Dare to Ask: Don't judge Italians from a movie
By Phillip Milano
Why are Italians so apparently racist? Remember the Spike Lee film "Jungle
Fever"? That Italian girl was beaten to a pulp for having a black boyfriend.
Bajan, 29, black, Toronto
Many Italians hate everybody (I'm 100 percent Italian). The last person I
dated was white but not Italian, and my parents were upset. It's a "keep the
bloodline pure" kind of thing.
Christine, 24, New York
I highly disagree. My whole family is Italian and I never heard them say
anything disrespectful to people of a different race.
Logan, 15, Orange Park
Christine, that is really sad your parents are racist. Obviously [that] has
not been passed on to their daughter, and it is up to the next generation to ...
try to undo what racist legacies have left behind.
Rachel, black, Australia
Italian and Irish communities are really the last standing white
neighborhoods in the East Coast urban areas. My grandmother always tells stories
about how nice the neighborhood used to be. They believe the reason for this is
the "thug" culture in general, not really a race issue. For example, my parents
would kill me if I brought home a white kid with pants falling off his hips
speaking Ebonics. They would much rather see me with a clean-cut, well-spoken
Christi, 22, white, Philadelphia
Italians racist? Is that all you got? Yeah? What about violent and
All are uncontested stereotypes that need contesting, said David Richards,
professor of law at New York University and author of "Italian American: The
Racializing of an Ethnic Identity."
For our own selfish purposes (catch our last name?), let's talk about
Italian-Americans. To be clear, Richards isn't saying they're more racist than
other groups, but he offered some comments on why some might be racist:
They immigrated to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from a
country with a distinct north/south divide, with the south "racialized" by the
north, he said.
"When you are racialized, you can then become more racist once here," he
said. "You had to assimilate to succeed. ... And America was racist, so you
assimilate to the dominant racism."
Richards said different cultures thrown together - say African-Americans and
Italians - can create friction and affection. For example, he challenged the
idea that Spike Lee's films are simply negative toward Italian-Americans.
"From where he came up in Brooklyn, he probably absorbed their culture ... so
he can depict them in a fair, affectionate way, warts and all," he said.
And pegging Italian culture as violent and male-dominated - as in "The
Godfather" or "The Sopranos" - may boost viewership, but it isn't legit, said
Richards, who is Italian.
"Italian-American men are some of the gentlest, and the women are strong.
It's a very family-centered culture."
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
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