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Slurring and Insulting Italian Americans on Social Media: The Last “Safe” Prejudice

As a "Jeopardy!" Champion I woke up to the ugly world where Italian American stereotypes and racism still thrive and cancel culture doesn’t care

by Pasquale Palumbo

Pasquale Palumbo on Jeopardy!

Despite my having been declared "Jeopardy!" Champion, these people on social media felt no hesitation to besmirch me in such an ethnically specific manner…this would never happen to any other ethnicity without consequence...Yet slurring an Italian-American without any fear of repercussions, especially in the age of Cancel Culture, is still an accepted practice.

Here’s a “Jeopardy!” clue:

“Despite their significant and numerous contributions to the history of the United States, it is still socially acceptable to slur members of this ethnic group.”

The Response: “Who are the Italian-Americans?”

On April 8, 2021, I competed on the highly respected and loved quiz show, Jeopardy! and I emerged as the champion for that episode.

After a pursuit that took half my life to complete, I was chosen as a contestant on Jeopardy!  which filmed this past February. Putting my wedding and the births of my children aside for one moment, this was one of the greatest moments of my life, especially when you consider just how long the odds are to even be selected, let alone be crowned the Champion at the end of the game.

Host Aaron Rodgers and contestant Pasquale Palumbo on Jeopardy!

Watching the broadcast this past Thursday night with my family and my friends, I cannot truly express the amount of pride that swelled in my chest. The outpouring of support I got was unreal; I thought my phone was going to literally melt down from how many notifications I got.  I was truly awestruck by the magnitude of it all and I felt amazing when I finally went to bed that night.

Waking up the next morning, I was still beaming until a friend of mine prefaced her message with incredulity that one can be crowned Jeopardy! Champion and yet have one’s character besmirched so blatantly and nonchalantly by people on Social Media.  I once read that the best advice that a newly famous person (albeit for what I know is only Warhol’s proverbial 15 minutes for me) is that one should never read the comments on a social media post. But because my friend was so enraged on my behalf, I had to check out what she had read and then go on to look at other threads and see if anyone else had written anything.

Pasquale Palumbo

I’d like to say I was surprised by what I saw and how many different things were written, but I’m not.  I guess slurring an Italian-American without any fear of repercussions, especially in the age of Cancel Culture, is still an accepted practice. Here are some of the choice observations of these cretini (verbatim):

  • This guy can go home and have a huge bowl of pasta now.
  • I guess you prefer men to look like they are part of the mob than be nice like the other guy.
  • (After I defeated my opponent, the defending champion). So sorry he lost. Now we have Clemenza from The Godfather.
  • Who is this Pasquale guy on Jeopardy and why does he look like he’s dissolved someone in a vat of acid?

To summarize: in the eyes of these people, I am a gluttonous man who looks like he is in the mob, resembling a character from a mob film, who obviously is sociopathic enough to commit a murder (or several) and subsequently destroy the evidence in a particularly gruesome manner.

Richard Castellano as Peter Clemenza in The Godfather. Photo: Wikipedia

I wore a black suit jacket, a gray shirt open at the collar (it’s hot on stage), and my eyeglasses.  I have dark hair and olive skin, and yes, while I can stand to lose a lot of weight, I’m also built like a powerlifter, as I used to be one.  This allows these people to reduce me, a loving husband and adoring father of two, with a legitimate career, a Bachelor’s degree, and not one but two Master’s Degrees (and if not for an aborted career in education/academia, I’d have my Ph.D. by now) to a fat mafioso (and sociopath, to boot), which is obviously the go-to insult for Italian-American men of a certain build.

I’m obviously insulted but I’m not surprised.  What’s more insulting, frankly, is that these people felt no hesitation to besmirch me in such an ethnically specific manner which, to be even more frank, would never happen to anyone of any other ethnicity without consequence. And while I’m probably crying sour grapes here or “whataboutism” or any of the other stupid ideas that society has today, there’s validity to my premise.  Any slurs to any other group would have been all over the 24-hour news cycle.

I’m not going to directly address these people as, according to a meme I read recently: “Before you argue with someone, ask yourself, is that person even mentally mature enough to grasp the concept of different perspectives? Because if not, there’s absolutely no point.”  And I believe in that.  Anyone who would write something like that in a public forum is probably cognitively impaired to some degree.  Like Dick Gregory once said, ““If all you can do is judge a person by their appearance, because you don’t have the spirit to judge someone from within, you’re in trouble.”

George Carlin once mused: “This country is a freak show. It’s circling the drain. This culture has been for some time and the circles are getting smaller and tighter and faster. And I revel in it. I am a critic of it all because I think it’s a fascinating drama in self-destruction.” I’ve always respected his observations of society, but I’ve always kind of bristled at his cynicism.  As each day passes and I observe more ridiculous things that emerge from this society that is clearly in decadent decline, I start to agree with him more and more.  It’s a sad indictment on all of us.

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