The following introduction and letter are being sent to you on behalf of Dr. Radzilowski, President of the Piast Institute.
Attached you will find a letter to President E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University. The letter goes beyond our usual demands for redress in the form of an apology and new classes on Polish history and culture. President Gee's remarks indicate clearly how deeply rooted are the ugly stereotypes of Poles and Polish Americans. I have written on this in the past so there is no need to rehearse those arguments here. Just knowing the true story of Polish history and culture in Europe and America and having personal knowledge of educated, competent and cultured Poles or Polish Americans does not change the cultural images that arise reflexively when "Polish" or Poland is mentioned, as we know from the history of the stigmatization of other groups. Conversely, those stereotypes surface almost automatically when one seeks culturally resonant examples of incompetence and disorganization, as Gee's remarks show.
Anything we can do to get more opportunities to place serious academic offerings on Polish topics in college and university curricula. They legitimize the subject in the public mind But we cannot expect them to have a profound effect on the image of Poland until we expose and de-legitimize the stereotypes. Thus any program of redress must also address the importance of treating the subject in those which are unconscious. At the moment prejudicial stereotypes of Poles are not included. There is a distinct prejudice aout what is prejudice. Programs such a these, which should address negative Polish stereotypes and their origins, are usually mandatory as part of freshman orientation.
If we do not extirpate negative Polish stereotypes positive images of Poland and Poles will have no effect on the public mind. The sad example of President Gee is a solid proof of this.
January 17, 2012
President E. Gordon Gee
The Ohio State University
205 Bricker Hall, 190 N Oval Mall
Columbus, OH 43210
Dear President Gee,
I like many others both inside and outside the Polish American community, was surprised and dismayed by your remarks that played off deeply offensive stereotypes of Poles and Polish Americans. I am glad that you have recognized the inappropriateness of your statements and have tendered an apology. Nevertheless, it is disheartening that such remarks should come from the President of one of America's major universities. It shows that our society still has a long way to go in dispelling prejudice.
I am sure that you and the university's trustees have also received quite a number of letters detailing at some length the story of Poland as source of a world-class culture, a distinguished democratic tradition, courageous soldiers who have fought consistently for freedom for themselves and others and an unparalleled contribution to the history of liberty and human dignity in our time, through the efforts of heroes such as John Paul II and Lech Walesa.
Many of those who have written have asked for redress in the form of greater attention to the history of Poland and Polish Americans in courses and programs at The Ohio State University. Such projects would indeed help the people of Ohio better appreciate the contribution of Poland to world civilization and to give students a valuable historical and cultural perspective on universal issues such as human dignity, the price of liberty, and the various dimensions of tolerance, pluralism and non-violence. The Piast Institute heartily supports such a program, which is at the heart of its mission.
Nevertheless, such a program no matter how far reaching, will be of limited success unless it also addresses deep-seated negative images of Poles and Poland that lie buried in our culture. It will be hard for most people to even hear, let alone incorporate more positive images of Poland and Poles until these are attacked and extirpated. As Malgorzata Warchol-Schlottmann pointed out in her study of stereotypes of Poles in German culture "Positive personal experiences or empirical knowledge of Poland did not modify the stereotypical images". On the basis of my experience, I believe that the same is true of American culture.
I do not think that you picked the image of incompetent Polish soldiers shooting at each other at random out of thin air. It would have left your listeners puzzled if you had chosen "The Norwegian army" as your example. You were drawing, certainly without deep reflection, perhaps ever reflexively on deeply embedded negative images of Poles and Poland in American culture.
These stereotypes took shape in Europe in the 18th century as part of propaganda by Prussia, Russia and Austria to justify their unprecedented partition of Poland and the destruction of the Polish constitution. They were later used to justify Nazi genocide against Poles. Those images were transmitted to America in the 19th century and became a distinct American bigotry in response to the large influx to Polish immigrants. Those stereotypes still exist and have power. This is clear from the fact that a President of a major American university could invoke them so unthinkingly and cavalierly.
I would hope that any program to provide redress would also include a mandate to examine the character and roots of anti-Polonism in courses and special programs designed to deal with racism, bigotry and prejudice in American Society. The Piast Institute, which is a national research and policy institute, would be pleased to assist in curriculum development and materials for such classes and programs.
We maintain close ties with the Polish community in Ohio and have worked with them on educational and cultural programs as well as providing demographic analysis of the Polish American population in Cleveland and Akron. The work of the Institute on such projects as our national survey of 1,400 Polish American leaders published as Polish Americans Today (2010) and our work in preparing curricula for the genocide curriculum in the California schools and for the National Catholic Holocaust Education Center at Seton Hill College has given us unparalleled recognition in Polish American communities and among their leaders. I also served for eight years as President of St. Mary's College founded by Polish immigrants and for many years a national center for Polish studies in the U.S.
I look forward to working with you and the university to turn this unfortunate event into a positive project to lessen prejudice and create a genuine pluralism at Ohio State as well as to build bridges to the half a million Polish Americans who live in Ohio and the 10 million Polish Americans in the United States.
Thaddeus C. Radzilowski, Ph.D.
|Follow Us Here|