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Anti-Italianism is a hostility toward Italian people and Italian culture. It uses stereotypes about Italian people, a popular one being that most Italians are naturally violent, or somehow associated with the Mafia. Like most racist and biased sentiments, anti-Italianism often uses discrimination, prejudice, and even violence.

Anti-Italianism in the United States

Because of the common association, some Italian Americans see films or shows about the Mafia as potentially harmful to the Italian American community. This became something of an issue for the HBO show The Sopranos when certain Italian Americans complained about the stereotypical nature of the show. Other Italians feel that such shows are problematic only if they feature the Mafia as a common or accepted part of Italian American life.

However, due possibly in part to the portrayal of the Mafia in the media, Italians have been stereotyped as violent, sociopathic, "knife-wielding" gangsters and street ruffians.This stereotype ranges from portraying Italians as working class thugs, to violent "guappo" immigrants, to Mafiosi.

Other stereotypes portray Italians as overly-emotional, melodramatic, plebeian, superstitious, hot-blooded, aggressive, ignorant, obsessed with food, prone to crime and vengeance over trivial slights, or as having an inherent ability of "knowing how to talk to the women", as exemplified by Italian soap-opera Don Juan, Daniele Favilli..The fear of Italians reproducing too much played a small role in Margaret Sanger's drive toward encouraging birth control.Italian males are sometimes stereotyped as "Italian Stallions" while females have been stereotyped as either overly matriarchal or voluptuous, flirtatious, and exotic.Italians have often found themselves at the receiving end of ethnic jokes, parodies, and discrimination due to certain stereotypes.

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

Many ethnic stereotypes against Italians have been in use for centuries.In the 16th century, John Calvin, the French reformer who helped establish the Reformed Church of Switzerland, condemned Italians as lazy, two-faced, and deceitful.

After the American Civil War, some poor Italian immigrants were recruited to fill the place of abolished slave labor by working on Southern plantations, while Italians in the North often worked in sweat shops and factories.The Italian American's role as a hard laborer has contributed to many stereotypes that persist today.In some areas of the South, as well as the North, Italians were “semi-segregated”.Many native Americans viewed Italian immigrants as lowlife criminals and undesirables swarming into North America.In 1921, Congress passed a nationality-based quota which limited the number of aliens, including Italians, that were allowed to immigrate to the United States annually.The quota was not repealed until 1965.

Harsh anti-Italian immigrant editorial cartoon, 1888

There also became an association in Protestant society between Italians and the negative image of perceived Catholic immorality; specifically gambling, perversion, and violence.These cases are especially true of stereotyping and discrimination against people of Southern Italian origins, such as Neapolitanmarker or Calabrian, and Sicilian origin.Poor Southern Italian immigrants have often been feared or distrusted due to their unique appearance and culture, their perceived willingness to work in low pay jobs, and the stereotype of Italians as a Mafioso.

Sociologically speaking, the largest common denominator among anti-Italians is ignorance and parochialism, a relative lack of exposure to other cultures and ways of life.American ethnocentric attitudes and "nativism" — a form of often racially-rooted chauvinism — have contributed greatly to this kind of prejudice.

Irish-American groups have often been mentioned as particularly virulent in their animosity toward Italians (and most "swarthy" or non-British foreigners, a category that includes Greek, Spaniards and other non-Nordic immigrants), but the claim has not been substantiated as specific to these groups, as this form of rejectionism has been historically documented across all Northern European ethnic groups, and particularly among US Americans of English and Scot-Irish ancestry.

Anti-Italian sentiment includes comparisons of Italians (esp. Sicilians and southern Italians) to Jews or Blacks (Africans) or the "mulatto myth" of Sicilians are miscegenated people of Africans and Arabic invaders, therefore Italians may be viewed as "non white" or "non Aryan" according to infamous Nazi general Heinrich Himmler once remarked that the Sicilians "resembled gibbons" or a primate for possessing "Negroid" ethnic traits.

Violence against Italians

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

In the United States, Italian immigrants were subject to extreme prejudice, racism, and, in many cases, violence. During the 1800s and early 20th century, Italian Americans, seen as non-Anglo and non-white, were the second most likely ethnic group to be lynched.

The largest mass lynching in American history involved the lynching of eleven Italians in the city of New Orleans in 1891.The Italians, who were thought to have assassinated police chief David Hennessy, were arrested and placed in a jail cell before being brutally murdered by a lynch mob that stormed the jailhouse, with witnesses claiming that the cheers "were nearly deafening".Cries of "hang the dago" were heard throughout the riot. Reporting on the incident, one newspaper reported "The little jail was crowded with Sicilians, whose low, receding foreheads, dark skin, repulsive countenances and slovenly attire proclaimed their brutal nature".Afterwards, hundreds of Italian immigrants, most of whom were not criminals, were arrested by law enforcement. Decades after, an anti-Italian phrase, "Who kill-a the chief?" remained popular in the New Orleans area.

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

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

In Australia, anti-Italian riots occurred on numerous occasions since Italian immigrants, or "wogs" (an English derogatory term for foreigners, not slang so much as an archaism, once often applied in Australia to Southern Europeans), first began arriving to the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s.Many Australians viewed the Italian immigrants as "immoral", "low", and "dirty".

In Canada, anti-Italian and anti Jewish riot occurred in Toronto Canada. The Riot at Christie Pits Park was an August 16, 1933 anti-Semitic race riot in Toronto between Anglo-Saxon members of a pro-Nazi youth gang called Anglo-Canadian Pit Gang which was affiliated with the anti-Semitic Swastika Clubs, and predominantly Jewish and Italian youth members of the Spadina Avenue Gang. The riot, which occurred over a six hour period, was sparked by a baseball game at Christie Pits between two local clubs, one predominantly Jewish and Italian and one predominantly Anglo-Saxon.

The riot occurred the year after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany and in the midsts of the Great Depression in Canada.

Italian American and Italian Canadian internment during World War II

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

During World War II, thousands of Italian Americans as well as thousands of Italian Canadians were put in internment camps on American and Canadian soil, along with Japanese Americans, German Americans, and ethnic Germans from Latin America.

Thousands more were placed under surveillance or had their property repossessed by the government.Joe DiMaggio's father, who lived in San Francisco, had his boat and house confiscated. One official stated that if it had not been for Joe DiMaggio's status as a celebrity baseball player, his father would most likely have been sent to an internment camp. Countless Italian owned businesses in North America were vandalised and boycotted during this period. Many of Italian origin were physically assaulted and intimidated.

Unlike the Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and Italian Canadians have never received reparations, even though President Bill Clinton made a public declaration admitting the US government's misjudgement in the internment.In addition, Italians suffered some persecution at the hands of German soldiers after Italy went over to the Allies in 1943. In retaliation for partisan attacks, Italian citizens were often massacred.

Anti-Italianism in the United Kingdom

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

During and after WWII a lot of propaganda was done against the Italian military performance, usually with persistent stereotypes, including that of the "incompetent Italian soldier". These stereotypes are well entrenched in the British literature, as can be read in the following extract from a Lee & Higham's book:
Because many writers have uncritically repeated stereotypes shared by their sources, biases and prejudices have taken on the status of objective observations, including the idea that the Germans and British were the only belligerants in the Mediterranean after Italian setbacks in early 1941. Sadkovich questioned this point of view in 'Of Myths and Men' and 'The Italian Navy', but persistent stereotypes, including that of the incompetent Italian, are well entrenched in the literature, from Puleston's early 'The Influence of Sea Power', to Gooch's 'Italian Military Incompetence,' to more recent publications by Mack Smith, Knox and Sullivan. Wartime bias in early British and American histories, which focused on German operations, dismissed Italian forces as inept and or unimportant, and viewed Germany as the pivotal power in Europe during the interwar period.

Bias includes both implicit assumptions, evident in Knox's title 'The Sources of Italy's Defeat in 1940: Bluff or Institutionalized Incompetence?' and the selective use of sources. Also see Sullivan's 'The Italian Armed Forces.' Sims, in 'The Fighter Pilot,' ignored the Italians, while D'Este in 'World War II in the Mediterranean' shaped his reader's image of Italians by citing a German comment that Italy's surrender was 'the basest treachery' and by discussing Allied and German commanders but ignoring Messe, whose 'Come fini la guerra in Africa' is an account of operations in Tunisia, where he commanded the Italian First Army, which held off both the U.S. Second Corps and the British Eighth Army. Like Young, whose 'Rommel the Desert Fox' created the Rommel myth, authors can appear biased because they echo sources that reflect the prejudices and assumptions of the period. Dependence on non-Italian sources compromised Murray's analysis of the Italian military in 'The Change in the European Balance of Power', it led Van Creveld to conclude in 'Supplying War' that Italians were "useless ballast," and it caused Fraser, in 'And We Shall Shock Them', to dismiss Graziani as an anxiety-ridden procrastinator but praised Wavell as a fearless problem solver. Liddel Hart's German sources led him to conclude in 'The Generals Talk' that "Italian jealousy of the Germans" had helped save Egypt.

Anti-Italianism after World War II

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

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

These two most famous examples are pinpointed so:

Contemporary Anti-Italianism

In 2004, Daniel Mongiardo, a Democratic Italian American physician and politician, ran against Republican Jim Bunning in the Kentucky Senatorial election.In response to Mongiardo's dark features, Bunning declared that Mongiardo "looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons".Bunnings later went on to declare that Mongiardo's "thugs" had assaulted his wife.The comments were viewed by many as ethnic slurs.

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

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

See also

Further reading

  • Henry Heller. "Anti-Italianism in Sixteenth-Century France". Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2003. xii, 307 pp
  • Smith, Tom. The Crescent City Lynchings: The Murder of Chief Hennessy, the New Orleans "Mafia" Trials, and the Parish Prison Mob [157660]


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

External links

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