Call it an evolution of bigotry that went from gay stereotyping to Polish bashing to religious hatred. All played out re cently on New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio.
What started out as “harmless” banter morphed into the “Jersey Guys,” the afternoon jock shocks, calling me a “gay Polack” politician and quickly turned into vicious religious hatred. The on-air incident demonstrated that starting down the road of bigotry only leads to the depths of hell.
Some may have thought it was funny when the 101.5 talkers known as Carton & Rossi “outed” me as gay because of a picture of me with what they said was a “flamboyant” male with red hair and a tight leopard-skin suit. Turns out this man, while certainly flamboyant, was a Polish rock star, and as a Polish-American state senator, I was hosting a party for the band after a concert in my hometown of Elizabeth.
At some point, my explanation resulted in the name-calling on air. I complained to station manager Eric Johnson that the word “Polack” was derogatory, an ethnic slur.
This set off a wave of Polack references from the shock jocks that were picked up and repeated by callers to the station.
The Polack bashing then took a particularly ugly turn when one of the 101.5 jocks said half the Polacks became Nazis to kill Jews, a sentiment that kindles hatred and opens old wounds that the Jewish and Catholic communities have worked so hard to heal, Poland being a predominantly Catholic nation.
As a recipient of the Man of the Year award from the Jewish National Fund, I’m well aware of the united efforts by religious and lay leaders of the Jewish and Catholic communities to combat anti-Semitism and promote respect among all religions.
I’m also a veteran and a member of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, most of whom fought the Nazis (I was not born yet). Hundreds of thousands of Poles were killed during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Members of the 101.5 team ob viously never visited Normandy where they would have seen the American, British, Canadian and Polish flags flying side by side honoring the brave soldiers from those countries who participated in the D-Day invasion.
Or if they had visited Israel, they might have learned of the Hall of Righteous Gentiles, an integral part of the Holocaust Memorial in Israel that is populated by Polish citizens who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors.
From the Revolutionary War (Gens. Casmir Pulaski and Thaddeus Kosciusko) to the war in Iraq, the Polish people have aided America’s cause. No mention of that by 101.5 FM Radio.
My father, a brilliant man, had to quit school when he was 12 to do manual work to help support his family. There were no opportunities for recent immigrant families from Poland. And he had to endure the Polack putdowns so common in those days to keep his job.
I learned early, as a young child, what people meant when they called me or my dad a Polack. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pleasant. To hear it repeated over public airwaves to an audience of thou sands, and to be associated with killing Jews, is unimaginably cruel and hateful.
New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio has combined ignorance with hate, an extremely dangerous potion.
Raymond J. Lesniak, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, has represented Union County in the state Senate since 1983. He previously served in the state Assembly.