Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stereotypes And Hypocrisy

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II wrote a great little column today about race and misunderstandings in The Politico today. He says that there should be more open discussion about something that is quite taboo in not only political circles, but in most of our professional lives.

Because for the most part, when we talk about race, we talk about stereotyping. And we all know that stereotyping is wrong, but there is truth to it. Yes, it’s a generalization that has some truth to it.

Here’s a popular stereotype: The Mafia. There. It’s said. Now, how many of you thought of Tony Soprano? The movies “Godfather” or “Goodfellas” pop into anyone’s heads? Sure they did. It’s a popular stereotype that Italians and the Mafia go hand-in-hand like olive oil and wine, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra or a snitch and cement shoes.

It’s ingrained in us to think of Italians when we heard “mafia.” If we’re forced to think of any other nationality, we always hear: The Russian Mafia or the Chinese Mafia. Because the fact is, when we hear “Mafia,” no one thinks of Eskimos.

And to those sensitive Italians out there who think it’s a slur to their heritage, as ¾ guinea myself (OK, according to my father, I’m ¼ Italian and ½ Sicilian. Yeah, it can be a big deal.) I say to you: Suck it up and deal with it!

Yeah, so Italians are associated with a criminal organization that has been glorified by Hollywood. That’s because it’s mostly true. Italians are famous for organized crime. We’re not famous for organized bake sales. Go ask Sammy “The Bull” Gravano or John Gotti.

Does it mean that all Italians are Mafia members? Of course not. Take me for example. Because I’m ½ English on my mother’s side, I wasn’t allowed to join The Family. Sure, I’m glad I don’t have to kill or whack off anyone, but who can beat that tax-free money they make?

And Italians aren’t highlighted well in entertainment media. Take a look at black people: In movies or TV shows, they’re either drug dealers or presidents of big companies.

For Italians in the entertainment industry, we’re either pushing a tomato cart down the street, with a little monkey next to our organ grinder or we’re a Godfather. Not once have we heard Captain James T. Kirk turn to Mr. Spock and say, “Get me geographic specialist Giovanni “Fat Tony” Barbarino.” There is simply no in-between for us.

And speaking of blacks and organs, outside of movies or TV shows the African-American community have a long history of suffering from hideous forms of stereotyping. We hear how black men are involved with crime or being stupid and they rightfully complain about these awful stereotypes.

But it’s also very hypocritical. Not once in all my years have I ever heard a black man complain about the popular stereotype that they have huge penises.

No, not once have I ever heard a black man say, “No, no that’s an awful lie. My penis is so small I could have sex with a Cheerio.”

So, when it comes to race, I think many of us are overly sensitive. Many of us have to accept that some stereotypes are true about our heritage. But more importantly, we shouldn’t judge anyone based on stereotypes, but on the individuals themselves.

Because that sensitivity to non-hateful comments or jokes is not going to help anyone deal and get over race relations.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have stromboli in the oven.