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Template:Discrimination sidebar Anti-Italianism is a hostility toward Italian people utilizing stereotypes about them, such as the idea that the Italians are tolerant of violence, ignorance, labor bosses, political corruption, and criminal gangs such as the Mafia.

Anti-Italianism in the United States

The reputation of Italian Americans has been marked by complex and ongoing negotiations of ethnic identity, ascent from the working class, and ongoing perceptions of support for criminal gangs.

Movies from early on loaded their films with Italian gangsters. After 1915 heartbreaking melodramas of destitution and misfortune adopted instead a combination of muted 'othering' and universal characterizations.[1]

Because of the common association, Italian Americans spokespeople see films and news accounts about the Mafia as harmful to their community. This became something of an issue for the HBO series The Sopranos when spokespeople complained about the stereotypical nature of the show. Other Italians feel that such shows are problematic only if they feature the Mafia as a common or accepted part of Italian American life. The news media as well as fictional films have stereotyped the Italian American community as tolerant of violent, sociopathic, knife-wielding gangsters and street ruffians.[2][3] Thus the stereotypes range from portraying Italians as working class thugs, to violent "guappo" immigrants, to Mafiosi.

Other stereotypes portray Italians as overly-emotional, melodramatic, plebeian, superstitious, hot-blooded, aggressive, traditionalistic, obsessed with food, and prone to vengeance.[4] Men are sometimes stereotyped as "Italian Stallions". Italian women have had two main stereotypes: an overly matriarchal old woman or a flirtatious, exotic young woman who indulges in fashions such as Prada and Gucci. An example of this can be found in MTV's hit series, "Jersey Shore", which is considered by many to be highly offensive. [5] A lesser stereotype of Italian women has been that of a big-haired, gum-cracking airhead who is often shown as a girlfriend of a Mafia soldier.

Italian Americans have often found themselves at the receiving end of ethnic jokes, parodies, and discrimination due to certain stereotypes.[6]

In America and many other nations, Italians have also been stereotyped as swarthy perpetual foreigners in a lower class, restricted to blue collar jobs. They have been stereotyped working as construction workers, chefs, beggars, peddlers, plumbers, and in other working class jobs.[7] Another stereotype of Italian American is the "goombah" or "guido", a working class or lower class Italian male. In their own community, Italian Americans themselves will sometimes refer to such "buffoon-like" Italian males as “cafoni”. “Cafone” is an Italian word that originally meant peasant, but its meaning evolved to refer to rude, ignorant, uncouth people. Degrading and even dehumanizing images have been prevalent in the perpetuation of ignorance and historical myths.[8]


Harsh anti-Italian immigrant editorial cartoon, 1888

Violence against Italians

File:1891 New Orleans Italian lynching.jpg

Rioters breaking in to parish prison. Anti-Italian lynching in New Orleans, 1891

In the United States, Italian immigrants were subject to extreme prejudice, racism, and, in many cases, violence. During the 19th century and early 20th century, Italian Americans were often seen as non-American and criminals. Some anti-Italianism had roots in the same cause of violence against Jews. Because Italians were seen as the descendants of the Romans, who had crucified Jesus, this served as justification for violence against Italians.[9]

The largest mass lynching in American history involved the lynching of eleven Italians in the city of New Orleans in 1891.[10] The Italians, who were thought to have assassinated police chief David Hennessy, were arrested and placed in a jail cell before being brutally murdered by a lynch mob that stormed the jailhouse, with witnesses claiming that the cheers "were nearly deafening". Cries of "hang the dagos" were heard throughout the riot. Reporting on the incident, one newspaper reported [11] Afterwards, hundreds of Italian immigrants, most of whom were not criminals, were arrested by law enforcement. Decades after, an anti-Italian phrase, "Who kill-a the chief?" remained popular in the New Orleans area.[12][13]

In the 1920s, two Italian anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, experienced prejudice and ultimately death due to their Italian ancestry and extreme political views. Though not lynched, Sacco and Vanzetti were subject to a mishandled trial, and many historians agree that the judge, jury, and prosecution were extremely biased against the Italian immigrants. Sacco and Vanzetti were eventually put to death, convicted of a murder despite the lack of evidence against them.[14]

Anti-Italianism in Switzerland often cites the 1971 beating death of a recent Italian immigrant named Alfredo Zardini.

In Australia, anti-Italian riots occurred on numerous occasions since Italian immigrants, or "wogs" (an English derogatory term for foreigners, not slang so much as an archaism, once often applied in Australia to Southern Europeans), first began arriving to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many Australians viewed the Italian immigrants as "immoral", "low", and "dirty".[15]

In Canada, anti-Italian and anti-Jewish riots occurred in Toronto and other major cities in Canada. The Riot at Christie Pits Park was an August 16, 1933 anti-Semitic race riot in Toronto between Anglo-Saxon (and ethnic German) members of a pro-Nazi youth gang called the Anglo-Canadian Pit Gang which was affiliated with the Anglo Anti-Semitic Swastika Clubs, and predominantly Jewish and Italian youth members of the Spadina Avenue Gang. The riot, which occurred over a six hour period, was sparked by a baseball game at Christie Pits between two local clubs, one predominantly Jewish and Italian and one predominantly Anglo-Saxon. About 5 people were arrested and 30 were injured.

The riot occurred in the midsts of the Great Depression in Canada. Anti-Italianism was part of the racist ideology of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist and nativist group whom hated Italians for being non-American Roman Catholic as opposed to Anglo-Saxon Protestant A hotbed of anti-Italian activity from the KKK was in Southern New Jersey in the mid 1920s, including a mass protest against Italian immigrants in Vineland, New Jersey, where in 1933 Italians made up 20% of the city population. However, during the mass protest the Italians drove the KKK out of town. The KKK soon lost all of their power in Vineland and soon left the town for good as a result of this incident. Today, over a third of the current residents in Vineland are of Italian descent.

Italian American and Italian Canadian internment during World War II

File:Enemy's language.jpg

This propaganda sign appeared in post offices and in government buildings during World War II. The sign designates Japanese, German, and Italian, the languages of the Axis powers, as the enemy's languages.


During World War II, some Italian citizens who were loyal to Italy were put in internment camps in the U.S. and Canada.

Thousands more Italian citizens suspected of loyalty to Italy were placed under surveillance. Joe DiMaggio's father, who lived in San Francisco, had his boat and house confiscated. Unlike the Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and Italian Canadians have never received reparations, even though President Bill Clinton made a public declaration admitting the US government's misjudgement in the internment.[16]

Anti-Italianism in the United Kingdom

After Benito Mussolini's alliance with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, there was a growing hostility toward everything Italian in the United Kingdom. The most famous example is related to the sinking of the steamship SS Arandora Star on 2 July 1940, that resulted in the loss of over 700 lives—including 446 British-Italians being deported as undesirable.[17]

During and after WWII a lot of propaganda was done against the Italian military performance, usually with persistent stereotypes, including that of the "incompetent Italian soldier". These stereotypes are well entrenched in the British literature, as can be read in the following extract from a Lee & Higham's book:

Because many writers have uncritically repeated stereotypes shared by their sources, biases and prejudices have taken on the status of objective observations, including the idea that the Germans and British were the only belligerants in the Mediterranean after Italian setbacks in early 1941. Sadkovich questioned this point of view in 'Of Myths and Men' and 'The Italian Navy', but persistent stereotypes, including that of the incompetent Italian, are well entrenched in the literature, from Puleston's early 'The Influence of Sea Power', to Gooch's 'Italian Military Incompetence,' to more recent publications by Mack Smith, Knox and Sullivan. Wartime bias in early British and American histories, which focused on German operations, dismissed Italian forces as inept and or unimportant, and viewed Germany as the pivotal power in Europe during the interwar period.
Bias includes both implicit assumptions, evident in Knox's title 'The Sources of Italy's Defeat in 1940: Bluff or Institutionalized Incompetence?' and the selective use of sources. Also see Sullivan's 'The Italian Armed Forces.' Sims, in 'The Fighter Pilot,' ignored the Italians, while D'Este in 'World War II in the Mediterranean' shaped his reader's image of Italians by citing a German comment that Italy's surrender was 'the basest treachery' and by discussing Allied and German commanders but ignoring Messe, whose 'Come finì la guerra in Africa' is an account of operations in Tunisia, where he commanded the Italian First Army, which held off both the U.S. Second Corps and the British Eighth Army. Like Young, whose 'Rommel the Desert Fox' created the Rommel myth, authors can appear biased because they echo sources that reflect the prejudices and assumptions of the period. Dependence on non-Italian sources compromised Murray's analysis of the Italian military in 'The Change in the European Balance of Power', it led Van Creveld to conclude in 'Supplying War' that Italians were "useless ballast," and it caused Fraser, in 'And We Shall Shock Them', to dismiss Graziani as an anxiety-ridden procrastinator but praised Wavell as a fearless problem solver. Liddel Hart's German sources led him to conclude in 'The Generals Talk' that "Italian jealousy of the Germans" had helped save Egypt.[18]

Anti-Italianism after World War II

Former Italian communities once thrived in their African colonies of Eritrea, Somalia and Libya, and in the areas at the borders of the Kingdom of Italy. Now these communities are reduced to a few hundreds people, mainly due to violent expulsion and persecution.

Indeed, two countries have shown a huge level of anti-Italianism after WWII: Libya and Yugoslavia.

These two most famous examples are pinpointed so:

Canadian politician Ed Havrot also controversially used anti-Italian slurs while serving in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, referring to one of his Italian-Canadian opponents as a "wop".[24]

In March 2008, Rev. Jeremiah Wright caused controversy when he noted in an article that the Italians looked down their "garlic noses" at the Galileans. The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said it was "saddened" by the comment, while the Italian American Human Relations Foundation called it an example of "hatred".[25][26][dead link][27][dead link]

On February 26, 2009 Curtis Sliwa began a discussion on his radio show about an Italian-American museum being granted federal money for its future construction.[28] Sliwa, upon reading the headline stated,

"The Italian-American Museum[29] in Little Italy? What the hell is that? I mean, what do you need an Italian-American Museum in Little Italy for ?... Plus, what do we need to be spending federal tax dollars? You go to the Italian-American Museum, you make a contribution. Or, you have an enforcer there from the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo, Bonanno crime families who forces you to pay a contribution?

In the same conversation Sliwa then went on to state about New York City's borough of Staten Island, where Italian Americans are the largest ethnic group,[30] "[I] could swing a dead cat over my head and every fifth person I’d hit [there] would be in organized crime."[28][31]

Sliwa later apologized for the comments he made during this conversation in a letter to the president of the Italian-American museum. He stated in part, "I certainly wouldn't want any of my comments to be construed as my having negative feelings toward the museum or the Italian-American community as a whole." [32]

In early November 2009, MTV began airing controversial promotions for the show, "Jersey Shore." One promotion stated that the show will feature the, "hottest, tannest, craziest Guidos."[33] Another web advertisement for the show states, "[the show]exposes one of the tri-state area's most misunderstood species... the GUIDO. Yes, they really do exist! Our Guidos and Guidettes will move into the ultimate beach house rental and indulge in everything the Seaside Heights, New Jersey scene has to offer."[34]

The Italian American service organization UNICO National[35] was the first major Italian American organization to begin a campaign to stop the program from being shown by contacting MTV prior to the series debut.[36] In a November 24, 2009 letter to MTV CEO Judith McGrath, UNICO National President, Andre' DiMino,[37] an outspoken advocate for Italian American heritage and culture,[38] called the show a ", deliberate and disgraceful attack on Italian Americans..." and demanded that the show be pulled prior to its debut.[39] In addition to UNICO National, Order Sons of Italy in America and the National Italian American Foundation denounced the show's use of the ethnic slur, "Guido" to describe the show's cast, which is predominately Italian.[40][41] Since its debut, these organizations have called for MTV to cancel the show.[42][43] MTV has refused to cancel the show, issuing the statement, "the Italian-American cast takes pride in their ethnicity. We understand that this show is not intended for every audience and depicts just one aspect of youth culture"[41] Italian-American organizations continue to refuse to accept MTV's use of the term 'guido' as an appropriate means to describe Italians and the Italian American community.

Several prominent national organizations have been established to combat the negative portrayal of Italians and Italian Americans in the media. UNICO National has an Anti-Bias committee dedicated to fighting Italian American stereotyping and discrimination. Its chair, Dr. Manny Alfano, has been a leader in the fight against Italian American discrimination and negative portrayals since 1990.[44] Other organizations such as the NIAF and Order Sons of Italy in America both feature anti-discrimination components. The OSIA's Commission for Social Justice (CSJ) has been an advocate for the Italian American community.[45][46]

There also exists prominent web-based Italian organizations such as the internet watchdog, ItalianAware[47] It is worth noting that ItalianAware's Facebook component, the ARICA (Advancement of Real Italian Culture in America), was cited as a prominent player in the dispute with MTV over its show, "Jersey Shore."[48]

See also

Further reading

  • Henry Heller. "Anti-Italianism in Sixteenth-Century France". Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2003. xii, 307 pp
  • Smith, Tom. The Crescent City Lynchings: The Murder of Chief Hennessy, the New Orleans "Mafia" Trials, and the Parish Prison Mob [9]


  1. Giorgio Bertellini, "Black Hands and White Hearts: Italian Immigrants as 'Urban Racial Types' in Early American Film Culture," Urban History 2004 31(3): 375-399
  2. Annotated Bibliography - p 6
  3. Feagan and Feagan, 2003. 79-81, 92-93
  4. Gottesman, Ronald. Violence in America: An Encyclopedia
  5. Raymond, Adam K. (2009-11-24). "". Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  6. Cordasco, Francesco. The Italian-American Experience [1]
  7. Lord, Eliot. The Italian in America
  8. LaGumina, Salvatore John. Wop!: A Documentary History of Anti-Italian Discrimination in the United States [2]
  9. Mangione, Jerre. La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian-American Experience [3]
  10. Moses, Norton H. Lynching and Vigilantism in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography [4]
  11. Gambino, Richard. Vendetta: The True Story of the Largest Lynching in U. S. History [5]
  12. Gambino, Richard. Blood of My Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian Americans [6]
  13. Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America: A History
  14. Rappaport, Doreen, The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, New York: HarperTrophy, 1994, c1993. KF224.R36 1994x.
  15. O'Connor, Desmond.,M1
  16. Di Stasi, Lawrence (2004). Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II. Heyday Books. ISBN 1890771406.
  17. David Cesarani, Tony Kushner, The Internment of aliens in twentieth century Britain, Routledge;, 1 ed. (1 May 1993), p176-178
  18. Loyd E. Lee and Robin D. S. Higham, World War II in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, with General Sources: A Handbook of Literature and Research. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997,ISBN 0313293252. (p.141-142)
  19. Libya - Italian colonization
  20. Libya cuts ties to mark Italy era.
  21. Election Opens Old Wounds In Trieste
  22. History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans
  23. Austro-Hungarian 1848 census
  24. Claire Hoy, Bill Davis, (Toronto: Methuen Publications, 1985), p. 255.
  25. [7]
  26. [8]
  27. Rev. Wright Slurs Italians In 2007 Eulogy - Politics News Story - WMAQ | Chicago
  28. 28.0 28.1
  41. 41.0 41.1

External links


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