor having any impact on Polish people?

    Of course not

    Have you read "Bieganski"?

    My partner in anti defamation and I have not only read Bieganski, but he buys many copies and I give them away to people I feel need to know about this issue

    Did you read the blog post "The Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision"?

    Not yet. That will wait for tomorrow. I wrote you initially to get your views to help me in my analysis of the “Bigotry by Exclusion” thesis

    If your answer to the previous two questions is yes, then what are you doing about any of this?

    I’m doing a lot and having good success. Whenever I am notified of a Polish Defamation issue, I, as I am doing now with Musial and Gabreski, do the research and converse with fair and intelligent people like you and then I act.

    If Polonia is not working to commemorate Musial, if Polonia is not working to commemorate Gabreski, if Polonia is not working on the Bieganski stereotype, how can members of any other group be held responsible? Is that rational? Is that fair?

    I think Poles, like any other group are interested in being treated fairly. They are however up against a few people of influence and money who are more interested in keeping the flames of hate burning than having and honest open dialogue. As far as the other ethnic group, in this case a certain segment of the Jewish population, my experience is when you shine a light on them; they usually get the message and then decide to be fair and open-minded.

    In the case of Musial and many, many other overlooked people of Polish heritage; it’s fair, rational and needs to be addressed. If Musial was one of the best, his skill and efforts should not allowed to be marginalized by people who carry grudges for things committed against distant members of their tribe some many years ago, things either real or imagined. To allow heroes of Polish heritage to be forgotten and otherwise defamed, sets a dangerous precedent and is most damaging for future generations. I think, thanks to people like my father, things have gotten much better for the Poles. But we need to maintain our vigilance because there are still bigoted and malicious forces at work who don’t want to risk coming out in the open to make you appear as a dumb, brute, sub-human Polack, they will just see to it that no Pole is honored. This is an evil that needs to be opposed. In the case of the perfect gentleman Musial (if my research finds that he was intentionally overlooked like Gabreski); this just has to be opposed by people of any nationality who are fair and just, even if it seems that Poles are complacent

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    1. Hi, anonymous.

      I'm glad you don't think that all Jews work against all Poles all the time.

      That being the case, why assume that Jews are somehow responsible for any disrespect that has been shown Stan Musial? I mean, why did you even go there? Real question. I don't understand.

      THANK YOU for reading Bieganski and giving copies away.

      I'll tell you why I ask. Often people talk about stuff that I've covered in the book, or on the blog, and I don't think it's helpful to restate what's already been stated.

      Given that you've read the book, you know that I address the "Jews are out to get Poles" question in the introduction of the book, and also in the chapter on the establishment of the Bieganski stereotype in America chapter.

      What Polonia must do in response to Bieganski is outlined in the blog posts on the Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision.

      My comments on your theory of Bigotry by Exclusion are pretty much covered in "Bieganski" the book and in the Crisis blog posts.

      Anonymous, you wrote:

      Poles and Polish-Americans "are however up against a few people of influence and money who are more interested in keeping the flames of hate burning than having and honest open dialogue."

      That's life.

      As I mention in previous posts. I live among one of America's largest Muslim populations. There are many people who have huge problems with Muslims. And you know what? Muslims have organized to the point where they exert pressure on what the FBI can say during terror trainings, and what the mayor of NYC says about the Ground Zero Mosque, and who the governor of NJ appoints to the court. Muslims have not let criticism of their religion stop them. They have gained power in a very short period of time. That Polonia has not done anything like this is a reflection on Polonia.

      Again, I've been on the front lines of this issue for over twenty years. I'm the only person who has published a scholarly book about this topic. I see how Polonia comports itself. That's what the series of blog posts on the Crisis in Polonian Leadership, Organization, and Vision is all about.

      We will not be successful till we change. We can't look to others. Looking to others is a waste of energy and time.

      Anonymous, you wrote: "If Musial was one of the best, his skill and efforts should not allowed to be marginalized by people who carry grudges for things committed against distant members of their tribe some many years ago, things either real or imagined."

      You really seem to be suggesting, in the quote, above, the Jews are responsible for causing some harm to the memory of Stan Musial. I don't find that plausible. If you have evidence to support your belief, please present it.

      If Polonia wants to honor Stan Musial, Polonia can and should do so. Period.

      Abandon this insistence on Jews harming Poles. Do what needs doing. That is the best use of your energy.

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    2. The issue is Slavic ancestry. One thing General Gabreski and I both faced on active duty in the U.S.A.F. His career in the 1950--60; mine starting 1970 and now with the Veterans Administration.

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  6. I have long felt that it has seemed acceptable to make negative statements about Poles and other East Europeans. I think we need to push for movies, etc., about Polish heroes. Today at lunch I saw something about the Tuskegee airmen. (They are great and also fought discrimination.) I thought immediately that we should have a movie about the 303 Squadron. Perhaps it could show Gabreski learning from them.

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  7. Dr. Goska wrote: "We Bohunks are used to being the people it is okay to hate and mock, even among people so holy that their own feet don't stink."

    Absolutely hilarious! And so true.

    It is also true that Poles do not promote the likes of Stan Musial or Col. Francis Gabreski. However, Poles have done a fair amount of work to promote the heroics of the Polish airmen of the 1940 Battle of Britain. However, there STILL is a great deal of foot-dragging, among Britons and others, to recognize the pivotal role of the Polish heroes. So obviously, Polish apathy cannot be the main factor in Poles being neglected. For more on this relative to the Battle of Britain, please click on my name specifically in this posting.

    Other things Poles achieve gets undone. For instance, Poles had struggled long to get Pulaski Day recognized as a state holiday in Illinois. Now the plan, sponsored by Chicago's newest Mayor, Jewish-American Rahm Emmanuel, is to stop Chicago Public Schools from closing in honor of Pulaski Day. Is the Mayor's Jewish background relevant or this matter or not?

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  8. No, I dont believe that Emmanuel could be that overtly anti-Polish. I think he's looking for ways to balance the budget. I will look into it. It's an interesting question whether or not, as my dad used to think, that people like Emmanuel and his staff think Poles are an easy target.

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  9. I see that Emmanuel only wants the Kids in school. It's not anti-Polish. What we should push for is that on Pulaski Day, the Kids are given a lesson in the life and times of Gen. Pulaski and perhaps other Polish heroes. But, dont cancel the parade and other festivities.

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    1. If Emmanuel only wants kids in school, then why must Pulaski Day be the one to get the axe? And, yes, unfortunately, Poles have let themselves become an easy target.

      Emmanuel may not be exactly anti-Polish, but he has had run-ins with Poles beginning with his campaign long ago against Ms. Kasich (sp?). He had the gall to call her an anti-Semite for questioning his fitness for the job considering the amount of time he was spending in Israel.

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    2. He also wants to shut down the Coloumbus Day parade. The antisemite charge is currently the go-to-guy for an effective way of side-tracking an issue and discrediting your opponent

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  10. Peter RechniewskiMay 23, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    One other factor should not be overlooked and that is virulent anti-Catholicism. It began to raise its ugly head in the early part of the 19th century as migrants from Catholic European countries began to arrive in the US in ever greater numbers. It continued well into the last century and is probably still quite strong in sections of the population.

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  11. At the moment Muslims have official PC-protection - which I do not grudge to them in the least - but wouldn't things be very different for them if "the world" decides to withdraw it?

    Its so easy to sabotage any group, any organisation, at the leadership level, and set people against each other.

    And us Polonians know only too well how effective a steady campaign of vilification can be - especially if it is run by the most powerful media and academe in the world.

    My point being that I think "the world" could put any group into the "negative PC protection" spot, and they would find it really tough to deal with.

    I think that American Polonians, like yourself, John the Poet and so many others, have done and are doing very well in coping with it all.

    Thankfully our Creator, Jehovah, the God of Abraham, does not ask us to take on "the world" - the current world system of things. He asks us to be "no part" of it - to take no part in its wars and its politics, or in its religions.

    "Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.  Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever." - 1 John 2:15-17

    The world - this current system of things upon the earth - is going to be destroyed. We must stand clear of it, if we want to remain forever - to "inherit the earth", as Jesus promised.

    By the way, isn't the expression "the showy display of ones mean's of life" a perfect definition of the designer-label culture we live in?

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  12. You write:

    "And you know what? Muslims have organized to the point where they exert pressure on what the FBI can say during terror trainings, and what the mayor of NYC says about the Ground Zero Mosque, and who the governor of NJ appoints to the court. Muslims have not let criticism of their religion stop them. They have gained power in a very short period of time. That Polonia has not done anything like this is a reflection on Polonia."

    I am not sure that this is the model to imitate. If America has indeed been fracturing--for complex reasons--into ethnic power groups, do we really want to be part of this conflict? Is the prize here really worth winning?

    This question has a personal dimension for me. I have a doctorate from a good American university. My specialization is 19th century literature--the novel, in England and in France. I believe in a close, respectful reading of texts. Such an approach has not recently been, to put it mildly, ascendant in academia. Literary studies have become politicized, used and abused as a tool in struggles defined by ethnicity, gender, and class. This is commonly known. My choice has been to attempt to break into the system, or to find a different way. And I have found it hard to imagine a successful career in American academia under the present circumstances. To be the token European white male in a department where half of my colleagues are hostile to my history and values, and where an unguarded politically incorrect comment or joke (like in Kundera's eponymous novel) will land me in front of a disciplinary board? To join the academic publishing mills, and worse than "publish or perish," when we know that even a track record of serious publication does not guarantee in any way a tenure-track position?

    To my mind, the political system in America, and concomitantly also academia, has become so flawed and so deeply defective that sooner or later it will collapse under the strain of its own contradictions--to echo a Marxist slogan, ironically. With rising student debt and unemployment among graduates of various ethnic and cultural studies departments, it is only a matter of time before academia as we know it undergoes a painful process of correction.

    To place my question in a larger context, it seems to me that the general anguished tone concerning the woeful state of American Polonia is misplaced. There are important questions here, but they are not the crucial, the fundamental questions. The fundamental question is the well-being and development of Poland. American Polonia has been, after all, a consequence of Polish misfortune. Imperialist oppression, poverty, war, imperialist Communist oppression again, all these have led to the emigration of a large number of Poles, and the possibility of Polish emigree structures. However, that story is now over. If one feels Polish, then one should maintain one's links to Poland itself, not to Polish Polonia. If one does not feel Polish, one will sooner or later assimilate.

    Along with this, perhaps the best way to change the Bieganski stereotype in America culture is by disproving it at the source. The way that national minorities are treated in America is often strongly connected to the success of their home country. And I do detect a change of tone in American public discourse concerning Poles as Poland becomes more successful economically.

    This has been a long [first] post--thank you.

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