I’m not white.
I’m not white. I’m an Italian American. Specifically I’m a third generation Italian American. I’m awarded privilege of a white person in this society, but that doesn’t mean I am not a victim of racism on a near daily basis.
Now, here’s the thing, I’m going to say this right now, the form of racism I face ISN’T racial oppression. It’s not even CLOSE to what people of color have to SUFFER through at the hands of other European Americans. But it is institutionalized prejudice. I’m just trying to expand people’s thoughts on what “white” actually is, and what it isn’t.
I repeat: I acknowledge that I have all of the privilege of white people, but I am in fact Latin. I am one of the first race Latins, as I’m of true Roman descent. Latins were the race of people that built Rome, and spread their influence throughout Europe. The Romans were a vicious empire spanning thousands of years culminating in various holocausts, conquests, and an eventual collapse. While Italy stayed as a cultural hub for years, it eventually fell became war-torn, suffering numerous revolutions.
During a series of unification of Italian states (around 1860) was the Italian Diaspora. This large scale, 100-year migration spread Italians to the Americas, where they were treated much as Mexican Americans are treated now. When my family came over (right after the first World War) Italians were not seen as very favorable. They were considered less than human, and were sent to live in poor areas on New York and New Jersey. Furthermore, many of the ones who came over here did so undocumented. They were called Wops (because they came WithOut Papers). This word is still used toward Italians today. This sentiment toward Italians didn’t fade due to their involvement in World War II.
It’s little known that during WWII, Italians were designated as enemy-aliens, and put into interment centers, much like the Japanese. Italy’s involvement in the wars, plus the rise of the Sicilian Mafia in the US did little to quell the public’s view of Italians.
Other terms toward Italians that are offensive include: Guinea or Ginzo (probably from the term Guinea Negro, due to dark olive complexion); Dago (a generalized term for European Latins); Greaseball (Because of naturally oily skin); Spic(k); and the most common is Guido. I’ve been called every single one of these throughout my life. Throughout school, especially.
If you watch TV today, you can’t avoid the name Guido. This common Italian name has become a slur for Italians, spawning a culture that somehow has something to do with loud-mouthed Italians. Television portrays Italians as loud, violent, disrespectful.. you name it. If it isn’t assumed that I’m in the mob (thanks, Sopranos), then it’s assumed I’m a loud club-goer with a stupid accent, who only cooks pasta, and speaks in a weird language consisting of barely Italian sounding words.
But you look at this and you say “surely you can’t think those “guidos” have anything to do with you! How could anyone confuse them. it’s just TV!”
My name is Vincent. I’m an Italian American. I live in New Jersey, at the shore.
I’m Vinny from the Jersey Shore.
Keep in mind that if I go anywhere outside of this area, this is suddenly the only characteristic. It’s all people will talk about, it’s the only thing about me that matters. Not that I write, not that cook, not that I have a strict set of ethics that’s actually unique outside of tumblr - the only thing that matters to people is that I’m from New Jersey shore and my name is Vinny. Having lived in San Francisco, this came up daily because my boss made it a point to tell everyone. Or everyone makes it a point to go “ay-yo, Vinny. Howyadoooin’?”
Now, people don’t treat Italian Americans like they do people of color BY ANY MEANS. I have all the privilege of any white American, and I recognize that. Hell, Italians are some of the most fucking racist pieces of shit ever.
But I’m not white. To call me white erases MY heritage, and I ask that people actually start respecting that.
aspetttttaaa! first i’d like to say i’m not reblogging this to be an asshole but because i major in italian and because i’m interested in italian/american studies, and i think that the way that we see ourselves ethnically, culturally, etc. is really flawed and needs to be talked about.. and i also spend a lot of time educating myself about the oppression of POC because of white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism, etc. so these are things i think about a lot and have feelings about lol.
second i’m really glad you recognize your white privilege and the fact that anti-italian sentiments are in no way comparable to the oppression suffered by POC, because this is essential.
the only problem i have is the assertion that italians aren’t white. and before i get into that i think it’s important to establish what it means to be white. race is a social construct. it is not concrete, it is not static. it really depends on historical and geographical context. in the context of 20th century united states, we are white, simply because we enjoy the benefits of white privilege every day. so while it is legitimate to say we’re descended from the Latins… they weren’t a race. and if hypothetically you grabbed a Latin and brought him to america in this day an age i’m pretty sure he’d be considered white lol. usually when people claim to be “not white” it’s because they’re denying their own race privilege and want to derail important conversations about POC’s oppression. obviously you acknowledge that italians are complicit in racism so you’re not one of them. there’s a book called “Who is White?” that talks about this a lot.
that being said, italian ethnicity is complicated, and i think that’s worth discussing. for one thing italians are extremely diverse. southern italians (which most of us are) have greek, arab, and north african ancestry, which is why some of us are so dark. but at the same time, i also know sicilians with blonde hair and blue eyes. i’ve been asked if i’m boricua, mexican, palestinian, sephardic, and even indian/pakistani once (lol that one surprised me, i don’t look se asian at all) and we pretty much all have stories about being mistaken for other ethnicities. this is the only time we’re considered non-white, and usually the result of this is we laugh about it and move on with our lives. we’re not the victims of institutional racism, and we’re not dehumanized. one could argue otherwise for southern italians in italy, but that’s a whooole different tumblr rant.
the problem with italians and whiteness is that we chose (not you and i personally, but italians as a whole) to latch on to white supremacy. Mussolini tried his hand at African colonialism to make italy look like a great, white imperial power.. not to mention all the racist bs that goes along with fascism. at the same time in the US, italian immigrants internalized Anglo America’s anti-italianness, abandoned much of our language and culture that conflicted with concepts of “americannness” (which has always been a euphemism for whiteness), and directed that prejudice towards POC. i’m glad that you acknowledge that italians can be “the most racist pieces of shit ever” and i cannot emphasize this enough. italians started shitting on POC in order to align themselves with white america, out of ignorance and anxiety and fear and out of shame of our own non-white roots. white supremacist society teaches everyone black-hate (and asian hate, and indigenous hate, and arab hate, and latin@ hate) and people internalize it. it’s an issue in other communities as well, and it’s all the result of colonialism and living in a society built on exploitation and inequality. to become “american” they had to participate in that exploitation.
we really need to not only recognize our own community’s racism, but fervently and continuously condemn it. we need to call our uncles out for using the word mulignan, we need to stand in solidarity between immigrants, and we need to very visibly distance ourselves from racist italian politicians, cops, business owners, etc.
but anyway, i think all of this makes it difficult for us to create a meaningful dialogue about who we are. there’s a professor at Dartmouth, Graziela Parati, who writes a lot about migration literature in italy. she coined this term “recolouring Italy” in her book Migration Italy and i think it’s very useful:
To recolour the Italian national identity in this context means to respond, by talking back, to an ideologically motivated attempt to white, ‘catholicize,’ and celebrate first-world Italian identity in order to defend the rights of a majority.”
as for people regurgitating italian american stereotypes… it’s irritating, humiliating, a little dehumanizing, and it needs to be confronted, but i wouldn’t call it racism. it’s really shitty nonetheless and any time someone tries that shit on you just tell them fangul. :| one of the things i hate the most is the idea of ”barely italian words.”
these are dialect words, and people’s disdain for them goes back to their disdain for the way southern italians talk.. which goes back to their disdain for southern italians. when people call me “fake italian” or make fun of how italian americans say “marron”,”gabbagul” etc. i feel some typa way.. because these dumb little mispronunciations are basically all that survived our self-imposed assimilation. to me it’s a fucking tragedy that we don’t still speak dialect, and that we go into italian classes and learn a language that is so vastly different from how our bisnonni spoke. i also hear a lot of shit about how “weird” the way we practice catholicism is (e.g. saint worship, pre-christian pagan influences).. and given the history of the way irish leadership in the American catholic church treated Italians (aka: “get out of our churches you damn guineas, here have your own parish”) it stings a little.
i’m sorry for writing a novel, i just jump when i see people starting conversations about italian identity haha. i’d suggest reading anything by Helen Barolini (Umbertina, The Dream Book, and Chiaroscuro) and Fred Gardaphè (Dagoes Read), learning about whatever regions of Italy your family is from (since Italian curricula in America act almost as if Campania, Abruzzo, Calabria, etc. don’t exist), and standing in solidarity with oppressed POC. i think once we confront how shitty our perceptions of culture and language are and the way we render those who deviate from Anglo America as “others”, we can create a better understanding of who we are.