Former Republican candidate for governor of New York in 2010, Carl Paladino, had already demonstrated racial and ethnic insensitivity during his campaign, and I have in mind his emails that went public at that time. They were egregious enough, most would claim, to have disqualified him from the possibility of holding public office. But that did not happen. After a brief brouhaha, the campaign continued and, of course, he lost.
Most recently, now in his roles as (1) board member of a majority minority school district in Buffalo, and (2) chair of Trump’s New York campaign before the election, he has proven once more to be shamefully bigoted and, further still, sexist. At this juncture, his comments couched as “desires for 2017” have been well publicized, and we need not repeat them here.
Such comments, to be sure, contradict all that is decent, civil, and, of course, humane in our society today. Hence, it is most disturbing that someone who articulates such racist vitriol is a member of a school board, the ruling entity of a school system that sets policy for the education of future generations. And let us not forget that education refers to (1) the imparting of knowledge ― facts and the like ― to members of our future leaders through a systematic instruction, and (2) the literacy and enlightenment of our social codes and mores at the most basic of levels. Mr. Paladino’s comments defy all of this and, to boot, are vile and horrid, and thus, shamefully odious. There is no room in our society for such vitriol, the original name for sulfuric acid, a compound that burns through basically everything. To be sure, Mr. Paladino’s desires for 2017 burn through the basic moral fabric upon which our twenty-first century was built, especially given the foundational civil rights movements of mid-twentieth century.
As both a member of society at large, and, in addition, as an Italian American who has spent the past four decades studying and promoting the culture of Italy and Italians in America, for me Carl Paladino, who readily identifies as Italian American, cannot in any manner whatsoever represent the socio-cultural legacy that is both Italian and Italian American. This is especially true with regard to the legacy of the turn of the twentieth-century Italian immigrants who suffered, at that time, equally repellent and hateful commentary from the hegemonic structure that kept them on the sidelines for so long.
Numerous Italian-American organizations have complained about fictional representations of Italians as Mafiosi. They have gone on to condemn filmmakers such as Coppola, Scorsese, and Chase, to name a few, and the numerous Italian-American actors and actresses who took roles in such films. Yet, they seem to remain silent on such real-life incidents as those involving the likes of Paladino. I would hope that all Italian Americans, regardless of political affiliation and ideology, notwithstanding differences in socio-economic status and gender, would join in and condemn such racist statements.
We simply cannot hope to move forward when people who spew forth such vitriolic statements occupy positions on education boards or represent, in this case, the president-elect. To remain silent is both to disrespect the history of degradation that our ancestors endured and to disgrace the millions of Italian Americans in this country who surely think otherwise.