Articles by: Jerry Krase

  • David Dinkins, the first Black mayor of New York City

    David Dinkins (RIP) vs Rudy Giuliani: A Tale of Two Mayors

     David Dinkins from his Mayoral Inaugural Address: “Flying into La Guardia at night, looking down at the city and you say to yourself, ‘Wow. And I’m in charge of all that.’” “I stand here before you today as the elected leader of the greatest city of a great nation, to which my ancestors were brought chained and whipped in the hold of a slave ship.” 

    In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities the French Doctor Manette, after spending 18-years in La Bastille in City # 1 (Paris) is released to live in City # 2 (London) with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. The story is used to warn the readers about the terrible conditions that led to the bloody French Revolution, and the even bloodier Reign of Terror. A similar, perhaps slightly less bloody, Tale is reflected in the inglorious record of New York City Mayors that has been a progression of mostly more, and less unflattering comparisons.

    For soon to be ex-NYC Mayor, demi-Italian-American Warren Wilhelm, Jr. De Blasio the Tale was a slogan announced at his campaign kickoff in January 2013.
    Referring to 3-term Mayor, and Big Bucks Billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, Bill said:
    “On a whole range of other issues he simply neglected our neighborhoods and failed. And those who would seek to continue those policies are destined to fail millions of New Yorkers as well,” … “So, let’s be honest about where we are today. This is a place that in too many ways has become a tale of two cities, a place where City Hall has too often catered to the interests of the elite rather than the needs of everyday New Yorkers.” 
    My friend Joseph Scelsa, past Director of the John Calandra Italian American Institute at the City University of New York, and current President of the Italian American Museum, announced the passing of David Dinkins by noting “He was a friend to the Italian American community and during the 1992 Quincentennial Celebration of Columbus' arrival in the Americas he was quoted as saying, "Whether you came here on the top of the boat or on the bottom of the boat, we are all in the same boat now". May he rest in peace.” Which immediately revived a prior Tale of Two Big Apples, One White and the other Black, with comments recalling the “many terrible days such as Crown Heights Riots,” and unfriendly comments like “he was no friend to many. Let’s not forget what he allowed this City to become, Worst Mayor after deBozo.” One response was especially confusing:  “Dinkins allowed Giuliani to become Mayor and we see what a Monster and Corrupt person Rudy is. They were both awful Mayors. Give us Fiorello La Guardia or Vincent Impellitieri. They were the best!” to which someone strongly disagreed asking “Just how do you believe Dinkins, ‘allowed‘ Giuliani to become Mayor. How is he a monster? How is he corrupt?” Another unkind cut created a new aphorism: “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
    Like Dicken’s Tale, these sad Tales of Cities of one or another color, have some nonfiction elements in which David Dinkins, in my opinion, tried to play a positive role. Relations between Italian Americans (sometimes referred to as merely white) and a wide variety of People of Color of African descent (often referred to as merely Black), as well as others with whom they had much to share as to history of struggle, took a major turn for the worse under the nasty tutelage of three-time NYC Mayor Edward I. Koch.  Giuliani and other lesser politicians of many other persuasions learned his lesson on how to divide and conquer. Only some followers of these (to be honest, essentially fascist) tactics, were successful in getting elected.  But, all of these mini-Steve Bannon’s were successful in making the Big Apple, and by extension America, a much less pleasant to live in.

    David Dinkins, although achieving a major political “First,” will never be considered by historians as a Great Mayor in comparison to Fiorello LaGuardia (For of course!). He will never even surpass Rudy Giuliani’s undeserved fame as “America’s Mayor” --- which he garnered by an accident of 9/11 horror (we’ll save that long, sad, story for another day). When I wrote a regular column in the Free Press (La Prensa Libre) I hardly ever had a kind word for Dinkins and, for me, Giuliani as “The Rude One.” In fact, I seldom have many kind words for elected officials who tend to be exceptional only to the degree of being big disappointments (like half-Italian Bill DeBlasio). Here are some of my unkind reflections on Dinkins: “the ex-tennis playing-mayor feels besmirched by the misrepresentation of his glorious four years asleep at the helm.” (Loving to Hate Thy Neighbor: New York Stories); As to why Liberal Jewish voters switched their votes to Giuliani after the Crown Heights Pogrom “We have to remember that B.G. (Before Giuliani), New Yorkers had become so fearful of crime that they literally begged for deliverance. How do you think Rudy got elected, on his personal charm or his good looks? Give me a break! After having that dapper sweetheart of a mensch David Dinkins in Gracie Mansion, even New York's famously liberal Jewish denizens cried out for the Cossacks.”  (My $55 Contribution to the War on Crime); and “Unfortunately New York voters are cynics. How else can you explain the successive elections of Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani;  one worser than the other.  (Can Sal Albanese "Make New York First Again"?)

    Although not a great mayor, David Dinkins, beyond his basic human decency was for many a great inspiration. As Brigid Bergen wrote:
    Dinkins was a mentor to many Black New Yorkers with their eye on public service. Dinkins joined the Marine Corps after high school, attended Howard University and then Brooklyn Law School. He then rose through the ranks of Harlem Democratic leaders, becoming a state assemblyman, president of the Board of Elections and Manhattan borough president. Dinkins’s own rise is interwoven with a tightly knit group of powerful Harlem power brokers known as the Gang of Four, including Basil Paterson, the former New York secretary of state and father of former New York Governor David Paterson; Percy Sutton, the long-serving Manhattan borough president and first serious Black candidate for mayor; and former Congressman Charles Rangel, the only surviving member of the foursome.
    Michael Powell, added some Italian spice to his “Appraisal” of Dinkin’s Mayoralty
    Those with sharp memories of New York City politics critiqued a tweet late Monday night from Rudy Giuliani, who extended his condolences to the Dinkins family, saying the ex-mayor’s service “is honored and respected by all.” That wasn’t Giuliani’s tone in the late 1980s when Dinkins narrowly defeated Giuliani, then a US attorney who would return to beat Dinkins four years later in 1993, inspiring a backlash that kept Democrats out of City Hall for 20 years.“Giuliani is to Dinkins what Trump was to Obama,” said Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University and author of the book “Black Ethics: Race, Immigration and The Pursuit of the American Dream. “Someone who trolled a Black man who had way more class dignity, education and intelligence, constantly incited racist tropes to distract from the fact that this Black person was actually doing a solid job.”

    Powell and I remember Dinkins promise of racial healing and embrace of the city’s “gorgeous mosaic. But the city he inherited from the Great Divider was in a deep recession, reeling from,  high crime rates, soaring AIDS infection rates, a raging crack epidemic, rampant homelessness, and racial/ethnic division. His fall from liberal grace followed the 1991 “Crown Heights Riot,” during which Yankel Rosenbaum a rabbinical student was killed during violent  protests after a Hasidic driver hit and killed Gavin Cato, an African American boy. Just as the murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Italian American Bensonhurt in 1989 was a cudgel to beat on Rudy, the “Pogrom” used by Giuliani, who later also joined thousands of off-duty police rioting against the sitting mayor at city in 1992. On the positive(?) side of bigotry, Powell notes in his review that Dinkin’s “Supporters also said that although his opponents led racist attacks against him that contributed to his defeat for a second term, he also inspired a new generation of Black activists.”
    Like many other chroniclers, including myself, Powell felt that evaluating “Mr. Dinkins’s legacy is a tricky task.” Noting that his successes in rebuilding in low-income neighborhoods, assistance to the homeless, and better funding for libraries. He also rebuilt more low-income housing in his single term than Rudy Giuliani did in two. Other positive notes about Dinkin’s mayoralty was the unusual transparency of his administration, and its willingness to acknowledge failures. It was historically diverse devoted to serving the underserved. He also led the fight against poverty, and provided support for health clinics, mental illness and homeless services. He also allocated anti-crime money for after-school programs (“Safe Streets, Safe City: Cops and Kids), and created the current version of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. At all times he was a calm voice of reason in a too often tense city, while offering a City of Hope for both oppressed minorities and, not incidentally progressive, white voters; not bad for his dad William, a barber, and his mom, Sarah, a domestic worker’s son.

    However, as all others who wrote on is final page of life, Powell went into great detail about his failures mentioning not only the Crown Heights Riot but failing “…to face down a Black nationalist boycott of a Korean vegetable stand, a confrontation encoded with racist language.” He concluded his assessment with some sobering words from an interview he had with Dinkins in the summer of 1993, while being challenged for Mayor again by Giuliani. “I have been mayor in a hurricane” he told him  “I’d really like to be here when the roof is rebuilt,” he said. “There’s so much we could do.” Four months later he lost to Rudy in another close, racially and ethnically divisive race and “stepped into history.”

    Robert D. McFadden provided the saddest ending to our Tale of Two Cities by referring Dinkins 2013 Memoir in which he acknowledged missteps, but ascribing the narrowness of his 1989 victory and 1993 to the fact that he was Black. “I think it was just racism, pure and simple,” he said in “A Mayor’s Life: Governing New York’s Gorgeous Mosaic,” written with Peter Knobler.
    The ending of Dinkins’ ignominious Tale was perhaps the beginning of national one.
    From the Video Transcipt of The Last Word: David N. Dinkins (see >>)

    Giuliani had the backing of the mostly white police force and white neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. “We knew it was going to be close. But we didn’t expect to lose. And early Election Day, there were people in Brooklyn, white off-duty police officers who were intimidating some people in line with questions like, ‘Have you ever been arrested? Do you have a driver’s license?’ and things like that. “We have heard reports that voters in Washington Heights are being challenged and asked by poll watchers for Mr. Giuliani’s campaign to produce their passports prior to voting.” “My people were very upset. Now it’s election night. And we’re conceding.” “My brothers and my sisters. The people have spoken.” “Some in my group wanted me to demand a recount and this, that and the other. And wiser heads among us, we said no, in this country we don’t have coups and revolutions. We have elections.” “You see, my friends. Elections come and go. Candidates come and go. Mayors come and go, but the life of a city must endure. Never forget that this city is about dignity. It’s about decency. It’s about the hope and determination of working people struggling to make a better life for their children and their children’s children. My friends, the gorgeous mosaic is alive.”

    Post Script: All writers whom I researched for this article agreed on both his decency, and the value of his Tennis Deal, that even former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said more than a decade ago, was “the only good athletic sports stadium deal, not just in New York but in the country.” To get the deal done he granted a 99-year lease on city parkland to the United States Tennis Association for a stadium and public tennis complex in Flushing Meadows, Queens. There in 1993,  Mayor David N. Dinkins presented my daughter Kathryn Suzanne Krase with the Brian Watkins Leadership Award at the Mayor’s Cup All-Scholastic Championships, where for the fourth consecutive year she and her partner, Olona Hirsch Kahn, won the Girls doubles championship.



    Jerome Krase is an emeritus and Murray Koppelman Professor of sociology. 

  • Life & People

    My Spencerian Milestone

    My first grandchild Spencer Rocco was born when I was much younger. Now he is graduating remotely from Fairfield University's School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science, and with Minors in Mathematics and Sociology. I don't know why my daughter Kristin named him Spencer.

    It certainly wasn't for Herbert Spencer who developed the idea of Social Darwinism in the 19th Century, which continues to haunt the world today. I do know that Spencer's middle name is Rocco to honor his father John Letizia's dad. Spencer's roots are deep in Calabria, Campania, Sicily, and Central Europe whose descendants have struggled not only to survive beyond Herbert's expectations, but to prosper and excel here in America.

    Like the rest of his family, knowing where he came from has given him a sense of what he owes to all those who are struggling today. I am very proud of him not only for his excellence in scholarship but for his unselfish concern for others. Below is something I wrote about him some time ago for The Brooklyn Fee Press and, except for the diaper bit, captures my feelings for him today. 

    Thanks Giving 1998 by Jerry Krase

     Every year I receive in the mail several “Dear Friends: Here’s how our year went.” letters. One of the heretofore unmentioned minuses of the personal home computer revolution is the excruciatingly increasing length of these tomes. Don’t worry I am not going to bore you with one of my own Year that Was because, for the most part, for me 1998 was the pits.  That is until July 3rd when Spencer Rocco came into my life.  It is amazing how a few pounds of person can change your whole perspective on life. Everything I now plan to do I think of in terms of how it will seem to my grandchild. Grandpa Jerry is trying to recapture the rush of knowing, as I once did, that my own children thought I was more special than anything ever.

                When Spencer Rocco comes to the house I put on my tape of Andrea Boccelli’s Romanza and lip sync the songs. Not only does he think I have a great voice, to him I am bi-lingual like his paternal grandmother Violetta.  Sitting on my head, Spencer Rocco thinks that he is the world’s tallest person and that his grandpa can make him fly. Spencer Rocco has no idea what it is that I am saying to him yet it makes him laugh all the same. Most of what I say are things that his mother and my wife don’t appreciate, but when we are blowjng bubbles and giving each other raspberry greetings what they think really doesn’t matter very much. I have yet to change his diaper.

  • Op-Eds

    It's Time for #MeThree

    I usually don’t like surprises but in recent days there have been three pleasant ones for me. The First was the Blue Wave (or “trickle” if you follow you-know-who’s nitwit feed) that started Tuesday on Election Day and is still swelling a week later. The Second was my wife’s cousin Steven’s surprise retirement party at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club on Saturday. The Third were the readings at last Sunday’s Mass from Kings 17:10: 10-16 in which “The widow of Zarephath shares the last of her food with Elijah” and is rewarded for her generosity, and Mark 12:38 in which, in comparison to the large offerings of the rich, “The (small) offering of the widow had great value in God’s sight.”

    Clearly these last two feminist lessons from the pulpit were Holy Writ commentary on the national elections and are good reasons for anointing the electoral movement toward sanity “MeThree.” For the numerically challenged, “MeOne” was when Orange Top publicly exposed his little self as America’s Pussy Grabber Extraordinaire.  The righteously angry reaction to his misogyny was the “MeToo” movement which in turn led to the “MeThree” Blue Tidal Wave.
    On November 6th, the Democratic Party enjoyed its highest margin of victory ever among female voters in a midterm election. The result, As of November 13, the Democrats had a net gain over the Republicans in the House of Representatives of at least 32 (up to 40 is possible) seats giving them a solid majority there. Under the U.S. Constitution, The House has "the sole power of impeachment." Therefore, women, I would guess, can’t wait to tune into the President’s Impeachment Hearings on MSNBC hosted by Rachel Maddow.

    Unfortunately, the Constitution gives the Senate, which the Republicans will still control, "the sole Power to try all Impeachments." Fortunately, control of one of the Houses of Congress guarantees that the President’s Right-wing Legislative agenda currently being pursued will crawl to a halt. Also, while before the election, the Dems were predicted to lose 4 seats in the Senate, now it looks like they will lose only 1 or 2, and the Republicans will continue to have a razor slim majority in that very unrepresentative chamber. As an aside, I don’t think Mitt Romney who has returned to the Senate will be rubber stamp for everything. After all, he did accurately describe The Donald as a fraud.  

    Being a father of three women, grandfather of two, and spouse of another all of whom deserve more than they have received from the current administration, I am happy to report that the charge to the ballot boxes by the America’s “better half” resulted in what Denise Lu and Keith Collins called a record-breaking “Year of the Woman.” And indeed, it was record-breaking as 35 new women joined the 66 re-elected women in the House, with more to come. As might be expected, the vast majority of these new and old winners are more, and less, liberal Democrats. Even though it set a new record high for CongressWOMEN, with most replacing men, women still make up only one quarter of the 435-member chamber.

    The victorious women made “firsts” in many other ways. According to Lu and Collins, “More than a dozen states will add women to their House delegations next year. Pennsylvania, which currently has no women in the House, will have four next year.” Muslim-American congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib won in Minnesota and Michigan respectively. Native American women Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids won in New Mexico and Kansas respectively. Latinas Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia won in Texas. Ayanna Pressley was elected as the first black congresswoman representing Massachusetts and Jahana Hayes became the first black congresswoman for Connecticut. Last, but certainly not least, besides having run as a Democratic Socialist, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress.

    Although the Democrats didn’t do nearly as well in Senatorial races, Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn, became the first black woman elected to the Senate and in Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became the nation’s first openly bisexual U.S. Senator. As to female Gubernatorial victors, Maine’s Janet Mills, a Democrat, and South Dakota Republican Kristi Noem, were the first to be elected Governor in their home states. The last female good news, that crossed my IMac desktop while researching for this article was from Adeel Hassan applauding the fact that “17 Black Women Sweep to Judgeships in Texas County.”

    As in past national elections, it was women of color, to whom the Democrats owe their victories. Ninety-two percent of black women and 73 percent of Latina women voted for Democratic House candidates this year. According to Vox, in 2016 only 43 percent of white women voted for Democratic House candidates while 49 percent did so this year. While hardly a landslide, they joined 59 percent of all women to vote for House Democrats last week and gave them the highest margin of victory among female voters in a midterm election. Independent female voters also increased their support for Democrats to 57 percent this year from 48 percent in 2016. According to a Brookings Report “White, college-educated women in particular swung heavily left in 2018, with 59 percent voting for Democratic House candidates, compared with just 49 percent in 2016.”  

    Readers might wonder why I am paying so much attention to white voters here, the majority of whom still vote rightwardly. The fact-based non-fake news is that 72 percent of all voters in this election were white. The good news liberals and progressives of all persuasions is that even though whites continued to vote Republican, it was less so than in 2016. All the data show that the wide partisan racial divide remains, with minorities overwhelming committed to Democrats but unable to overcome the much larger white vote. Whites are more likely to register to vote, and white eligible voter turn-out is also much higher. Despite the fact that minority turnout increased to an all-time high in the past election, real political commitment to social justice in America requires building bridges across racial and so many other of our regrettably great divides. In any case, I am looking forward to MeFour in 2020.

  • The debate

    Cynthia Nixon vs Andrew Cuomo: Sex or No Sex in the City”

     Well the tallies are in for the Democratic Party primary race for New York State Governor, and unfortunately for most of us self-identified libidinous “Progressives” the answer is “NO.” Although allegedly “left-leaning” candidates, especially those of the female-kind, knocked off some “right-leaning” lower level, nominally Democratic Party incumbents, Governor Andrew Cuomo was the last man standing at the top. A few pandering pundits have offered that this “trouncing” of Sex in the Citycelebrity Cynthia Nixon well-positions him for a run at the U.S. Presidency, but speculation about Multi-Billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s entrance in the race might make him one New Yorker too many. 


    One of my favorite New York Times writers on the city, Ginia Bellafante, for the most part, agrees with my own assessment as to why the fast start slowed to a halt when she ran up against the real politikpracticed by the current tenant of the Governor’s mansion.  For example, Andy & Company’s tag-along Attorney General candidate Letitia James easily defeated Cynthia & Company’s tag-along Zephyr Teachout. In the campaign Andy outspent Cynthia by about 10 to 1; not counting all the campaign favors done for incumbents such as he. The challengers had many more individual donors, but as noted by Bellafante “Big races need big dollars.” Although she lost, Nixon gathered a great deal of attention in the mass media, helping other more local “progressive” challengers. Her notoriety was especially valuable in defeating some members of the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) in the New York State Senate who have prevented loyal Democrats from taking over that chamber and passing legislation on reproductive rights and single-payer health care. As an aside, the proudly right of center, DINOish (Democrat In Name Only) Governor Cuomo has also been obstructive as to the most progressive, i.e. left-leaning Democratic Party agenda.

    Six of the eight I.D.C. members lost. It could be said that the leftish electoral tsunami started with a June special Democratic Party Congressional primary election in which under-funded Democratic Socialist newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the contest with the support of the Working Families Party.  Incredibly, her incumbent opponent, Joe Crowley was the Chair of the Democratic Party Congressional Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    The most impressive anti-I.D.C. victories was 32-year-old Alessandra Biaggi’s victory over IDC Leader Senator Jeffrey D. Klein. As noted by Bellafante she had several things going (and against) her: “Ms. Biaggi, a lawyer who is backed by the Working Families Party and activists on the left, had worked for the Cuomo administration, which had enabled the I.D.C. in the first place. Beyond that, she is the scion of a Democratic machine family — the granddaughter of the former 10-term Bronx congressman Mario Biaggi, who went to prison in the late 1980s on federal bribery charges.” 

    Another strange victory for the “left” was that of 27 year-old Democratic Socialist Julia Salazar who defeated another long-time incumbent Martin Dilan. At the end of the race, Benjamin Robson reported: In an interview with the New York Times, Salazar admitted that she did not graduate from Columbia University as she previously said, but that she completed coursework there.Her campaign also asserted that she was a working-class immigrant, born in Columbia while she was actually born in the United States and, as The Jewish publication Tablet revealed, lived in a wealthy neighborhood.” Robson went on to say that while in Columbia she was president of a conservative, pro-life group and, as you might already suspect registered as a  Republican in Florida.

    The only former I.D.C. senator in New York City to win (by 45 percent points!) was Diane Savino, whose right-leaning district includes parts of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn. Another odd-person-in is Simcha Felder, a Big Apple Democrat State Senator who often votes with Republicans, but without IDC membership. His votes are not ideological but atuned to the best interests of his predominantly conservative to ultra conservative Jewish constituents. 

    There are many ways to interpret Andrew Cuomo’s massive (66%) victory over Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic Party gubernatorial primary election. One indicator of his “absence makes the heart grow fonder” popularity is that although he won the State, in the counties surrounding Albany, where he lives, he lost by a ten-point margin (55% vs 45%). He did the best in right-leaning more and less Republican dominated Counties such as Richmond (Staten Island), Nassau, and Suffolk as well as small town and rural areas upstate.

    Then there were those mysterious anti-Semitism accusations against Nixon coming from Andrew Cuomo’s campaign. Seven thousand mailers, shamelessly paid for by the New York State Democratic Party, were sent to residents in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. While Andy vehemently denied any role in the smear campaign, The New York Post reported that one of his longtime confidants (“henchmen,” or “enforcers”),  was deeply involved. “Schwartz was very involved with the mailer and signed off on it,” The source added: “It obviously blew up.” Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith sheepishly confirmed the revelations with the lame excuse: “Larry Schwartz who serves on our campaign in a volunteer capacity was reviewing mail pieces in an ad hoc fashion, but he only saw the positive section of the mailer and never saw the negative section”…

    The incident reminds me of the 1977 NYC mayoral primary battle between Edward I. Koch and Andy’s dad. During that bruising campaign, a disgusting poster appeared on the streets of many neighborhoods extorting voters to “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo.” Andy was highly involved in the campaign, but, as might be expected, denied responsibility. However, as Gothamist reporter Jen Chung had reported in 2013 “…Mario Cuomo worked to patch things up between his son and so Koch would endorse Andrew when he was running for Attorney General.” I wonder whether Larry Schwartz also worked in Mario’s 1977 mayoral campaign.

  • Op-Eds

    Fascism in America and Italy: Does History Repeat Itself?

    Lots of my intellectual friends like to quote some version of Philosopher George Santayana’s aphorism "Those who canno t remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The most frequent iteration is “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” If Santayana is right -- that history does repeat -- then ignorance is neither its cause nor its effect, according to me. In other words, if it happened in the past, it is guaranteed to happen again, and of course it has. The best thing you can do is duck when you see it coming. 

    Most think of the aphorism as only referring to the latter two words of “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly,” as in Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and you know who (or take your pick). But sometimes history has a Good side. An optimistic version of the saying is that knowing history can make contemporary society better because people won’t make the same mistake twice. This rosier view is based on the False News that people are rational, if not intelligent, enough to try to change the (inevitable) course of history. Unfortunately, half of the population is below average intelligence, and right now the wrong half seems to be in charge. 

    The positive potential for using UGLY history is another story. In a recent Time magazine article, “How the South Memorializes — and Forgets — Its History of Lynching,”Sherrilyn Ifill employs the horrific history of lynching in America for a good purpose. The impact of her text is enormously magnified by Johnathon Kelso’s powerful images from his series, “A Song Without Words.” As they both retell the shameful history, between 1877 and 1950 more than 4,400 African Americans were victims of this, largely ignored, “systematic” reign of terror. Since the perpetrators controlled the public square, lynchings have rarely merited explanatory markers.  Despite their invisible history, lynching’s psychic devastation still impacts on the local, and national community.  Infill encourages locals to do the difficult research, which might help repair the damage and bring to wide attention “our past’s darkest chapters.” She ends the article with a prayer: “By embracing that history — by being honest aboutwhere we have fallen short of our professed ideals — we can draw closer to a futurewhere every American enjoys equal protection of the law.” To which I say “Inshallah!” 

    Less poetically, lynching is merely the practice of “extrajudicial” execution. Most often they were committed by an angry mob; often with the help of local political authorities. Although they took place before the Civil War, their heyday was after Reconstruction in the South when the White losers sought to reassert their dominance over Blacks. According to several sources, about 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968. Victims included 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 “others.” Almost three-quarters of all lynchings took place in the South, but per capita, they were also common in the Old West, especially of Latinos. As might be expected, Native Americans and Asian Americans were also victims. Rounding out the recorded list were Finnish, Jewish, Irish, and Italian-Americans. 

    The well-deserved reputation of intolerance of too many Italian-Americans today is unexpected given the numerous parallels between the African-American and Italian-American experiences. For example, after seeing Sicilian fieldworkers and sulfur miners in 1910, Booker T. Washington wrote: "The Negro is not the man farthest down. The condition of the colored farmer in the most backward parts of the Southern States in America, even where he has the least education and the least encouragement, is incomparably better than the condition and opportunities of the agricultural population in Sicily." As explained by Samuele F. S, Pardini, Washington, feared their mass immigration to the United States would undermine the already precarious condition of African Americans who at the time were only a few decades out of slavery. The suffering of Italians in America pales in comparison to that of African Americans. Mostly, because they eventually attained a pseudo-white status for which they are eternally grateful. Becoming White however, required acceptance of the American white supremacist racial ideology. In any case, some examples of their long-forgotten history are worth recalling.           

    At the turn of the 20th Century defenders of the nation warned that Slavs, Italians and Jews because of their high birth rates would “degrade” the “American race.” Other critics of Southern Italian immigration warned that Italians were not even “white” at all. The New York Herald wrote about “Italian Slave Children,” sent by Italian padrones out to beg in the streets. In one cellar “home” for the children the police and reporters found “an abominable place, the breeding ground of disease and the abode of roaches and vermin.” Dixie plantation owners thought Southern Italian peasants might replace freed slaves. The Italian government saw this an opprounity to export them and benefit by their remittances, but were unsuccessful as they were too difficult for their new masters to control. The late 19th and early 20thcentury press spread the message that “dagoes” were “dangerous,” “lazy,” “filthy,” “cruel,” “ferocious,” and “bloodthirsty.” For one Irish-American critic “The Italian was all too ready to ask for public assistance.”, and lacked of “manly qualities.”

    Like African Americans, the best indicator of racial hatred is the American custom of lynching. Although many other Italians were lynched by racist mobs, the most (in)famous was in New Orleans. On March 14, 1881, according to Italian American scholar Patrick Gallo: “a mob of 6,000–8,000 people, led by prominent citizens, descended on the parish jail to get the “Dagoes.” State and local law officers, and the governor who was in the city at the time, stood by and did nothing, the mob hanged two of the suspects from lampposts, and lined nine of them up in front of the prison wall and blasted their bodies with rifles, pistols, and shotguns, taking less than twenty minutes for their grim work.” The victims were accused of killing the New Orleans Superintendent of Police whose dying words were “The Dagoes shot me . . . the Dagoes did it.” The Mayor then ordered the police “to arrest every Italian you come across.” About 150 were arrested. When the courts began to find them innocent, the New Orleans Times-Democratcalled for “All good citizens . . . to attend a mass meeting . . . to take steps to remedy the failure of justice,” resulting in the largest mass lynching in American history. Theodore Roosevelt considered the lynching of eleven “rather a good thing” and the New York Times agreed that, “the Lynch Law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans.”  

    If history was a lesson, what did it teach Italian Americans? Given that the racist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic current President was supported by Italian America at the ballot box, and Italian Americans such as Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani are his prominent advisers, it seems to be “Do unto others as has been done to me.” They seem to have forgotten, or didn’t know in the first place, that for Anglo-Saxon America, Italy was once a "shithole country."

    As might be expected, the return of Fascism in America is mirrored in the “home” country where Italians have forgotten Mussolini’s co-towing to Hitler, who said Italians were ”tainted with negro blood.” Obviously, they don’t recall how fascism destroyed their country. Even though Italians were once the “niggers of Europe,” their past history of mass migration has not deterred them from racist expletives and immigrant bashing today. Such shameful behavior is shared among many, more Aryan, European countries like German. Italy’s far-right Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, is hardly the worst of the worst. Stephen Kirchgaessner reported from Rome that Salvini “…vowed to turn “words into action” in his drive to root out and expel thousands of nomadic Roma from Italy as he shrugged off critics who said the far-right interior minister was adopting illegal policies reminiscent of the country’s fascist past.” While it is true that most “non-Italians” in the country are non-white, historical hatred toward the Roma “…provides the easiest appeal to Italian bigotry.”  As a result, Salvini’s approval rating jumped.

    Thankfully, such clearly racist appeals are not every Italians cup of espresso. For Gomorrah author, Roberto Saviano, “Italy’s war on migrants makes him fear for his country’s future. A wave of hatred has been whipped up, threatening the civil rights of all of us.” He sees a battle being waged between Italians and migrants whereby Italians disregard the rights of others. As a result, the society is going backwards with an “upsurge of nationalism that displays racist animus against anything perceived to be an alien body.” 

    Last but not least, as I was writing this non-anonymous Op-Ed, Jason Horowitz wrote “The most powerful figure in Italy’s new populist government signed up on Friday with Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, to help bring about a continentwide populist takeover during European Parliamentary elections next spring.” Salvini joined Bannon’s “The Movement” which is billed as an opportunity for right-wing populist leaders across Europe to form alliances. I can only hope that our guy in White House doesn’t feel left out. Whether he sees this on Fox Cable News or not, millions of progressive Italian Americans and Italians will have a difficult task ahead trying to guide their misguided co-ethnics away from the Dark Side by teaching them the lessons of their own history. If Santayana is right, it might be a waste of time, but it will be time well-spent.




    Patrick J. Gallo, 1981, Old Bread, New Wine. Chicago: Nelson Hall.

    Jason Horowitz, 2018, “Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, is Steve Bannon’s first big get in his effort to bring about a continentwide populist takeover.” The New York Times >>

    Sherrilyn Ifill and Johnathon Kelso, 2018, “How the South Memorializes — and Forgets — Its History of Lynching,”Time. >>

    Stephanie Kirchgaesser 2018 “Far-right Italy minister vows 'action' to expel thousands of Roma.”The Guardian. >>

    Salvatore J. La Gumina, 1973 WOP: A Documentary History of Anti-Ital­ian Discrimination in the United States. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books.

    Samuele F. S. Pardini. In the Name of the Mother: Italian Americans, African Americans, and Modernity from Booker T. Washington to Bruce Springsteen. Hanover: Dartmouth College. 
    Booker T. Washington, 1912, The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe, New York: Doubleday Page and Co.

    Roberto Saviano, 2018, “Italy’s war on migrants makes me fear for my country’s future,” The Guardian. >>



    Jerome Krase is Murray Koppelman Professor and Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York, and author of Self and Community in the City, co-author of Ethnicity and Machine Politics, and co-editor of Race and Ethnicity in New York City, The Melting Pot and Beyond, and Ethnic Landscapes in an Urban World.

  • Op-Eds

    Finding the Right Words?

    A few days ago, while watching Al Jazeera, or was it the dreaded Russian Television Network (RTN) during lunch, I was not at all surprised to hear that the most-articulate-ever President of the United States of America, or POTUS as some refer to him, had embarrassed us, the Suffering People of the United States, or SPOTUS, again. Unlike his Kenyan-born Muslim presidential predecessor, there is never any doubt that he alone among all others truly says what he means.This time, he was heard muttering something scatologically unmentionable about “depressions into which manure is deposited.”

    Given his choice of dirty words, maybe we should refer to him as PPOTUS – Pottymouth President of the United States. According to comedian George Carlin, the original Federal Communication Commission’s forbidden seven dirty words were:c**ksucker, c*nt, f*ck, mother*cker, p*ss, s**t, and t*ts, so, oratorically-speaking, PPOTUS has a long way yet to go.

    As reported by CNN reporters Eli Watkins and Abby Phillip, his remarks were made in a White House meeting during which Illinois Democratic Party Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Party South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham brought him a bi-partisan plan for the State Department to halve the number of visas offered in the lottery program. In addition, “at the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus, the rest would go to underrepresented countries in Africa and Temporary Protective Status nations, including Haiti.”  (see >> )

    According to many other auditory witnesses, in response to the suggestions, PPOTUS, muttered a few impertinent enquiries such as: "Why do we want all these people from 'shithole countries' coming here?" and "Why do we need more Haitians?” My confidence in the veracity of the overheard comments was increased by a December 2017 report in The New York Times about comments he made at a June, 2017 meeting. Most notably that Haitian immigrants "all have AIDS," and “recent Nigerian immigrants would never "go back to their huts" in Africa” once they got here  Following form, White House spokespersons also denied these earlier fake unkind cuts. Most amusingly, “One person briefed on the meeting said when Durbin got to Haiti, Trump began to ask why we want people from Haiti and more Africans in the US and added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway.” (More on this later in this missive.)

    Of course, PPOTUS immediately tweeted denials, insisting that what several others at the meeting clearly heard him say were false auditory memories. Such verbal and digital misconduct is not unexpected from PPOTUS as he has a long history of prevarication as well as various derelictions of Presidential duties. I however I shall refrain from fouling these pages with similarly smelly smears.

    His most recent blurt slurred Haitians and Africans, but his s***t list is much longer than that. I need not mention soon-to-be-expelled-and-then-walled-out Mexicans, Salvadorans, and similarly maligned Latinos. Looking at his recent colorful remarks, his preference for lighter-skinned Nordic folks, makes a great deal of sense. It is well-known that colorblindness is not one among his other physiological faults, such as short-fingeredness.

    According to my DNA Kit, forty-eight percent of me is shared by Southern Italians, forty-six percent is shared with East/Central Europeans, four percent with North Africans, and two percent with Asians. I must admit that when my grandparents passed through the Golden Door in the 1880s, the U.S.A. was still distinguishing between Northern (lighter and better) and Southern (darker and worser) Italians. However, I do have a complex connection to some sort of Norwegians. A gift from a least one previous resident of the Norman castle in my mom’s parents’ hometown of Marineo, near Palermo, Sicily are my Sinatra-like beautiful blue eyes. For confirmation though, I'll have to check my entire genome.

    The most embarrassing fact about PPOTUS’ oral antics is how widely they are shared among my fellow Americans. If we extrapolate from the results of the 2016 Presidential election almost one out of every two Americans is also a s**t head. On these I-Italy/org pages, I have penned, or rather Word-processed, several pieces on the unfortunate fact that PPOTUS continues to enjoy strong support from much more than half of those Americans with whom I share much too much of my DNA. Thank god for Italian Americans of the Other Kind such as Andrew Cuomo, Bill DeBlasio, Nancy Pelosi and Janet Napolitano who still remember where their genes come from.  

    I am not an expert on PPOTUS’ utterances, and when I hear or read his name I quickly shut down the source. Frankly, I don’t know why people who call themselves “journalists” attend pseudo-press conferences, or why they think there is “another side” to the U.S. Bill of Rights which they call “balance.” I don’t hate PPOTUS. I am sure he had no idea how wrong-headed American voters could be. Right now, he himself is some big S**T and I hope, for both our and his sake that he figures out a way to climb out of it before we all drown in it

  • Op-Eds

    “Why I became a First Time Marcher”

    I have never marched in any Columbus Day Parade, nor have I ever watched one as a sidewalk spectator. It may seem odd, but I did march, once, in a Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day parade. In that case, even though I hate parades, and crowds, and furthermore am not even half-Irish, I did so because I was personally invited by an Irish-American group – The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick. They knew I wrote about Brooklyn’s ethnic groups and asked If I would help them plan their anniversary celebration.  The Irish have a high regard for writers. I am a member of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, even though I am not Polish, I am invited to: “Join the Kosciuszko Foundation as we march in the 80th annual Pulaski Day Parade on Sunday, October 1. We'll meet at 12:00 p.m. on 5th Avenue at East 37th Street. Dress in white and red and bring Polish flags. Then, meet us at the KF House for traditional Polish bigos and pierogies.” For Poles, intellectuals are central to their sense of nationhood.

    The New York City’s Columbus Day parade committee issues its more open invitation thusly: “The Columbus Day Parade is a fun filled parade that gets bigger and better every year. Participants from all over the world march in our parade with pride. The parade has become a global event with millions of viewers and over a half million spectators on the streets. We invite you to join us and experience this memorable day.” (my emphasis) To even half-Italian Americans, an invitation to “drop in in case you’re in the neighborhood,” is no invitation at all. But this year for me, the parade usually lead by one or another super-prominent rich and/or famous Italian or Italian American, is different and the Founder and Chairman of Barnes & Noble, Inc. Leonard Riggio, made it so. First of all, he and I are proud alums of Brooklyn Technical High School (he 1958 and me 1960). More importantly, as Grand Marshall of this year’s hotly contested Columbian celebration he became a literary Centurion by leading one hundred Italian American published authors at the head of the parade. Considering this a personal invite, I will be among them.

    A few weeks ago I visited Sicily, the homeland of my mother’s parents Giralamo Cangialosi and Maria Antonetta Trentascosta. My mother once told me my grandfather lived in a palace in Marineo -- a hill town near Palermo with a Norman castle. Later she admitted he was the stable boy. Starting on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, my grandparents began their struggle to make a better life for their family and despite anti-Italian bias they succeeded. They were buon educato, but not “well educated.” Higher education was a dream for their children’s children. They would be astonished by how much their grandchildren and greatgrandchildren have accomplished. I am sure that my fellow Technite, Leonard Riggio, didn’t know it, but he made a special space in this year’s parade for a half-Sicilian American author. He gave me and dozens of other writers a chance to honor our ancestors with our written words while joining with hundreds more who do so in a myriad of other ways. Grazie tante!


    Jerry Krase, Emeritus and Murray Koppelman Professor at Brooklyn College CUNY,

  • Monuments to Christopher Columbus are ubiquitous in America, or as they say "as American as pizza pie." This one is mostly unnoticed near an entrance to State Road 8 in Torrington CT, so efforts to tear it down are unlikely.

    Between Columbus and Cuomo: The Italian Experience in America, 1992 Revisted

    A few months ago I attended an event to honor outstanding Italian American students at the CUNY Graduate and University Center. This occasion was one of many sponsored by the John Calandra Italian American Institute over the years. While enjoying the good company and collation, my good friend and colleague, Nick Spilotro, pulled me aside to ask me to address the Italian American Studies Committee of the United Federation of Teachers. He also graciously provided me with the title of my Italian Heritage and Culture Month presentation; "From Columbus to Cuomo." As he expected, I almost immediately began to change the text and the subtext of the Symposium. As I speak to you today, my title stands as not "From Columbus to Cuomo," but "Between Columbus and Cuomo." Who knows what tomorrow may bring. Perhaps next year's title will be "Between Queen Isabella and Geraldine Ferraro."


    As a gubernatorial appointee to the New York Council for the Humanities, some people might assume that I am a close friend, neighbor, or relative of the governor. I am none of these. Speaking honestly, my two most momentous "Cuomoccasions" took place many years ago. The first was in 1977, when he came to Brooklyn College to talk on the student radio station while he was running in the Democratic Primary for Mayor of New York City. Vincent Fuccillo, a professor in the Political Science department, who was then Director of the Center for Italian American Studies, Mario DiSanto, an adjunct faculty member of the Sociology department and a community activist, and I had arranged to meet with him to offer our services as advisors concerning the City University of New York. We also intended to offer ourselves as campaigners. We thought to ourselves: "How could he resist such an array of talent?" Bursting with ethnic pride and hopefulness when we met Cuomo at the school, our egos were quickly deflated when he made it obvious that he felt he knew more about CUNY then we did. Like Christopher Columbus, Mario Cuomo is not easy to love.


    The second Cuomomentous, and happier time in his presence was at the election night celebration after he had won the governorship of the State of New York. Then I stood with a group of ecstatic Italian American campaign workers chanting Ma- Re- O! In that campaign I helped in the Cuomo gubernatorial effort in Brooklyn while assisting in the bruising Congressional fight of Major Owens and the equally challenging Council manic race of Sal Albanese. In effect, I was trying to convince both African, and Italian-Americans that "Cuomo was the One." Cuomo's victory was Phoenix-like, rising from the ashes of the mayoral loss. Like Columbus, when Cuomo decides to take a trip, he doesn't turn back until he reaches his destination; even if it's not where he thought he was going. Lacking intimacy with the governor, I polled a number of people who know him much better than I do to discover what he is "really" like. After a brief survey I have concluded that the nicest thing I can say about Mario Cuomo can be summed up in the word "Matilda."


    A few decades ago nations all over the world were trying to take credit for the discovery of America. Similarly, many groups were making competing claims as to Columbus' nationality, race, ethnicity, and religion. However, once the definition of the event was changed from a glorious "Discovery" to a tragic "Encounter," Italians were been left alone holding the bag, so to speak. This on-going "politically correct" historical circus has obscured what I believe is the most important contribution that Columbus has made to the human spirit. As is obvious, I do not believe in hero worship, but Christopher Columbus' accomplishments should have resulted in a celebration of what is possible when a person of humble estate has a dream and, against all odds, pursues it to its successful conclusion. Instead of fostering unity, his deeds have been used as a focal point for dissension, and often dishonest, historical revision.


    My perspective on history is what used to be called "radical;" before radical became "radical chic," and chic became "politically correct." If you permit me, I'd like to mention the people "between" Columbus and Cuomo. We might call them the "silent majority," but it would be more accurate to label them as the "ignored majority." It is more important that the public knows the common history of these ordinary, average Italians rather than the incredible feats of a few of the most prominent. I must also warn you that I will be presenting here a rather biased "Sicilocentric" version of history.


    I guess it was important for me to know as a child that Christopher Columbus was an Italian "like me?". However, when I was a child I didn't know I was Italian. While I was in my twenties, it suddenly dawned on me that my mother's maiden name was "Cangelosi," and that all my relatives on her side were Italian. When I confronted her with my revelation and asked why she never told us we were Italian, she matter-of-factly replied that; "We weren't". Puzzled at this response, I pursued the issue further. Much annoyed at my persistence, she finally explained that her mother had always said she wasn't Italian- but "Sicilian."


    From the Sicilocentric perspective, it probably would have been better for me to know while I was growing up that my grandfather from Palermo sold watermelon by the slice on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and also helped to dig the Panama Canal. And that my great grandmother had the courage to leave her husband, take her children, and travel to America alone to give them a better life. But I never knew this, even though I did know that "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." I got the distinct impression from my mother that when she was growing up Italians frequently either hid their ethnic identity, or at least did not flaunt it among other groups. I don't think her reticence was due to shame. I think it was because of fear. If I were growing up during the first part of this century, I'd be afraid to let people know I was Italian also.


    Unfortunately, the way by which Italians dealt with nativist reactions to them; from mere discourtesy and negative stereotypes to outright violence, was by creating and worshiping icons which appealed to their antagonists. Basically, Americans liked Christopher Columbus. He was a "good" Italian--tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed, almost WASPish. Therefore it was decided that Italian Americans should worship Columbus too. Ironically, the icon that Italians chose, or more correctly was given to them, is now being used against them. The persistent, overbearing, egocentric commoner who thought of himself as the divinely chosen saintly bearer of Christ to the New World has been recently transfigured by the popular and scholarly media into a virtual Don Corleone of the Age of Discovery. To the Sicilian political mind, the timing of the trashing of Columbus is perhaps a little too "convenient." Just when Italians as a group in America seemed to have "arrived," so much so that people were talking about the "Year of the Italians" or "The Decade of the Italians," the numero uno Italian is transformed from hero to villain. A Sicilological analysis of contemporary American politics would suggest that the confluence of the Quincentenary and a possible Cuomo presidential bid had something to do with such a radical re-analysis. Might it have been possible for Mario Cuomo to have ridden on a wave of Columbian celebrations all the way to the White House? We will never know for sure. Then again, perhaps it is merely a case of icons attracting iconoclasts.


    My friend Professor Sal LaGumina, who teaches History at Nassau Community College, always reminds me that we reasonably successful Italian American have been able to reach our high goals because we have stood on the shoulders of "giants." Our ancestral giants were notprominenti, they are ordinary Joes and Josephines who struggled, and made it in spite of their official heroes. What is the value of the Columbus Celebration anyway? Matilda R. Cuomo, Chairperson of the New York State Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Commission has put it this way: "The Quincentenary offers us an opportunity to become better informed about our sacred history; to dispel the myths and fallacies that linger about both Columbus and the political culture of the Italy of the late fifteenth century, and to understand better the full extent of Columbus' contributions and the contributions of all ethnic groups that followed him into the New World."(p. 8)


    One of the unfortunate unanticipated consequences of the Quincentenary has been a perversion of the concepts of multiculturalism, pluralism, and metaphor of the American Melting Pot. When I helped to develop a theme of "Multicultural Literacy" while serving on the New York Council for the Humanities, I was attracted to the value of how the study of many different groups would help a diverse people to appreciate a common humanity. However, because of the perverse nature of our ethnic, racial, gender, and religious political system, multicultural literacy has become multi-cultural warfare. Commenting on "1492 and Multiculturalism," Robert Royal, Vice President for Research and Olin Fellow in Religion and Society at the Ethics ad Public Policy Center in Washington. D.C., presents a conservative's view of the "Columbus-Discovery" debate:


    "Multiculturalism, properly understood, then, has little to do with culture or cultures, and quite a lot to do with special interest politics. There is perhaps no better confirmation of this analysis than some of the phenomena surrounding this year's Columbus Quincentenary. One hundred years ago, in 1892, Columbus was celebrated as a modern man liberating himself from the theological inhibitions of Catholicism and the feudal restraints of Spain to help create protestant and democratic America. This interpretation had gained prominence earlier in the century through Washington Irving's popular but skewed biography, which aimed at making Columbus into the embodiment of nineteenth century American optimism and progress. This year, 1992, however, Columbus is being revised by many writers whose vested interest lies far from seeing him as a white progressive -- that issue is long dead. Now he is the prototype of early white European capitalist oppressors whose victims- blacks, Native Americans, women (communitarians and environmentalists all, of course) - are a veritable multicultural litany."


    Permit me here to make a Hollywood analogy regarding the sea change in the mass media's projection of the Columbian image. Whereas once the enigmatic Christopher Columbus was sympathetically portrayed in film as a pious, dedicated, brave, and ultimately vulnerable character, in theaters today he appears as a sort of "Conan the Barbarian" played by the winner of an Arnold Schwartzennegger look-alike contest. Although, as Robert Royal noted, Christopher Columbus was a welcome celebrity in America around the turn of the 20th century, ordinary Italian Americans were certainly not afforded the same reception. As Columbus, and by extension, the Italian-Americans who he is seen to represent, is held to account for the "Crimes of European Imperialism," it might make some sense to bring some historical reality back into the debate. Italians were as victimized by "European Imperialism" as any other group of people. Parallels between African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Italian American experiences in the New World are numerous and should be the source of cooperation rather than part of the current multicultural political wrangling.


    In order to see this, it is necessary for Italian-Americans and non-Italian-Americans to learn the real history of the vast majority of people of Italian descent in the United States. Italian Americans have much to be proud of, and nothing to be ashamed of in regard to their struggle to build a better life for themselves here in America. Toward the goal of expanding our awareness of the "real" history of Italian Americans, allow me to discuss a few aspects of the Italian American experience ably assembled and presented by Lydio Tomasi (1978). All of the historical events and issues which I will subsequently discuss should seem familiar to historically informed people, as they are the plagues visited upon cohort after cohort of poor Americans; whether they were immigrants or not. In 1906, speaking on "the Immigrant Problem" Robert DeCourcy Ward warned that Slavs, Italians and Jews, because of their high birth rates would "degrade" the "American race." Other contemporary critics of Southern Italian immigration warned that Italians were a threat to America because they were not "white." In fact it has been argued by some experts that the epithet "guinea" was "derived from a name attached to slaves from the western African coast."


    The poverty of Southern Italy was so great during the latter half of the 19th century that a transoceanic traffic was created for "Italian Slave Children." The New York Herald reported on one of many raids on Italian padrones who either through contractual arrangements with parents, or by kidnapping, sent hordes of juvenile minstrels out to beg in the streets of New York and Philadelphia. In one cellar "home" for the children the police and reporters found "an abominable place, the breeding ground of disease and the abode of roaches and vermin." In 1870 there was a "Riot in Mamaroneck" New York where Irish and Italian laborers clashed over jobs. The end result of the battle as reported in the New York Sun was: "The Italian population of Grand Park was Driven Out-The Women and Children Sheltered in the Town Hall of Morrisania- Our Home War of Races.” As in the Balkans, and New York City today, violence is the fruit of ethnic politics in times of economic crisis.


    In many cases in America Italian laborers were paid lower wages than "native whites" or "Negroes", making them more desirable as employees. This fact of life was the justification for many riots against Italian workers who were eager to work as "scabs" during strikes. Poor southern Italian peasants were viewed by Dixie plantation owners as potential replacements for freed black slaves. The Italian government even cooperated in several "experiments" at population transfers, which were unsuccessful. The major problem for the agribusiness community was that Italian peasants, once they learned of their relative freedom in the U.S., were too difficult to control. Late 19th and early 20th century American press accounts and descriptions of Italians conveyed the message that "dagoes" were "dangerous," "lazy," "filthy," "cruel," "ferocious," and "bloodthirsty." One Irish American critic in the 1880s noted, "The Italian was all too ready to ask for public assistance." And, that the absence of "manly qualities" separated Italian immigrants from others in America.


    As with other minorities, the best indicator of racial hatred is the American custom of "lynching." Although there are several other incidents of Italians being lynched in America by racist mobs, the most infamous, but still little contemplated, took place in New Orleans on March 14, 1891. It was during the very same time when prominent American business and political leaders were planning for a gala celebration of their super icon, and founding Italian father, Christopher Columbus. Historian Patrick Gallo provides the following description of the massacre: "a mob of 6,000-8,000 people, led by prominent citizens, descended on the parish jail to get the "Dagoes." State and local law officers, and the governor, who was in the city at the time, stood by and did nothing, the mob hanged two of the suspects from lampposts, and lined nine of them up in front of the prison wall and blasted their bodies with rifles, pistols and shotguns, taking less then twenty minutes for their grim work."


    The victims of the mob had been accused of killing the New Orleans Superintendent of Police, David C. Hennessey. His dying words were: "The Dagoes shot me...The Dagoes did it." He did not recognize his killers. Neither did any other witnesses. The Mayor of New Orleans therefore ordered the police "to arrest every Italian you come across." About 150 were arrested. When the courts began to find them innocent, the New Orleans Times-Democrat called for "All good attend...a mass take steps to remedy the failure of justice...," resulting in the largest mass lynching in American history. Reactions to the lynchings were as could be expected given the generally accepted stereotype of stiletto-wielding Italians. Theodore Roosevelt considered the lynching of eleven Italians a "rather good thing," and The New York Times agreed that "The Lynch Law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans." No one was ever arrested or prosecuted for the lynching and the incident was greeted with appreciation by most "real Americans" of the time. A few years later, in order to preserve American honor after a crescendo of international outrage, President Benjamin Harrison apologized to the Italian government for the slaughter of these and other Italians in American, and gave an indemnity of $25,000 to the families of eighteen victims.


    Part of the problem caused by opportunistic, politically correct, Columbus bashing has been the tendency on the part of some to feel that they must "defend" both The Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and Spanish imperialism. This is unfortunate, first of all because Columbus, as all historical figures, must be judged by the norms of the time, and secondly because it gives the false impression that all those who defend him are insensitive to the terrible consequences of the European conquest for Native Americans. For example, in defense of Columbus Robert Royal reflected on the dual myths of noble savages and European barbarians. Speaking about the Caribs who Columbus and his men encountered, and ultimately destroyed, Royal notes: "the Caribs were not only conquering territory: as one modern historian puts it, the Tainos, or Arawaks were terrified of the Caribs because they were 'then expanding across the lesser Antilles and literally eating the Arawaks up.'"


    As to how the Native American empires such as the Aztec and Inca were defeated he continues: "one of the reasons that the 550 conquistadors who came ashore in Mexico with Cortes were able to conquer the Aztec Empire, for example, is that 20,000 Indians joined the Spanish in order to liberate themselves from Aztec control and tribute, including the obligation to send young men to the capital Tenochtitlan for sacrificing to the Gods. The technical advantage to the Spanish of possessing clumsy rifles and a few horses against a million-person empire with a fierce warrior class pales in comparison to the support of native allies." Columbus is also indirectly accused of introducing male chauvinism and sexism into the New World, where some would have you believe pre-existed a sexual egalitarian utopia. Again, Royal notes: "The Caribs, according to mainstream scholarship, not only were cannibals but made a habit to capture and make concubines of the women from the Arawak tribes. The women were segregated from the women to such an extent that they spoke two different languages. Only the men spoke Carib; the women, even Carib women, spoke Arawak because of the large numbers of Arawak women captive among them." (p.4)


    It seems to me that what is often being argued by misguided multiculturalists is that it is acceptable for Native American men to oppress Native American women but not for European men to do the same. Real social progress would be recognition that all oppression is wrong, not merely that which is politically and multiculturally incorrect. To bring this issue up to date, I have heard similar opinions presented in New York City today when ethnic leaders argue that the New York City Police Department has to be culturally sensitive to domestic disputes in "their" neighborhoods, and not interfere, for example, when men batter "their" women, or parents batter "their" children. Should we also legalize vendettas?


    Columbus and 16th Century Europeans are also accused of lust. This demonstrates that our current intellectual fascination with sexual practices is not limited to alternating criticism and defense of Madonna. Historical voyeurism, however, has no ideological boundaries. Sometimes this prurient interest takes some convoluted turns. I participate in a reading group dealing with racism in American society. At a recent meeting, I perused a copy of Howard Zinn's new saga of America, A People's History of the United States, which allegedly provides the reader with an historical perspective taken "from the ground up." However, in the process of introducing the New World to the reader before its pollution by Columbus et al, he paints a sensual picture of "Tawny" naked Taino's welcoming Columbus on the shore. He then notes that they (women) were free and equal and emphasizes their sexual license as proof. In my humble opinion, this proves only that he and other males seem to think that most important aspect of one's human definition is the extent of ones sexual horizons, and that, especially, women should be defined by the degree of their accessibility. Crudely speaking, to many intellectuals, women were better off before colonization because they were, so to speak, "easier."


    Showing that the dirty minds of men, politically correct or not, have changed little in 500 years, Amerigo Vespucci described Native Americans as "Epicurean": "They are so (liberal) in giving that it is the exception when they deny you anything; and, on the other hand, (they are free) in begging, when they show you their wives and daughters; and when a father or a mother brings you the daughter, although she be a virgin, and you sleep with her, they esteem themselves highly honored; and in this way they practise the full extreme of hospitality." (Washburn, p. 8) The politically correct multiculturalists act as though they "discovered" the oppression of Native Americans. They create the impression that, in the reactionary academic world, colonial abuses were a well-kept secret. As to the teaching of history, some especially shrill critics of the Quincentenary complain that Americans have been prevented from learning about the accomplishments of Native American civilizations, as well as the horrors inflicted upon them by Europeans. I must say that when I studied at Indiana University in the 1960s that certainly was not the case. I think it is more likely that the current generation of cultural and/or intellectual elites is trying to excuse itself for its own educational inadequacies.


    The knee-jerk "Columbus made me do it." response probably was first blurted out by untenured college professors when they were being embarrassed by politically surging minority students who had invaded their classrooms. For example, when the Native American students asks the politically correct college professor why "their history" is not in the curriculum, the professor is inclined to say that he or she was "denied" the opportunity to learn about them by their stern white Anglo Saxon task masters, rather than the more honest: "I wasn't interested in your problems when I was in grad school." To quote from a small text I still keep in my basement, which was assigned to me "to be read in its entirety," by a very sour-pussed White Anglo Saxon Protestant mid-western professor while I was going to school in Bloomington on the G.I. Bill:


    "But in spite of blind alleys, setbacks, and internecine feuds, Spain persisted in laboriously fulfilling her destiny of constructing, from the world of Indians, that greatest of empires. However, the people who were that empire were oddly ungrateful for their destiny. Their gods and homes were shattered, and from the enjoyment of living they were turned to working for it. They lost their subtle, mystic pride and forgot their very names, so that they called themselves by the Spanish names of Big Ears or Short Hairs. They died in massive numbers from measles, smallpox, cholera, and tuberculosis, from starvation, incredible overwork, from desperation, from sheer horror at inhumanities they could not believe even when they were happening. They died drunk, they died insane, they died by their own hands; they died, they said because their souls were stolen. They vanished in such numbers that African Negroes could not be shipped in fast enough to take their place. Their children were born dead, from syphilis; or their women, rotted with syphilis, became unable to bear children at all." (Brandon, 1961, p. 126)


    I ask; could The Encounter be put more eloquently by someone more politically correct? I also ask, if someone like me, a lowly anti-intellectual sociologist, who did not major in American history, has been integrating such material in my classes since I began teaching in 1968, why is all this "news' to multiculturalists? In my humble opinion, the problem is not simply that educated and uneducated Americans don't know the history of Native Americans, or how they were abused by European conquerors. The real intellectual shame is that Americans don't know the history of any common people. Even the limited history being taught by multiculturalists about Native Americans tends to focus more on the glories of "advanced" civilizations in the New World such as the Aztec and Inca than of the everyday struggles of ordinary men and women.


    Sadly, the current crop of social, political, and cultural critics who describe themselves as "liberal" or (even more self- servingly) "progressive," bemoan the loss of the Taino, only be-cause they were destroyed in a "politically incorrect" manner. The effect of politicizing history for partisan gain has been to widen the gulf between the various peoples of the United States who, having humble origins, have a great deal in common which can be demonstrated in historical analogies. This commonality is especially shared between Southern Italians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans. Despite the opportunity of shared experience becoming a source for multicultural dialogue however, the following pseudo-syllogism is currently in vogue: Columbus was Italian. He discovered America. Because of his discovery, the native people of American were cruelly exploited. Sicilian-Americans came from Italy. Therefore, Jerry Krase is responsible for the exploitation of Native Americans.


    Palmer and Colton give a simple description of the socio-economic system in the Spanish New World. Their outline may help us to understand the basic similarities between peons in America and impoverished contadini in Southern Italy, where the Spanish ruled for centuries. They note: "The true character of the Spanish empire in America is not easy to portray. The Spanish government regarded its empire as existing for the benefit of the mother country. The Indians were put into servitude, to work in mines or in agriculture. The government introduced the encomienda, a kind of distant analogue to the European manor. The "lord" of the encomiendacontrolled the labor of his Indians, but according to the law he could not deprive them Indians of their own parcels of land, and he must make Indians work for him no more than four days a week, leaving them two days a week to work on their own parcels... How much the royal regulations were enforced in remote encomiendas is another question, on which answers vary." (p. 106)


    They also note that Negro slavery was not as important in Spanish America as in other European colonies. Undoubtedly this was because of the availability of an exploitable native labor pool, as was also true in Southern Italy. Spanish aristocrats were also reluctant to emigrate to the New World and Southern Italy. In their colonies, Spaniards looked down on locally-born elites, as a result the quality of local leadership in both domains suffered greatly. Perhaps the greatest irony of he spectacle of Spanish Imperialist Christopher Columbus as an icon for Italian Americans, is that the vast majority of Italian Americans are descendant of people who were also victimized by Spain, which saw the people of Southern Italy people and their lands as valuable resources which could be easily harvested. Southern Italy, before the opening of the New World, was a major source of silver, lead, sulfur, and "petrol oil." Even before its forests were depleted, plantation economies produced such commodities for export as sugar, silk, and citrus. Southern Italian colonies were exploited until other places were found which were more profitable and where the people were easier to control.


    According to Denis Mack Smith, the conditions in Sicily were so bad during the 18th century that King Charles III of Spain had difficulty enticing investors to come to Sicily. For example, he invited Jews, who had earlier been expelled from Christian lands, to return. In desperation he even allowed them to keep their Christian slaves while in Sicily! Another example of the effects of colonialism was that the population of Sicily fell from 1,000,000 in 1700 to 500,000 by 1800. Because foreign rulers were not interested in making the island self-sufficient, no major roads connected important cities, and no bridges were built to cross rivers even into the 19th century. The Sicilian agricultural system was operated to profit only the large landholders, and managers. Farming methods were used which guaranteed inefficiency, and periodic famine. They also guaranteed the impoverishment of peasants, who became tenant farmers and day laborers; forced to work on plantations, or latifundi. Clearly, Italian peasants had more in common with the exploited of the New World than with their own local middle-classes and petty aristocracies which occasionally clashed with each other over the limited economic surpluses, and even more limited social honor.


    According to Smith, and others, the south of Italy was hampered by a backward ruling class, which sometimes reveled in its own ignorance. In the 19th century, poor Italians were even brought to the New World to replace freed slaves; for example, to fill the need for agricultural workers in the gulf states. At times, the various "Italian" governments even conspired with Americans to transplant groups of Italian agricultural workers into labor colonies to work on farms in southern states such as Louisiana, and Texas, where they filled a precarious racial niche between blacks and whites. If life in America was so hard on southern Italian immigrants, why did they continue to come? Part of the answer might be found in Smith's description of the sulfur mining industry in Sicily: "Labour was cheap in the mines, because the workers were not townsmen but drawn largely from farms in the off season." There were no incentives to improve primitive methods because of cheap labor. Into the early 1800's "the chief lack outside and inside the mines was wheeled transport. All the ore had to be brought to the surface on the backs ofcarusi, mostly small boys who were indentured to the trade by their families as what one can only call slave labour. Women, too, were employed as carriers, but the galleries were too low and hence boys were preferred." (p.385) In many industries, such inhuman conditions still existed into the 1880's:


    "Inside the mines, most of the ore was still carried to the surface on the backs of children whose daily stint might be thirty journeys to the surface and who worked anything from six to twelve hours a day. A government commission in 1875 recommended a total prohibition against using women, or children under 14, as carriers; but a first tentative law in 1879 merely forbade the employment of girls and allowed that of boys only if the were over ten years old. Even this could not be enforced, and any further attempt to reduce child labor encountered dozens of well-organized representations from mine owners, municipalities and chambers of Commerce. These representatives claimed to speak in the interests of the carusi themselves and their parents, but it was also stated specifically that without child labour, most mines would be unprofitable. Few people made it their business to consider whether this cheap labor, by preventing mechanisation and keeping inefficient mines productive, was not a major economic as well as a moral disaster. The contratto di carusato was unknown elsewhere in Italy, even in the equally poor mining region of Sardinia; though in the pumice caves of the Sicilian Lipari islands, according to a private report by Norman Douglas in 1895, children were given some of the more strenuous jobs and could be employed as early as the age of five.

    The effects were appalling. The mining regions of Sicily had more homicides than anywhere in Italy, and much of their male population was totally unfit for military service. Many miners lived in underground grottos; others, and many of the children, lived permanently inside the mines. Labour was regularly organized by mafiosi whom payments were due from both sides of the industry, and a Caruso who fled from a mine without redeeming his indenture did so at his peril." (p. 476)


    Responding to the exploitation of Native American populations in the 16th Century were individuals like Julian Garces, Bishop of Tlaxcala, better known as "de Las Casas," Obviously Sicily needed its own Las Casas. There has been a long line of individuals battling against the continual exploitation of Southern Italy and its long-suffering peoples. For example, in the 20th Century, some people thought that social activist and anti-mafia crusader Danilo Dolci would spark a movement toward salvation and renewal for Sicily, and by extension the south. (See: Mangione, 1985). Over the most recent decades there have been several highly publicized, and dismally unsuccessful, governmental efforts at a southern economic rinascimento. If you follow the international news today, you will become painfully aware that the common folk of Southern Italy continue to be victims of governmental incompetence, and indifference to their social, political, and economic plights. In the 20th century, many Southerners still have to leave home to find economic opportunities. Even more regrettably, large sections of the Mezzogiorno today are not unlike the slowly modernizing third worlds of Central and South America, where corrupt and inefficient government, and drug dealers hold sway. Yet, in 1992, Italian Americans are being subtly, and not so subtly, victimized by Columbusbashing.


    Consider these excerpts from a New York Newsday article "Seeing History from the Other Side," by Warren Goldstein, who teaches "history" at SUNY/College at Old Westbury, New York. First he introduced the subject by saying:


    "Although I studied to be an American historian for a decade, it never occurred to me that one of the most important things I would ever do in a classroom would be to discuss the story of Christopher Columbus. I had never even been interested in Columbus, and was bored by the battles over a word I could barely pronounce: the Quincentenary." Later in the article, after noting a few of Columbus' sins of "greed and mayhem", he makes it more ethnically relevant, and equally insulting, by pointedly noting: "Others worry about how to broach the subject in their families. One young man said flatly, 'My father's from Italy and there's no way I can tell him this. Just no way. Period.' Another tried to talk to her Italian-American uncle the weekend after our discussion. He wanted no part of her story. Who delights in learning the faults of a national hero?"


    Allow me to end my ramblings concerning the void Between Columbus and Cuomo with a few observations. If American historians were better educated about their subject matter, and did a better job teaching it, then their students wouldn't have to wait 500 years to be told the truth. And, if we Italian Americans were better informed about our own history, that is, the history of our actual parents and grandparents, we would be less likely to feel the need to be defensive about the crimes and misdemeanors of our illegitimate fathers. Wherever I present my own research on how the physical environment of Italian Americans can be traced to their ancestral homes, I learn more from audience then they do from me. I hear stories of "ordinary" lives. I never tire of listening to them, but they should be documented in some way, so that they will not be forgotten. Perhaps my efforts will help fill the void "Between Columbus and Cuomo" with the simple stories of Italian men and women who have contributed so much to American life. It is fitting that a union organization has given me the opportunity to speak on this topic. History has been frequently been used as a weapon against groups like Italian Americans whose real history has been essentially that of the working class. If the controversy concerning the Columbus Quincentenary has taught me one thing, it was that forgetting about the past, is just as dangerous as lying about it.




    William Brandon, The American Heritage Book of Indians. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1961.


    Matilda R. Cuomo, "Celebrating the Quincentenary," Culturefront May, 1992, pp. 7-8.


    Patrick Gallo, Old Bread, New Wine. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981.


    Gianni Granzotto, Christopher Columbus, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.


    Jerre Mangione, A Passion for Sicilians: The World of Danilo Dolci. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1985.


    R.R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World to 1815•, Fifth Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.


    Robert Royal, "1492 and Multiculturalism," The Intercollegiate Review, Spring 1992, pp.3-10.


    Denis Mack Smith, A History of Modern Sicily, London: Chatto & Windus, 1968.


    Lydio Tomasi (ed.), The Italian in America: The Progressive View, 1891-1914. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1978.


    Amerigo Vespucci, "The Full Extreme of Hospitality", pp. 60-8. in Wilcomb E. Washburn (ed.),The Indian and the White Man. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1964.

    “Between Columbus and Cuomo: The Italian Experience in America”

    October 29, 1992

    Jerome Krase, Ph.D.

    Professor of Sociology

    Brooklyn College of

    The City University of New York

    Keynote Address at the Seventeenth Annual Symposium

    United Federation of Teachers, Italian American Studies Committee

    United Federation of Teachers Headquarters,

    260 Park Avenue South, New York, New York

  • Anti-immigration cartoon from 1891. Caption reads: “If Immigration was properly Restricted you would no longer be troubled with Anarchy, Socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!” © Grant E. Hamilton/Library of Congress.

    The Italian American Contribution to Trump’s Muslim Immigration Ban

    In deference to the late Italian American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, the original intent, of what most refer to as the underlined “establishment clause” has been twisted in knots to the point of oblivion, making it almost a “he said, she said” principle. So, we have today a duly elected President of the United States fulfilling a bigoted campaign pledge by issuing a Constitutionally permitted Executive Order (EO) to “temporarily” Ban Muslim Immigration to the USA by the literary device of merely dropping the “Muslim” bit. It is my job in the remainder of this commentary on the margins, to consider the Italian American “contribution” to our collective journey down this rabbit hole called the Trump Administration.

    First of all, I must say at the start, as to my bonafides, that I was one of the very few left-leaning persons I know who didn’t think The Donald (aka The AntiChrist) hadn’t a chance in hell to defeat Hillary (aka The Whore of Babylon) last November. I was right mostly because I have no illusions about the persistent intolerance of the society in which I live, and which I have spent the last half century studying. As opposed to many other progressive students of American culture, I also regularly watch, listen to, and read things that nauseate me but which are savored by millions of his minions. This is why I was not clueless, or even worse --- “hoping for the best” during the ill-(fill in-the-blank) National Democratic Party campaign. Today’s incessant chatter about Counselor to the President Steve Bannon and Breitbart News misses the larger point about past and present Ministries and Ministers of Propaganda. Bannon and Breitbart are really just the tip of the iceberg of America’s Phobic media. The public’s yearning for bigoted and biased news is what makes idiotic tweets and interviews with inane “experts” from FoxNews to MSNBC, not to mention the Putinesqua Russian Television Network (RTN), so powerful that they can control the conversation and distract attention from what is actually happening like boots on the ground in Yemen. Both Right and Left eat Fake News with relish, and furthermore; naively appealing to idealized American Core Values to combat prejudice is delusional.


    By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, and to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:  11 sections

    I jotted down some of his mutterances while he was signing the E.O. “Blah, blah, blah, blah … allow entry only to those people who support our country and love, deeply, our people.” Not a bad sentiment, but please note that the seven Muslim-majority nations in HIS travel ban are not the ones who have been, and continue to be, the best at anti-American terror production and murder. According to Uri Frieman in The Atlantic   (2/1/17 - 1:45 pm.) Radical Islamist terrorists from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen have yet to kill an American in the Homeland but other Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon have been very more successful so far -- almost 3,000. As a possible explanation for the oversight, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that these “friendly” countries also happen to be places where President Donald and his family have business interests.

    In their classic study of the role of race, ethnicity, and religion in New York politics, Beyond the Melting Pot, Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, based on hearsay, reported that a world-famous Yale professor of government remarked at dinner on the day Mario Procaccino announced his candidacy for New York City Mayor of New York that “If Italians aren’t actually an inferior race, they do the best imitation of one I’ve seen.” (1970: lxxiii-xiv) In my estimation he was only half correct.

    If this were a debate on my semi-inferior racial status, I would offer as to this proposition on the “pro” side a January 28, 2017 interview on Fox News’ Justice with Judge Jeanine entitled “Rudy Giuliani Brags That He Crafted Trump's Muslim Ban.”  (see >>)

    JEANINE PIRRO (HOST): Does the ban have anything to do with religion? How did the president decide the seven countries? I understand the permanent ban on the refugees. OK, talk to me.

    RUDY GIULIANI: OK. I'll tell you the whole history of it. So, when he first announced it he said "Muslim ban." He called me up and said, "put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally." I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, Pete King, a whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was we focused on, instead of religion, danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us. Which is a factual basis. Not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible, and that's what 
the ban is based on. It's not based on religion. It's based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.

    In contrast, on January 29th, New York State Governor Andrew J. Cuomo, @NYGovCuomo tweeted “As a New Yorker, I am a Muslim. I am a Jew. I am Black. I am gay. I am a woman seeking to control her body. We are one New York​.”

    Currently, many of my progressive Italian American friends and colleagues are writing furiously in an attempt to distance themselves from the broad brush that they and I have used to paint “our” own white ethnic group’s support for the Orange One’s Islamophobic machinations. Much of these Apologia are predicated on the assumption that Italian Americans in general either don’t know, or don’t properly appreciate, how they, as equally despised, albeit Papist, immigrants, have been unfairly treated in the past. The litany of unfortunate slings and arrows is long and usually includes the whole series of discriminatory U.S. Immigration Acts, the Sacco and Venzetti injustices, and FDR’s Executive Order 9066. But Rudy and Andy are not more and less ignorant of these facts, so where’s the manzo?

    These well-scripted missives sometimes also include a vague reference to the mythical American values of tolerance and toleration that channels Emma Lazarus and a teary-eyed statue which makes even less sense. Despite the appeal to the overblown notion of American Exceptionalism, WE are hardly that. Even Alan Dershowitz, with whom I rarely agree, while loudly and legalistically condemned the unconstitutionality of the anti-Muslim E.O., reminded other distinguished commentators of the long and ignoble history of America’s serial intolerance, best remembered during Holocaust Memorial Day, which took place the day before The Ban, and in reference to which The Donald forgot to mention Jews in his Presidential Proclamation.

    Contrary to humanistic expectations, like other “Americans” Italians have used their own experiences of bias and discrimination to justify their likewise treatment of others, and to make them run the same gauntlet; but this time of course as members of the double line of tormentors. Despite The Shoah, The Middle Passage, and The Great Famine, The Trumpster can rely on Sheldon Adelson, Ben Carson, and Michael T. Flynn to beat a drum for him, so why not Chris Christi, and alia; whether or not they ever read, and understood, Antonio Gramsci’s La Questione Meridionale or even Yale Professor Emeritus of Government Edward C. Banfield’s The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.


    * Jerome (Jerry) Krase is Emeritus and Murray Koppelman Professor at Brooklyn College (City University of New York).

  • Op-Eds

    Italo-Trumpism in NYC

    The day after the Presidential election I was in England to deliver the keynote address at the University of Central Lancashire’s “Fieldwork Photography Symposium.” I had already voted for Hillary Clinton on the Working Families Party line by absentee ballot from Brooklyn. My opening remarks were “Yesterday there was a battle in the U.S.A. between the Anti-Christ and the Whore of Babylon, and the Anti-Christ won.” Given that many in the audience had mistakenly voted for Brexit and were now suffering the consequences of populism, I knew they’d understand the metaphor. This raises two questions: “Why?” and “How” might Italian Americans be rewarded for their fealty to the Trumpster?” 

    Part One: Why? 

    Many of the most wrong-headed political commentators are now bending over backwards to explain how they weren’t really as wrong about the election as they actually were. Most still think that ethnicity doesn’t matter; everything was about race and class as in the “Revenge of the poor and working class whites.” I believe that even well-educated, and well-off, Italian Americans are an excellent example of the wide range of white ethnic voters who were perilously ignored, except for “deplorable” comments, by Hillary and the Democratic National Committee. Although not a compliment, Italian American are no more racist, homophobic, and misogynist than non-Italian Americans. 

    What made the difference for the majority of Italian Americans in voting for Donald, besides his pomposity, I believe, was concern for their own, and their families’, security and economic future; not the plight of others. The remnants of traditional Italian values of insularity (family and home) also easily translate to protectionism, and even isolationism. Placing their faith however in the promises of someone so much like Silvio Berlusconi does not bode well for “our” future. As I had predicted, in “The Italian-American Vote” in I-ItalyNY magazine, Italian American New Yorkers, or at least the vast majority of their right-leaning neighbors, cast their ballots for President-Elect Donald Trump. From a quick reading of the election returns outside of the Big Apple far and near, Italo-Trumpism had spread from sea to shining sea. New York City-wide, Hillary Rodham Clinton garnered almost 80% of the vote while Donald got slightly more than 18%. In the Bronx, it was Clinton 88%, in Manhattan 86%, in Brooklyn 79%, and in Queens 75%. Staying true to form, and as I also foresaw, “La Bella Isola” (Staten Island) was the only New York City borough to put their faith in The Donald; there he beat Hillary 57% to 40%.

    This was true even though Richmond County’s only, and therefore most influential, daily newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, mistakenly endorsed His Nemesis. Every other New York daily also got it wrong, and even The New York Post which had endorsed Trump in the Republican Primary as “A plain-talking entrepreneur with outer borough, common-sense sensibilities,” decided not to stick its neck out in the general election. In Staten Island’s many Italian American strongholds such as Todt Hill, Trump racked up 70% of more of the vote and, even though Brooklyn and Queens carried overwhelmingly for Clinton, identifiable Italian American enclaves there mimicked their co-ethnics (see figure above, based on

    Of course, Italian American weren’t the only white and nearly-white ethnics who overwhelmingly voted for Trump. A peek at other ethnically identifiable neighborhoods, shows that other deplorable voters pulled the Republican Party lever; but probably for different reasons. Religious affiliation and beliefs seemed to have mattered most for many. Most puzzling might be Orthodox Jews who, despite a campaign characterized as Anti-Semitic, outdid Italian Americans in their Trumpism. For example, in some Borough Park, Brooklyn election districts he got more than 80% of their vote. Some analysts tie their support to Trump’s promise to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. Nationally, it is claimed that Latinos gave almost a third of their votes for Trump, despite what most commentators regarded as the anti-Latino wall-building rhetoric. For the “Religious Right,” that includes Evangelical Latinos, as well as many Roman Catholics, the Republican Party’s promise to “pack” the Supreme Court with illiberal judges to limit access to abortion and prevent recognition of a wide range of LGBTQ rights seem to have had currency. 

    “Fake news” during the election may also have had an effect on Catholics. For example, someone I used to think was an intelligent friend shared with me a report that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. For what it’s worth, Irish American enclaves like Breezy Point Queens gave three-quarters of their votes to Trump. Other European American neighborhoods such as “Russian” Brighton and Manhattan Beaches, filled with a variety of New Americans from the Former Soviet Socialist Republics, mirrored Breezy Point’s slavish devotion to The Donald. Their membership in the Vladimir Putin-Donald Trump Mutual Admiration Society might help explain their support these “strongmen.” In the 1950’s Theodor Adorno called this the “authoritarian personality.” 

    Part Two: How? 

    As was obvious during the campaign, more or less prominent Italian Americans were way out there as loud supporters of The Donald and his agenda. Among them were America’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, and “America’s Toughest” Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. As opposed to Trump, the latter lost his (re)election bid to fellow Italian American, but more liberal, Democrat Paul Penzone. Shortly following the Trump victory, Reuters ran a story “Factbox: Short list of potential picks for Trump administration” that included a number of Italian Americans (as of about twelve days before Christmas, however, it looks like Trump’s most ardent Italian American supporters will find mostly Koch brothers’ coal in their stockings): For Secretary of State: Rudy Giuliani. 

    For Attorney General: Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, and Pam Bondi, (Florida Attorney General). For Homeland Security Secretary: Joe Arpaio. For Environmental Protection Agency Head: Mike Catanzaro (energy lobbyist, G.W. Bush EPA official). A day later The New York Daily News added: For U.S. Trade Representative: Dan DiMicco (Former Nucor Corporation CEO). For Commerce Secretary: Chris Christie and Dan DiMicco. While I am writing this, it was announced that Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo would be proposed for CIA Director.

    As might be expected, some of these choices have not been well-received by The New York Times and other newspapers that had endorsed Hillary Clinton. According to a NYT Editorial, “Why Rudy Giuliani Shouldn’t Be Secretary of State,” “...he would be a dismal and potentially disastrous choice.” Noting among other things his problematic business ties and “Mr. Giuliani has given paid speeches to a shadowy Iranian opposition group that until 2012 was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.” One might also think that Chris Christie’s appointment to almost anything in the new administration would be problematic given his potential indictment vis a vis the George Washington Bridge Gate scandal. Especially since a few of his minions, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, have already been convicted and facing a lot of hard time. However, not only won’t Chris get rewarded for his yeoman campaign services, he was removed from the presidential transition team by The Donald’s son-in-law and closest adviser Jared Kushner. Jared purged Chris because, as U.S. Attorney he sent Jared’s father Charles up the river in 2005 for tax evasion, witness tampering and (My oh my!) illegal campaign donations.