Assimilation is a poison chalice.

This is the sort of thing that depresses me more than I can describe.

My whole family is here, I am here, because of “chain migration.” My parents were called dagos, wops, greasers, guineas, and half-n*ggers, and so was I when I was growing up. My grandfather, a peaceable and inoffensive tailor, was forced to register as an enemy alien because he was born in Italy. My grandmother had actually forgotten that she wasn’t born here and ran to the courthouse to nationalize in terror, frightened that her kids would be taken away from them. In today’s climate, they would have been — and my mom and uncle would have grown up in an orphanage.

And now, we have people named Giuliani, Gianforte, Scavino, Scalise, and Scaramucci saying the same shit, trying to get other people’s families ripped apart.

They lynched us as well, and not in small numbers — but we drank that poison cup, and it managed to make us forget our own history. Now, people named Picciolini are joining white supremacist movements. (Thankfully, he got out, but how the fuck was he ever so ignorant of his own history to join in the first place?)

There is no hope and nothing positive in assimilating to the American way of life. It is a poison chalice. Our grandparents drank it because they knew no better, but it’s poisoned the minds and hearts of their grandchildren. We came to this country, with its history of racial and ethnic hatred, of importing human beings with human dreams like furniture, and it poisoned us. Like radioactive calcium, it’s crawled into our bones, and we’ll die with it soaked into us. How could it be any different?

Assimilation to the American way of life just means hating anyone darker than yourself, or anyone newer to these shores. In a country the history of which is so entwined with slavery, all it means is becoming white. And whiteness kills. It used to kill us, within the memories of family members still alive. It kills others. It’s killed our hearts and crushed our capacity for human kindness. It’s powerful enough to wipe our memories of our own roots and our own families’ experiences. Whiteness only ever destroys.

There is no hope in this. Seeing Italians falling for this and forgetting their own history sickens me in ways I don’t know if I can recover from. I really don’t think there is anything to this “melting pot” bullshit anymore. Assimilation into the American way of life is destructive, period. And it didn’t even take that long! We’re talking about people whose grandparents — people they knew — were put through this, and who are now stepping up and slobbering like rabid animals to do it to the next people in line. I have cousins I will never speak to again over this. I can’t. I can’t even look them in the face.

Humanity kills hope, every time. Love in fact does not trump hate. People will throw their own families into the bin, ignore their own memories, if they get a luscious, chewy, rich serving of hatred to enjoy.

Getting this message out is impossible. The only Italian-American organizations that exist are in the iron grip of angry, ugly, loud, middle-aged males who spit and snarl when they talk and have shit between their ears. Big, mean, loud bullies who are stupid enough to embody the Al Capone stereotype own the Italian-American dialogue. The days of old left-wing lions who remember their roots like Mario Cuomo and Geraldine Ferraro are long over. The poison has soaked in.

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This is what chain migration looks like.

DaddysFamily1saved
The dreaded chain migration in action. The little boy on one knee is my father.

I would not be here if it weren’t for chain migration. Every single member of my family came through Ellis Island with someone else’s name on their manifest, a relative they were meeting.

If you aren’t a Native American, you are here because of chain migration (or because of a kidnapping or some warlord’s booty sale).

If you are an Italian-American against chain migration, you disgrace your ancestors, and I hope you have no Lucano or Abruzzese blood in you, because if so, you also disgrace mine.

Assimilation

If assimilating to American culture means you go from this:

Two lynched Sicilian-Americans

to this, you can keep it. Whiteness is a poison chalice. Our grandparents had no idea what they were drinking; it was just handed to them in a foreign land, and they knew no better.

We do.

And by the way, chain migration is how my goddamned family got here. And I’ve got copies of the passenger manifests from Ellis Island to prove it.

(It’s how Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Anthony Scaramucci, and Greg Gianforte’s grandparents got here too, but they’re too stupid to realize it. Some people go out of their way to disgrace their ancestors. I just hope none of today’s damned right-wing wonder-bread wops are Abruzzese or Lucano because then they’re disgracing mine as well.)

Contadini -> emigranti -> linciati -> mafiosi -> bianchi -> linciatori

No thanks. Just … no. No.

Why the Left Wing Fails (and how it can improve)

Before you get your Righteous Rage on, just read — and I mean the whole thing. No matter which side of these issues you’re coming from, I guarantee this doesn’t go where you think it’s going to.

We Ain’t White, paesani.

When I see these names among white supremacists and those who tacitly support them, it breaks my heart.

Arpaio.

Gianforte.

Giuliani.

Scaramucci.

Picciolini.

Have they forgotten what they are? What kind of pathetic Wonder Bread wop is unaware of the fact that the largest mass lynching in the history of the United States was committed against 11 Sicilians in New Orleans?

March 14, 1891 Lynchings

What kind of wannabe whiteboy fools are ignorant of their own roots, and are so unaware of what our own ancestors suffered, and who are so anxious to call themselves white that they will turn aside from their own families’ experiences?

Do they know nothing of the Immigration Act of 1924, passed due to fears that this would cease to be a majority white nation, and specifically aimed to eliminate immigration by (southern) Italians and Jews?

People love to talk about how immigrants need to “assimilate” to “our” culture. Is this what “assimilating” to American culture means? To no longer get hanged from the trees but instead to do the hanging?

BTW, I know the answers to those questions:

  1. All of them,
  2. All of them,
  3. No, and
  4. Yes.

Both the right-wing and the left-wing Italian-Americans love to talk about how we were “white on arrival” — the right-wing wops because of their ethnic insecurity, and the left-wing wops because they are just as insecure, and let’s face it, there is nothing whiter than guzzling at the cup of white guilt.

I’ve got news for both: we never were, and we still aren’t, and deep down, we know it. (Jews aren’t either, but they have better memories, and never forget who and what they are. We have.)

But either way, Pinocchio wants to wake up one day with a consonant at the end of his/her name and be a Real White Person, a Real American.

Whiteness is poison, and we breathed it in with the air without even realizing what it was. Too many of us appear to have guzzled it once we did realize.

“No, you’re not white! Wait, yes you are!”

There are the Cuomos and the Ferraros who remember who they are, but they are smaller and smaller in number as the right wing becomes more and more poisonous — and as the left wing drives more and more dark, ethnic whites away by snarling about our “white privilege” every time we open our mouths to identify — accurately! — downward. If I hear one more snotty fishbelly-white upper-class liberal:

  1. Demand that poor-to-working-class ethnic whites recognize our similarities to poor-to-working-class African Americans, and when we do, they instantly
  2. Smack us down and demand that we “check our privilege” and “unpack our knapsack,”

then well … it’s just be another Tuesday in the Gordian knot of 21st century American race relations, won’t it? (And they do that all the time. All. The. Time. In fact, I have never in 51 years on this Earth seen that conversation go any other way.)

I’m sick of wops forgetting who we are and betraying and shaming our ancestors, and I’m equally sick of monied, whitebread left-wingers who, when we own our brownness out loud and extend a hand toward other minorities, slap that hand back because it makes them feel uncomfortable when the untermenschen get too cozy with one another — then, in their next goddamned breath, they write condescending beratements like this to get us to extend that hand again … so that they can have their fun slapping it back once more and telling us to shut up and remember our privilege.

It’s like a sick game of Gotcha!

Keeping the Lesser Types Divided

They will happily say either of the following to poor-to-working-class and dark/ethnic whites: tell us we’re not conscious enough of our darkness, or tell us we’re not conscious enough of our white privilege, depending on which approach will let them hold us in greater contempt.

I will add that I have never once had my hand slapped back by an African-American — only ever by a monied whitebread liberal with less melanin and more privilege than I have ever had trying to win the tiara for the Nicest White Guy/Girl in the Room.

(And once again, Jews get their hands slapped back as well; new intellectual anti-Semitism is a big thing on the left. Most Jews however, except for a small, loud, screwed-up, self-hating contingent, brush this off and continue to steam ahead in defiance of what everyone else thinks. We fail to do this. My god, wops are so fucking insecure.)

If only we could get together and throw the goddamned limousine liberals out of the room when we have these conversations, we could make real progress in this country. Sadly, they remain the self-appointed umpires for all discussions of American race/ethnic relations, and they will make damned sure we all stay at one another’s throats. They’re not giving up that tiara without a fight.

I should flowchart these sorts of conversations. I also wonder how many people (who might, in some alternate universe, actually read this) will immediately leap to the conclusion that I’m a Republican Trump voter instead of the lifelong extremely left-wing liberal Democrat I’ve always been. Why the fuck else do you think I’m so angry about this, other than because I am directly and personally desperate for a more just society? This isn’t an intellectual bagatelle or excuse for fashionable outrage for me, unlike for the limousine liberals who consider these sorts of issues to be political arm candy. When the only reason you and your brothers have all of our teeth is because your parents have none of theirs, this shit gets very, very real.

This is what people mean when they accuse left-wingers of mere virtue signaling. They mean, often quite accurately, that you don’t actually care about solving any of these problems. You just bat them around to try to prove who’s the nicest white person at the country club.

Well-off White People Are Always Conservative — Even the Lefties

You know the more I think about it, I really don’t think it’s possible for middle-to-upper-class white people, be they right- or left-wing, to act in any way other than to reinforce existing power structures. You either have:

  1. (Right-wing) middle-to-upper-class white people who bankroll monsters like the current orange-baboon-in-chief and his cadre of Nazi anarchists and amoral robber barons, or else
  2. (Left-wing) middle-to-upper-class white people who instinctively and unfailingly act to cordon off poor-to-working-class and/or ethnic whites from our natural brown and black allies.

The first accomplish their task by just shoveling money at assholes like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan (and the Baboon in Chief).

The second accomplish their task by quite deliberately sabotaging any attempts on the parts of poor-to-working-class and ethnic whites and black/brown people to unify: “Why won’t they understand how much they have in common with black people? It must be because they’ll all racists!” immediately followed by, “How dare you assume you have anything in common with black people! You have white privilege!

Either the limousine crowd creates the atmosphere in which things like the rally in Charlottesville can even happen and illegitimate, tyrannical plutocrats squat in the White House, or else they make damned sure to herd as many people into that corner as possible.

Either way, well-off white people acting politically are bad, bad news no matter what they call themselves. Be they self-described right- or left-wingers, their actions invariably — and unconsciously on the part of the lefties — serve the forces of fascism.

Where To Go From Here

There are lately some very occasional and dimly understood attempts to get a grip on all this by left-wingers, including such obvious advice as not telling an out-of-work white dude who is living in a trailer and whose sister died of an opiate overdose that at least he’s not black, but this still assumes that the audience for this article is a left-wing, middle-to-upper-class white person who needs to learn how to talk to this strange, backwards alien tribe called “working class white people.” (And really, who the fuck is so clueless that they need to be told that in the first place?)

The actual solution may in fact be a whole lot simpler, and a whole lot more threatening to the Nicest White People in the Room: Don’t talk. Just STFU for once.

All of you, I mean — and not just the right-wingers but the goddamned liberals and “progressives” as well. Everybody at fucking Vox, Slate, and Salon who raises their hands heavenward and paces in circles theatrically moaning why-oh-why won’t those evil, racist, stupid poor whites understand? Posting condescending junk about why-oh-why my Jewish and Italian “friends” (yeah right, like you have any) won’t listen? Maybe you should STFU and listen for once.

For once, try to assume that you aren’t in possession of the most important and best informed opinion in the room. Try to get it through your thick goddamned heads that you don’t automatically get to play judge and umpire while the lesser folk clumsily and foolishly sort out our silly little malformed thoughts. Maybe stop assuming that black and brown people need you to be their Glorious White Savior. Confront the reality that we don’t need you at the head of the table to help us sort out our issues.

Instead, try to realize that the whole goddamned conversation would go a lot more smoothly, and a lot more progress would be made, if you’d just shut the fuck up for a change.

In fact, it would probably be best if you just left the room entirely, and let us talk to each other, because that’s really what’s needed — for black/brown people and ethnic and poor-to-working-class whites to finally sit down and have a conversation with each other, unmediated by you bunch of meddling egotists who think it’s all about winning the tiara and not about saving people’s lives. I can guarantee that no brown or black person would be stupid enough to tell that guy in the trailer that “at least he’s not black.”

A dark side: the little slaves of the harp

The Little Slaves of the Harp: Italian Child Street Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Paris, London, and New York — A book about how the Val d’Agri’s musical traditions intersected with the extreme poverty that drove the inhabitants to escape during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

My great-grandfather was lucky to be able to work as a musician all his life in the US with the Romagnano Orchestra, a dance band of South Philly Italians that worked in the city during that time and which was named for my great-great-grandfather (and my g-grandfather’s father-in-law) and which contained several of my direct and indirect family members. I strongly suspect that my grandfather inherited and played his harp, as it was bought from someone who immigrated from the Val d’Agri as well, at roughly the same time as my great-grandfather.

At least he came here as an adult, and my grandfather was born here and used the harp to feed my father’s family during the Depression, so they had a happier interaction with music and the harp. My great-grandfather was listed as a musician right up to his death certificate, whereas my grandfather went from “musician” to “operator” in the decadal census after the Depression lifted. A much stabler way to make a living for five kids, I suppose.