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‘EY FONZ!

Posted by pocochina on March 27, 2008

I know I’ve had this talk about how it’s none of my business where (or if) Sen. Obama prays on Sunday (or Saturday or Friday) mornings.  And how the Rev. Dr. and I tend to agree on things that need to change in US public policy.  I kind of never wanted to think about him again in the context of the election.  (I bet I’d learn an incredible amount from his books, but since I have every reason to think Obama isn’t trying to force me to live by his faith, I kind of didn’t want to see him in the news until after the convention/general.)

And then I log onto my beloved clinton_2008and I see this, and I track it back to this. (Cause unlike some people, I’d rather track stuff down and even then admit that the source could be imperfect, but that’s just me, using ethical standards to determine what I write.  Jerk bloggers who cite the Drudge Report as a sole source when attacking a candidate, I’m looking at you.)  I wasn’t going to talk about it, because I know some Republican operative dug this up so that we’d beat each other up over it, but now it’s out there, and as the most important Italian-American on this LJ, I feel ethically obligated to weigh in.

I started thinking about this because I needed to do a privilege check on myself.  See, I heard about this, and I was a little annoyed, and much more amused.  I don’t agree with some of the other members that this is racism, per se, because racism is prejudice+power.  If I were the victim of systemic social bias based on my ethnic identity, I wouldn’t have been able to laugh.  I also am sure that there is a great deal of scholarship out there which deals with comparisons of the social inequalities of the ancient Roman world, and the power structures we work in today.

And then he went on with the “garlic noses” comment.  As I said in the clinton_2008 thread, this is an ethnic slur based on two things (1) that ethnic Italians are often made fun of for the size and shape of our noses and (2) that garlic, which has a strong odor, is a common ingredient in traditional Italian cooking.  So Wright said he was going to talk about social injustice in comparative historical frameworks, and then in the next sentence limited it to “HEY GREAZEBALL, YOU SMELL AND I HATE YOUR FACE.”  By doing so, he not only diminished the credibility of the argument itself, but also ceded a solid amount of moral credibility by using an ethnic stereotype.

It’s also problematic because it was published at the end of 2007, when Wright was either on the Obama campaign, or would shortly be seated in the position he held until two weeks ago.  At the time, Obama was selling himself as the non-divisive, bipartisan, unity-and-respect candidate.  And the Republican front-runner was Mayor Guiliani.  I have no love for Mayor Guiliani.  I never drank the oh-he’s-from-NY-he’s-a-moderate kool-aid.  He deserved to be attacked on his gleeful abuses of executive power, his unquestioning embrace of President Bush, his policies which are purposefully especially unjust towards people of color.  But he would not have deserved to be attacked on his ethnicity.

And though Giuliani might not have given a crap, there are older Italian-Americans who do remember suffering discrimination because of our stinky breath and ugly noses and heathen Catholic ways.  There’s a long and ugly history between African-Americans and Italian-Americans, and to be perfectly honest, Italian-Americans enjoy white privilege in American society because we are more white than African-Americans.  I wish it weren’t so, but it is.  The resentment is real, and while it is justified, the use of ethnic slurs is not.

And as a historical quibble, pedantic but interesting, he shouldn’t have mentioned relationships between the Italians and the Galileans.  IIRC, (maxima cum laude National Latin Scholar, BITCHEZ) people who lived in the geographic area including Rome, which we now call Italy, were a mix of ethnic groups:  Etruscans, Germanic tribes, people from North Africa and the Middle East.  Some of these people were Roman citizens – those with power, to whom he compares white America – but most of them weren’t.  The concept of “Italian” didn’t exist until relatively recently.  So he should have said the Romans and the Galileans if he were going to speak of the ethnic groups that existed at the time.  If, as a rhetorical tool to create modernity and immediacy, he were going to use the modern geographic and ethnic correlaries, rough as they are, he should have said the Italians and the Jews.  Given his pattern of insensitivity to anti-Semitism* this omission is a little troubling.

Of course, in the history of bias in this country, this is not even a drop in the ocean, and insofar as any of this actually matters, well, there go the swing voters.  Wheeeeee!

*I’m only going to go so far as insensitivity, but I do see and respect the reasons why some people feel it goes farther.

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