Commonplace Book #13

As historian  Matthew Jacobson has written, ” It was not just that Italians did not look white to certain social arbiters, but that they did not act white.”  In many cities, Italian immigrants not only were stigmatized as outlaws and political subversives, they also accepted work coded as “black” by local customs, mobilized alongside people of color , and incited the wrath of white supremacists by their transgressions across the color line. David Roediger and James Barrett’s work elsewhere has shown that the racial oppression of Italians had roots in the racialization of Africans.  The epithet guinea, for example, was used by whites  to make African slaves and their descendants as inferior before it was applied to Italians at the turn of the twentieth century.  Italians also learned that they were racially “other” in the United States in ways that went beyond language: lynchings; the refusal of some native-born Americans to ride streetcars with or live alongside “lousy dagoes”; the exclusion of Italian children from certain schools and movie theaters, and their parents from social groups and labor unions; segregated seating in some churches; and the barrage of popular magazines, books, movies, and newspapers that bombarded Americans with images of Italians as racially suspect.

Jennifer Gugliemo, Are Italians White?11.