In response to the white supremacist demonstrations in defense of the Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza, a group of Italian-American leftist comrades (including myself) came together to discuss political education. Our goal was to address recent events (especially as they related to the larger movement to abolish the police) and talk about local Italian-American history through an abolitionist perspective, in addition to raising funds for local grassroots Indigenous and Black organizations.
This turned into a livestream that was first aired on Thursday, June 18, 2020. You can view this talk on my Facebook page. Below is a transcription of the talk.
Special thanks to volunteer transcribers Neera Saxena and Jeanne D’Angelo for your hard work!
Samantha: Hi again everyone, ciao a tutti. My name is Samantha. I am from South Philly, I’m from the Italian American community in South Philly. I am an artist, a healthcare worker. I have a background in Italian studies. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to study Italian – studied the Italian Southern Question, Italian American studies, Italian diaspora studies. I’ve studied in Naples. I did the Calandra Institute’s 2016 Italian Diaspora Studies Summer Seminar. I talked about a lot of the things I’m gonna talk about today. I used to teach Italian. I’ve also done a lot of organizing in Philly, especially around Palestine and abortion access, as well as other things. So I’m really happy that so many people are on here so that we can talk about what’s been going on in South Philly and all over the country, and really thankful to Adryan for helping put this together.
Adryan: Yeah, so Samantha introduced herself a little bit. […] I’m Adryan Corcione, you’re watching this on my Facebook page. I am a freelance journalist, I have a few different projects going around. So I was doing a series of trans abolitionist talks on my Facebook page, so like, the format of this. I co-founded COVID-19 Behind Bars, and I’ve been published in a few different places. […] Very excited to have Samantha here. So, three years ago I had written about the Rizzo statue, which has now been taken down from Thomas Paine Plaza in Center City, but now it’s under the property of the Arts Commission. So we shall see what comes of the Rizzo mural in the Italian Market, if it’s taken down. So those are two things I was writing about. Coming to the history, the political moments that were happening after Charlottesville, is where I was coming from in talking about the history of Philadelphia in the context of white supremacy and the context of class, which we will be talking about today, so that’s really exciting. Samantha has an Etsy shop and an Instagram you can follow. You can also follow me on Twitter. I think we’re gonna have a link to the Teen Vogue stories. Yeah, so we know each other from the left in Philly, and I mentioned the Etsy site because I have some of your art hanging all over my house, and I think it’s really, really beautiful. And I think it has started a lot of conversations. […] I think art definitely has the power to bring people together like that. So, just to lay the setting for those at home: definitely ask questions. We definitely encourage engagement as we’re going about this. But we’re gonna do a Q&A at the end. But definitely engage, ask those questions. And then we will bring it back, after Samantha and I are done talking, to address some questions from the audience. We’re going to do the questions, the Q&A. And again, in the event description, like this is a free event, open to the public. But we deeply encourage those with access to wealth to contribute to Indigenous 215, the Venmo is up there. We’re collecting for the organization, our local Indigenous organization. As well as Philly Coalition for Real Justice, who’re really the fighters trying to get the statue down, so we cannot thank them enough for the contribution to our community. And really the community space in the city that’s since been occupied. So it’s definitely important that we honor Indigenous and Black organizing. Even though the both of us are coming forward as white Italian people who have a lot to say about this topic from an abolitionist point of view. And with that, I think right now we’ll talk about land acknowledgment in the privilege context, because I think that is very important when we set the tone of where we’re coming from with that. Would you like to start with that, Samantha?
Samantha: Yeah. So, of course we are on occupied Lenape territory here in Philadelphia. I am from a white Italian and little bit Irish family, who have been both settlers and immigrants in this country. I’ve also had family members who have been employed by the Philadelphia Police. So I need to be upfront about that. It informs my experience but it is what it is. I am a working class essential worker in healthcare. I come from a working class background in South Philly. And my family’s neighborhood is being gentrified like crazy. But that being said, I’m still very fortunate in that I’ve been able to get an education. And I’m very thankful to have this knowledge. And also, I had to go to university in Italy to learn Italian because that was a language that was lost in our community. So I wanna acknowledge how privileged I am to have all of that.
Adryan: Thank you. Yeah, so very similar but a little bit different than Samantha. So I’m living here in Philadelphia, on occupied Lenape territory. My family are white Italian immigrants who came from Naples, and the other half is Irish, the pretty standard Jersey “white mutt”, if you will. So definitely have had to do some grappling with, like, how those two are tense with each other, but also existing on a settler context of privilege on occupied land. I’m physically able-bodied, but I have mental illnesses that pose work issues. I’m self-employed, working class but I’ve had access to a college education, raised Christian. Even though I’m working class, come from generational poverty that is definitely rooted in that immigration narrative. I still have adjacencies to wealth that are related to my whiteness, related to access to institutional support.
And the thing is, when we acknowledge these things, the purpose is not just to acknowledge it but, like, frame the narratives of where we’re coming from. Because the intention of this talk is, like, we’re not trying to argue with fascists, we’re not trying to argue with white supremacists. However, there are people in our lives that will listen to us, that respect our points of view, and we know that political education is not an overnight thing. It’s a lifelong journey. Samantha and I are lifelong students in the Black liberation struggles, and land back movements for Indigenous rights, so even though we are in solidarity we still have to do a lot of work. And part of the work here is to be, like, alright, here’s what’s worked for us, here’s this history. And once we know this history, and I think Samantha you would agree, I definitely find it healing. I think for a lot of working class Italians, we have had our history stolen from us as white proletarians, and being led to serve these racist bourgeoisie interests that actually don’t align with our own class interests, right? So I have definitely found it empowering to learn more about the history and also learn about our ancestors that have opposed. Because too often Italian anti fascists, even though it’s from a hundred years ago, are erased and it’s very intentional. And that’s why we’re here to talk today. So, I have mentioned, please feel free to ask questions, definitely engage, make comments, tell us how you feel. We’re gonna have a Q&A at the end of this talk. But we’re gonna talk a little bit first and then we’re gonna have some calls to action. And then we’ll get to the Q&A. So definitely stay engaged, ask questions, we will get to them.
So, let’s take it back. Let’s go back a little. I actually was researching today for Frank Rizzo’s exact birthday. He’s born October 23rd, 1920. So it’s the hundredth year birthday, that will be coming up during this Libra season. So, with that in mind, first question: What were the material conditions of Italian immigrants a hundred years ago?
Samantha: Alright. So I think I have to go a little farther back than a hundred years. Not too far back, it won’t be long. But I mostly studied Italian studies in Italy – the Southern Question – so I’m biased towards that kinda stuff. But one thing that I think that a lot of people, and even Italian Americans, don’t know is that Italy is, compared to a lot of European or western imperialist nations, a pretty young country. There was no Italy, first of all, when Columbus was around. I love to tell people that. The Italian state as we know it now was unified in 1861, a movement called Risorgimento, or usually just called The Unification in English. So before 1861 there was an idea of an Italian peninsula that dates back to antiquity, but the north was controlled by various empires, nation states, European countries. And then the south was mostly under the rule of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which was a pretty well-known backwards monarchy that was responsible for really terrible conditions in both the rural and urban areas, for generations. And then in the mid-1800s, like around the 1840s, 1850s, into the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a movement for unification led by kind of like a liberal bourgeoisie, a liberal middle class, mostly northern middle class with the alliances of southern middle class. So basically, when unification came to southern Italy, many people saw it as, it’s often called an annexation. Many people saw it as an invasion. There are some people that go so far as to say it’s internal colonialism. That’s a whole other talk that I would love to do! So basically, it’s often seen that the south was invaded by the new Italian army. There was peasant resistance that led to really brutal repression of peasants. Those people were our ancestors in the region that people in South Philly and many Italian Americans come from, which I think is an interesting parallel because all of the stereotypes of southern Italians that Italian nationalism was built on come from that era. It also comes from the era of, you know, the precursors of eugenics. Cesare Lombroso, and the phrenologists who measured southern Italians’ skulls and said, “Look, this skull is smaller than the northern Italian skulls, so they’re inherently criminals.” So basically, after unification, Italy really struggled to build a national identity. The majority of the wealth was generated in northern Italy, which was generally late-to-the-game industrial capitalism – when cities became industrialized, issues with taxes and large landowners taking advantage of the moment of revolution and starting these latifunds, I think is the word in English. So basically their conditions were terrible, in both northern and southern Italy. But it created these cycles of financial crises, and agrarian crises. In the south there was basically no government or institutions or infrastructure, so people had no faith in civil institutions. In some cases, the government encouraged the mafia to kinda control the regions of the south so they wouldn’t have to govern. So in that context, millions of Italians emigrated. Not just to North America. We’re gonna talk about North America today, but the reason why Italian diaspora studies is so important is that it’s looking at Latin America, Australia, other cases where Italians immigrated, and became settler colonists in other countries. But for the majority of Italian Americans, I read one figure I think from Unico years ago that said 80% of our ancestors in the US come from southern Italy. So looking a little bit forward to the 1920s, and just to give more precise numbers because I don’t wanna be vague: 29 million Italians emigrated between 1860 and 2011. So some figures I got from a class I took at with professor Maddalena Tirabassi, she works with Altre Italie. And I can share a link to that later, if you guys wanna look that up they have a lot of good historical resources. And then almost 6 million emigrated between 1876 and 2015. Basically, Italy up and left once it became a country. So there’s a lot of contradictions there. So Italian Americans came to cities like Philadelphia in the United States, and were not automatically seen as white. And this is the case for pretty much most immigrant European groups that came in the years of settler colonialism in the US. So it had happened with the Irish, about a generation before, and when Italian Americans came to the United States, it’s interesting because from city to city you see a lot of different dynamics. Like in some places, especially in the south and Midwest, Italians were outright associated with Black people, Latinos, other nonwhite groups. And then there were other places where they were like, “Yeah, I guess they’re white, but “low tier” white.” And eugenics, like I mentioned before, was extremely popular among white settlers. So there was this idea that the northern Italians were “Alpine” so they weren’t as “good” as the Nordic, you know, German, British stock that came before, but then the southern Italians and the Sicilians, they were “Mediterranean”. I was reading a document from a racist American settler who was talking about the Saracen and Berber blood of Italian American children in schools, and how that’s related to their inability to do well in school and become productive workers. And these are things that people heard, I would say, into my parents’ childhoods. Not comparing it to racism in the ‘50s and ‘60s towards Black people by any means. But in an even earlier generation, one of my aunt’s used to tell this story. At her public school in South Philly, one of her teachers tousled her hair and said, “Oh, such pretty hair, too bad you don’t have any brains under that hair”, that sort of thing. That had to be the 30s, or something like that. So Italians were also seen, not only as racially inferior and different than other white people, but they were seen as insular. So a lot of Italian American communities, first of all, again, didn’t refer to themselves as Italian, that was a foreign concept. There’s a really interesting book by this author, Stefano Luconi. I don’t wanna co-sign everything he wrote, because you know, he wrote an article I don’t agree with about Columbus and Rizzo and monuments, but it’s a really good historical account of South Philly and it talks about what I grew up in, so I really like it. And he talked about how people settled based on their village. And not even their region, it was like, you’re from a different village in Abruzzo than me, that’s like, “You’re those people over there.” So people were very insular, they were very, there’s this term campanilismo, it means like kind of the mindset that you’re not going past your church parish. Like even when you meet people from South Philly, they don’t tell you their corner. So you definitely see that today. Basically Italians, like many immigrant groups today, were exploited for their cheap labor. They were actually like labor brokers, most of the time, usually called padrone, who would set immigrants up with work. Usually like take a fee, or put them in really toxic work environments. People worked in very precarious labor. Italians were known to take the lowest paying jobs. You know, food service work, agricultural work, factory work, things like that. Throughout the 1920s, that era, there was a lot of poverty, there was a lot of discrimination, there was also a lot of political foment that was going on. I think Adryan touched on it earlier, but there was a long history of Italian American radicalism and there is some really great scholarship out there that talks about this. There’s Jennifer Guglielmo and [Marcella] Bencivenni has a really good book. I can try to get links if people want recommendations. Sometimes they’re kinda hard to get a hold of because they’re academic books. And, you know, I was reading a little bit today about South Philly, because everyone’s talking about “an-tee-fa” right now. I pronounce it “anti-faa” because it’s short for antifascista and that means anti-fascist. So if you’re listening and you’ve been hearing ANTIFA and you don’t know what it means, it literally just means anti-fascist. And there were anti-fa in South Philly in the 1920s. There were multiple organizations. There were anti-fascists in South Philly. I found out that the grandson of the original owner of Colombo’s, which was on 8th and Christian, it was a boarding house… Mr. Colombo was from Abruzzo and he set up this boarding house to help people when they were coming from ports to get housed, and kinda create these immigrant enclaves. So one of his grandson’s who then operated the restaurant-boarding house, he actually was involved in one of the anti-fascist groups. There were also a lot of fascist groups unfortunately, too. There was Giovanni Di Silvestro, I think there’s a park named after him-
Adryan: I was just talking about him today.
Samantha: -yeah, I was reading about him in Stefano Luconi’s book and I wanna read more. He was like a pro-fascist, the word is prominenti, like “prominent”. So even today, we have people that make a little bit of money and then they think that they’re the spokespeople for the Italian American community.
Adryan: I have a quick book recommendation. So […] pardon the imagery, it was in this book [holding up book, Hoods & Shirts: The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania, 1925-1950], I will bring it up again, but there’s a whole chapter on that guy. There’s a whole chapter on Italian fascism, and the history of Philadelphia. Because the first fascist convention in the 20s was in Philadelphia.
Samantha: Yeah, I just found that out today. So, to put this into context, history isn’t just dates and names and interesting things that happened, and monuments. It’s class struggle, right? All history is a history of class struggle. We had workers struggling against precarious conditions. We had Italian American radicals. Also Carlo Tresca, who’s a really famous Italian anarchist, I found out he lived and worked two blocks from my childhood home. And he was arrested at Moyamensing Prison – which is now the ACME. So, fun fact of the day, I didn’t know that he was so close to home, I know he lived in Philly for a while. So that’s definitely a part of this landscape. There were fascists that were petitioning politicians to support the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. And I think this is important because for a couple generations, Italian Americans as a community were used to being denigrated and being ethnic others, and the Italian state didn’t care about them. And all of a sudden, the Italian state was very interested in communicating and supporting the Italian American community, because they saw them as a colony of Italy that could promote the interests of the fascist state in the US. So they got a lot of support from pro-fascist groups in the United States, and in Philadelphia. I was reading, there were fascist and anti-fascist groups, and at one point Stefano Luconi remarks that sometimes the anti-fascists complained about being overpowered by the fascist groups. So sadly, I think, that’s the impression I’ve always gotten, growing up in South Philly. So I think that just proves that we have a lot of work to do in talking to our community, and undoing ideas that have been passed down intergenerationally about racism, white supremacy, class and fascism. So, that kinda gives you the landscape of Philly a hundred years ago.
Adryan: Thank you! Yeah, that’s really helpful. Even though I am living in Philly now, my family was from New York. So that definitely has a related but little bit different history. There’s definitely things in my own family that have been passed on. I mean, the fact that I pronounce my name “core-see-own”, it’s an extremely white version. My first name and my last name, now, are always really mispronounced. Growing up I noticed it, but I was like, “Well, but it’s a white name, like an Italian name.” It’s not like a Black name, or one that’s particularly racialized, where it becomes like a tool for white supremacy intentionally. But it has been butchered, like “Corcoran”. Which is like totally nothing close to it. Just being othered in a certain way that’s different, but also the narratives that I have about it, like for Corcione. When I visited Italy, […] they’re like “core-cho-ni”. And it’s like yeah, that’s how you pronounce it. But that was so far away, and I didn’t even know that my grandfather’s name – because he had a nickname this whole time, Chick – I didn’t even know that his name is Luigi until I was an adult. So now I know, and I love that. These are things in the family narrative that were definitely white washed. And you know, initially it was out of survival, but we don’t have to do that anymore. The narratives that were instilled, they were very intentional in trying to get Italians to assimilate into white culture. And we will talk about Frank Rizzo and how he was the prime example of that. Actually, let’s jump into that, the next question is: How did the material conditions for Italian immigrants, and the following Italian American generations, change over time especially in Philadelphia?
Samantha: I think there’s a lot of different things that factor into here. To build into what you were saying about the things that are lost, and the attitudes that were present in your family about assimilating into American culture… one, like I said before, people originally identified very closely with their region, so they probably spoke dialects of Neapolitan and Sicilian. And then people stopped teaching their kids dialects, teaching their kids Italian, because they didn’t want them to be seen as “those Italian kids”, or wanted them to have advantages in white American society, and try to be able to pass with the rest of white America at the time. People before had tight-knit communities, sometimes they replicated their villages as best they could in the new setting of South Philly or whatever city we’re talking about. Over the generations though, they gave up a lot of the linguistics, the customs, a lot of the folk religion and folk magic stuff, like doing the Maloik [Malocchio] spell at night – you have to learn it on Christmas Eve from someone in the family. People consciously discarded those things. But another important thing is, people chose to align themselves with the violent institutions in this country. There’s a long history. We’re gonna talk a little bit about police abolition and prison abolition. If people are here that aren’t really familiar with this paradigm, or this concept – there are people that have police in their family – and this is difficult for you to process, I know we might be using a lot of technical language, but please reach out to me if you wanna talk about this one on one. Because it took me a lot to process this when I was getting into activism, and trying to process this argument. So I know it’s hard, but if you can bear with us and listen, and reach out if you have questions or if something is just difficult for you to process. I wanna be really clear about that. But basically, the origins of the police force in the US, especially in the south, comes from the slave patrols. So after slavery, and during slavery, there were these patrols that would chase after slaves, Black people that were escaping plantations, escaping their bonds to their masters. And that eventually developed into the modern police in the US. And it’s one of the reasons why there’s such a violent culture of policing in the US, and such a racist culture of policing. And I don’t think any of us can deny, even if you have police in your family, that there is a racist dimension, and for generations in this country. And in the northern cities, a lot of times what the dynamic was, the white, I’ll say the medigans (Americans) the British and Scottish stock that came in the early days of settler colonialism in this continent, they received these white immigrant groups that came later. Like the Irish, later the Italians. And they kind of used them to protect the interests of capitalism. Capitalism is the system that we live in, where private property is more important than people. We’re seeing this with COVID, where people are risking their lives for food service jobs. We see this in the Black Lives Matter movement, and the response to police violence. And the response to things like looting, people being more outraged about looting a store than people being unjustly killed. So going back, this isn’t a new thing. Since the inception of this country, private property has come above humanity. So immigrant groups were used a lot of times to be the police force. And they were pit against Black people, and other non-white groups, Latin groups. […] In Philly, because ethnic cleansing occurred so early in Philly’s history […] we didn’t grow up with an Indigenous community the same way we grew up with a Black community right next to us. Italian and Irish immigrants were used to man the police forces in a lot of cities like Philadelphia. I think Frank Rizzo is a really good example of this. He dropped out of high school and became a cop. His father was also a cop, so it was almost like a family profession for him. And that’s the same case for a lot of families. My dad might get mad at me for sharing this – because in South Philly you’re supposed to keep family business in the family, it’s a very strong thing – but I was asking him recently about his grandfather who was a cop, what he did. So his grandfather, I think he was a junk collector. He made his living off of selling scrap parts. So it was very precarious, arguably not even working class but lumpenproletarian kind of living. For my grandfather, him becoming a policeman, it allowed him to live more of a blue collar but middle class lifestyle. My dad and his siblings, they weren’t rich but they grew up comfortably. He [grandfather] had a stable pension and things like that. And in exchange, he was protecting the interests of private property. Who knows the kinds of things that he did or saw and didn’t say anything about. He played cards with Rizzo and Angelo Bruno, so for people that wanna be “tough on crime” but wanna also apologize for Italian mafia organized crime – I mean, it’s known that those ties were there. So for not just Italian, but also for Irish and other white ethnic groups, the police became this institution, this respectable profession. That helped with the process of “whitening’ their identity, especially after WWII. I talked before about the fascist and anti-fascist groups in South Philly… so, when the US declared war on Italy and jumped into WWII, the pro-fascist groups were kinda like “…skirt”, and a lot of people enlisted in the Army ended up fighting on the side of the allies. Interestingly, a lot of Italian Americans went to Naples and Sicily. It’s kind of a weird way to go back to your homeland. After WWII, there was a period where there was a lot of anti-Italian sentiment, Italians were all being associated with the fascists. And after WWII, it kinda became a different story. People started latching on to a more “American” identity. There’s a really good book that Adryan actually recommended to me, it’s called Blue Collar Conservatism, and it talks a lot about these arguments. But it also-
Adryan: [holding up book]
Samantha: -yeah, there you go! Timothy Lombardo. I don’t know him, but a new paisano I didn’t know about. It talks about Rizzo’s biography because he was always in the media, people really were drawn to him, loved him or hated him. And he kinda built this identity, it was like a white blue collar identity, and author Tim Lombardo refers to it as “blue collar authenticity”. Like “I’m from here, I’m a real South Philly tough guy. You don’t wanna mess with me.” And it wasn’t just Italians that loved him. It was Irish, Polish, Jewish, all different white ethnic groups really were drawn to that identity. And with his political ascent, Rizzo became the Police Commissioner in, I think, 1971, or it might have been earlier, like ‘67, and then he was the Mayor from ‘71 to ‘80, something like that. Correct me if my dates are wrong, I have it written down somewhere. But him becoming a politician elevated, supposedly, the position of Italian Americans in Philadelphia. And then also the intensification of celebrations like Columbus Day, which we’ll talk about a little bit more. So people are going from “I’m from this specific village in Abruzzo” to “I’m a hundred percent ‘ita-yan’”, in just a couple generations.
Adryan: Alright, thank you so much for that. I think that was a really great summary. […] If you’re just joining us now, Samantha and I are talking about white supremacy and class in South Philadelphia. Definitely donate if you’re financially able, in exchange for this free education. We highly, highly, highly recommend, and we urge you to contribute financially to Philly Coalition for Real Justice, a great local Black liberation organization who totally have the front lines of getting Rizzo down in the first place. As well as Indigenous 215, definitely contribute to their Venmo. There’s a great movement here in Philadelphia, to have Christopher Columbus Day replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, they put on a celebration every single year. It’s definitely great that we give back to Black and Indigenous organizing locally. Because they’re on the front lines doing the work, doing the education, bringing people together. And we definitely ask in exchange for this free public talk that you will do your part in the work, to support these organizations. We’ll talk about them at the end but the Philly Black Radical Collective also has demands to put forward for defunding the police and ending state violence against Black communities.
So we talked a little bit about the material conditions of Italian immigrants when they first got here, and how that can change over time, over generations, of Italian Americans. We’ve spoken a little bit to our own personal histories. We were talking about Frank Rizzo, we were talking about the police. And I think something to recognize – I kinda mentioned it and precursed in the beginning – about how the white proletariat has been spoonfed, and totally fell for it. Our ancestors made active choices to align ourselves with white supremacy, with bourgeois class interests, with rich ass class interests, to control and dominate other people. When our ancestors got here they could have totally chosen to engage with Indigenous struggle, with the Black struggle that was happening, but they intentionally chose to control and dominate, assimilate into whiteness, control over people, engage in racism, engage in this white supremacy that is so systemic that it is ingrained in our city’s history and our country’s history. Growing up in these generations, we’ve definitely been fed these narratives about how “Italian Americans serve and protect our community through law enforcement”, when a lot of us now in this political moment understand the real interest of law enforcement was created to protect property, to protect the rich. And that they don’t really give a fuck about working class white people. And in fact, many of the people who are out there right now in South Philly, defending it [the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza], actually do have criminal histories in the sense that they’ve already been incarcerated, in the sense that many of these people have been radicalized because of their incarceration history. And any calls to incarcerate fascists is feeding into this racist system that breeds more people like them! Sorry, that was a little bit of a tangent. Next question: How have far right narratives turned Italian American communities against other working class people? In the umbrella of other working class people, of course we’re centering Indigenous and Black working class people, but we’re also taking into account LGBT people, who were intentionally targeted by the Rizzo administration. And how have the police helped out in making sure that those narratives are seared home and that people are turning against each other?
Samantha: I really want to thank you for talking about how people are calling for incarcerating these racists, these violent off-the-rails protestors. What Adryan is really getting at, for people that aren’t maybe familiar with this type of discourse, is that prisons don’t solve social problems. And when we’re talking about police violence, vigilante mobs, racism, ignorance and hate, we also have to talk about the other systemic issues that are really at the root of all these problems. This has been a core thing, I think, in addressing the question you’re asking of how white supremacy and the far right turn us against each other. […] I went down to Marconi [Plaza] – if you’re not familiar, down in South Philly there’s a park with a Columbus statue, and a rumor that ANTIFA was gonna take it down which was totally fabricated. And so a mob of racists, mostly older Italian men, have been screaming their heads off without masks on during a pandemic. And there have been some altercations between leftists and journalists and this mob of people. So I went down there because I grew up here, I have spent a lot of time at Marconi in my life, and I knew that it was gonna be a shit show. Sorry for that language. So I really tried to talk to people, and I said “I understand you’re upset, you think the statue is being taken away from you. But where’s your anger about the fact that people get ten-year tax abatements in Philly? You know, the “yuppies” that you think you’re railing against by screaming at a young college girl that lives down 15th street. Where were you when Ori Feibush [of OCF Realty] was buying up half of South Philly? Where were you when Lindsey Scannapieco’s daddy bought her Bok [high school] to turn into a bourgeois maker space to have pop-up weddings? Where were you when we closed fifty schools within ten years?” And I mean that from a place of good faith. Use that anger and direct it where it has to go. Because what far right narratives do is pit people against each other that, as Adryan mentioned, we have more in common with than not, you know what I mean? So what these narratives try to push – we talked about this “authentic blue collar identity” that so many South Philly whites are proud of, this kind of like “I’m from here. I never get off the corner. So I’m the only one that can speak about things” – this whole perspective is assuming that our interests are fundamentally different from the interests of Black people in Philly, of immigrant communities in Philly. I think it’s also interesting too, because one thing I’ve heard growing up and from being out at Marconi, and also other protests over the years, is this idea that “It’s not our fight as white people. We don’t have to worry about Black Lives Matter, that’s for Black people. Don’t get involved in this, it doesn’t have to do with you.” When in reality we need to be out there in solidarity with our Black neighbors. When I say Black Lives Matter, when I protest, or engage in this kind of work, I’m doing it for my Black friends, my Black classmates, my Black neighbors, my Black patients. You know what I mean? I was taught to take care of other people. I’m very lucky, my parents didn’t teach me to blame my problems on Black people in my community, they didn’t teach me to be afraid of the Black kids on the other side of Washington Ave, you know what I mean? Unfortunately, people say things like, “We’re fine with the police budget going up” because of the ideas of the police as preventing this “boogeyman” of crime, somehow. But we can’t put more money into the schools because “We can send our kids to Catholic school or private school or charter schools”. So the far right is making people think that instead of the Comcast CEO, the real estate developers, the corrupt politicians in city government, instead of them being the targets, we’re blaming our neighbors, basically. And gentrification, for me, has been really difficult to process. My neighborhood has been getting gentrified since I was born. I’m watching it happen in real time. So for me, it took a while to realize that these “hipster kids” – how people see people on bikes or with tattoos – you actually can’t generalize them. A lot of times these “hipster kids” are people that will have your back, and have the same interests as you and are on the same side as you. Even me – again, I grew up down South Philly – I spend a lot of time at Marconi, but I went to Marconi on my bike. I spent my childhood biking to Marconi. But because I had a bike, I was suddenly “from Oklahoma”, you know, that was the refrain. “You’re not from here, go back to your neighborhood, get out of our park.” I mean even if I was from Oklahoma, or Delco, or Jersey, if I was coming here and saying “Something’s wrong, let’s get together and fix it”, I can still have a valid point. So I think that’s really the crux of it. As far as how the police play into it, it kinda goes back to what we were saying. There’s this like constant “specter of crime” that everyone is so concerned about. “It’s a shame anymore, you can’t walk down the block to go to the store.” But it’s not necessarily the reality. When people talk about the “good old days” of Rizzo in South Philly, I think of stories my dad told me about how people would get blown up because they were trying to move up in the mob. People were getting killed all the time. I don’t understand what the rosy picture is. It’s really clever how the far right narrative has adapted in response to the Civil Rights Movement, and consciousness about racism – it’s adapted a colorblind language. Like these racists down Marconi, they were very careful not to say the n-word. They were careful not to say mulingnan, because they know it’s been thirty years and everyone’s seen Do the Right Thing and knows what it means. So they were really directing their anger by saying “You’re not from here” or “You’re white, you shouldn’t even be talking about this.” But when you really analyze what people are saying, they’re using coded terms. They’re associating crime with Black people. And then when you point it out they’re like “Well, you’re the real racist because you brought race into it.” It’s this really circular logic, but it works on people unfortunately. We have a lot of work to do to undo it.
Adryan: Yeah, thank you for speaking to that. I just posted to the chat, there’s a Teen Vogue story I wrote on ‘What is Ecofascism?’ because a lot of what you’re talking about, like “You’re not from this neighborhood”, “Go back home”, “Go back to where you came from” – that is a particular talking point, which if you’re not paying attention fully or you’re not really analyzing what is being said, it’s a trap. Because this is the same narrative that Trump uses about immigrants, anybody that doesn’t fit this white ethnostate guideline. It goes back to Hitler, it goes back to Mussolini, of really trying to create this genocidal politic around who is welcome and who belongs. You really need to be able to identify these arguments and you can’t take them at face value because they have a deep, deep history. In the same way, to keep Columbus alive, much like these Confederate statues, this is very intentional. […] There are younger people at the Marconi Plaza, and there are a bunch of people who look like my dad, don’t get me wrong. I would say most of them do look like my dad. My dad’s not there! But the younger people who are there are trying to deeply learn. They’re trying to deeply understand what’s going on in this political moment, and there’s just a need for information. And coming to this work as a prison abolitionist, doing work for trans prisoner advocacy – in a prison you do not have access to information. When I was doing the trans abolitionist series, the elephant in the room was “If you’re incarcerated, you can’t see this.” Much like the people here. Certain people are gonna see it, but people behind bars aren’t gonna see it. With the way information is intentionally gate kept for people, prison is a great example. Our history is the propaganda that is intentionally withheld from us in order to maintain the social status as white people, as people who “belong” in the neighborhood, that this is “our neighborhood”. So these narratives are really embedded in colonialism, settler colonialism in particular, in the way that in order to create space our ancestors were misled to believe “You have to dominate over other people” in order to do that. It’s not gonna be a whole talk because I’m not qualified for that conversation, but there is something to say about anti-colonization as it fits with abolition. If the Columbus statue comes down, what are we going to replace it with? Another Italian American? It becomes a question of decolonization. Is it really our choice as Italian Americans to decide what statues go where? Because if you ask me, not really my question to ask at all because this land is stolen land. And it was never mine to begin with. And everyone who is on here who is not Black or Indigenous, on this land, has to reckon with the politics and the privilege that you are carrying because this whole country was founded on stolen land, the pillaging of Indigenous resources, stolen trafficking labor, violence, genocide! That is what this country stands for. So when we come to the question, who is patriotic? Who is American? We need to question, what is the foundation of America and how does it fit into our politics? Because it does not fit in with police abolition, it does not fit in with fascism. And anything that aligns itself with fascism – you know, we talked in the beginning. Mussolini, the original Hitler, but where did Mussolini get his politics from? He got it from here, the foundation of this country and the way that we needed to control and dominate and perpetuate violence, abuse, harm! And when we have transformative justice – it isn’t only accountability measures, like, “How do we get this person to reckon harm with this other person?” It’s a larger political framework that requires going outside the capitalist state, going outside of a state! Going outside of what we know. So when these vicious (cop) killers, who’re killing George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, when we ask for these people to be incarcerated, what are we really asking? […] I just don’t think they should go to prison at all. What does that really do to rehabilitate people? How does that actually perpetuate harm, when we know as abolitionists, as antifascists, that these prisons only breed more harm, they only breed more violence. So there’s definitely something to be said about transforming harm and being accountable, but do we think that the Harvey Weinsteins, the Bill Cosbys are going to have any way to reconcile with their harm in a place where they are being held hostage? When we think about transformative justice, we are not just trying to react to harm. We’re trying to prevent harm. We’re trying to build, dismantle society away from capitalism, away from the carceral state, so that we can create a world, a society, where harm, violence, and abuse is less likely to happen. Because what we know about capitalism and its foundation, especially US capitalism, is violence. And anybody living here, doesn’t matter if you’re Italian American, doesn’t matter if you’re Black, doesn’t matter if you’re Indigenous – of course Black and Indigenous are directly harmed – everyone hurts! The whole proletariat hurts under capitalism. I’m not being targeted on the street, and I’m sure there are other white people who’ve had experiences, who’ve had proximity to poverty, to know that the police are out to get us too. And it is most wise for us, in the name of abolition, in the name of antifascism, in the name of our ancestors, those ancestors that have resisted – because again, those who came before us who were antifascist a hundred years ago, made it so that we can be out there, we can be using our voices in a way to communicate with the larger movement. Little bit of a tangent, but thank you for entertaining that.
So bringing it back to contextualize a little bit, we’re talking about abolition and antifascism, and particularly with Marconi, the Columbus statue. […] So Rizzo’s out, the Art Commission is gonna do something with him, but no news of its destruction, if it’s gonna happen. So it could go up in a museum, it could go up somewhere else. It could go in the Schuylkill, who knows. So Columbus statue is boarded up, it’s not taken down. And also the other Columbus statue near Fishtown, near like the navy yard, is also boarded up.
Samantha: It’s like near the South Street Bridge. Like more Center City.
Adryan: Yeah. So those are boarded up. And we’ve mentioned it, but these guys who look like our dads, but aren’t our dads…
Samantha: Not my dad!
Adryan: Not my dad! But they’re hanging out in front of this statue, South Philly residents – also, there are a bunch of people there who aren’t even from South Philly! They’re from Fishtown or whatever. So bringing it into this political moment, what is that history behind Columbus Day, behind these Christopher Columbus statues?
Samantha: So I actually, I didn’t realize this but I read this today in Stefano Luconi’s book that Columbus Day has actually been celebrated to some degree in Philly since like the late 1890’s basically but it really is something that took off a little bit later as a national holiday and you know kind of the political dimension of the holiday. So, basically a lot of people are pointing to, it was in 1892, it was President Benjamin Harris, he declared Columbus Day like “we will celebrate the anniversary of Columbus sailing you know the ocean” but it didn’t really have anything explicitly to do with Italians. But the context of that is that the year before, I think it was eleven Sicilian immigrants were lynched, in New Orleans. So, kind of like I said before there were some cities where Italians were like not considered white at all and I think, from what I’ve read about New Orleans, you know that was one of the places where they were definitely seen as “Others”. And it’s interesting because you know, people on the right, and people that are trying to make excuses for racism, they love to be like “Italians were oppressed too there was a lynching down New Orleans so, you know” like somehow that makes racism and police violence okay, I guess. But they don’t mention that a police commissioner was murdered and they basically blamed these eleven Sicilians for it, they didn’t get a fair trial and they were lynched. So a lot of people have always interpreted Columbus Day as a reaction to that, and in some ways it was a way to placate the Italian American community but it was actually in the years of fascism the interwar period that I kind of referred to before when there were a lot of pro and anti fascist groups in places like Philly where people really started rallying around Columbus Day including the literal Fascist Party of Italy, Mussolini himself. And it’s interesting because this happened in Canada too. When I was in Calabria for the diaspora seminar institute one of the readings that my professor assigned was actually about Italian Canadians, I can try and send it to people if they’re interested in it. It’s called Caboto and other Parentela and it talks specifically about [John] Cabot but I think it makes a lot of good arguments and a lot of compelling evidence towards, you know, like how Columbus Day became a thing. So there’s this kind of idea of, you know, taking these figures that have some dubious connection to the Italian peninsula, like I said before, there’s no Italy in 1492, Columbus was from Genoa which was like a city state at the time, he was sailing for the Spanish, there are some people that say he was of like of Spanish Jewish origin which you know, doesn’t really change anything but it’s just how the world was back then, you know he wasn’t Italian necessarily. So basically you know, at this point where fascism is trying to appeal to the Italian Americans from the Italian American “colonies” and say “we’re not an inferior race. You now, we’re not Mediterannean Alpine inferior people, you know we can be white supremacists too, we can commit genocide too”. So that’s kind of where the push for Columbus Day came from. And then there was a prominent Italian American business man named Generoso Pope, and he owned a lot of newspapers, you know Italian language newspapers and some in English as well and he was a really big proponent of Columbus Day. I think I read somewhere in Luconi’s book that he came to Philly for some kind of rally or press conference, rallying for Columbus Day. He eventually I think broke with the fascists when they invaded Ethiopia so like good for you, um but you know before that he was totally fine with fascism you know. So I think that’s something that’s really striking and really important to point out to people. I mean also Marconi was a member of the fascist party too. So like, people are kinda like “just take down Columbus and keep it Marconi” and it’s like.. nah, sorry Guglielmo has to go too, not gonna work. So basically like this…Columbus Day again, kind of like as Adryan said like we could have you know, there were a lot of Italian American radicals that worked in inter racial and inter ethnic unions and Socialist parties and Anarchist groups and things like that but unfortunately because of the Red Scare, suppression against leftists and this whole process of whitening that we’ve been discussing you know, unfortunately the Italian American radicals faded into obscurity and are now just starting to be studied more in academic scholarship which is really cool. But you know it’s this choice to align not with the Indigenous or the oppressed people of the world but instead with a symbol of genocide. So I think that’s, you know, that’s really important and it’s also difficult because kind of like I talked about earlier fascism and white supremacy were really appealing for generations of people who were used to being called guineas and dagos and wops, being discriminated against, working low wage jobs for medigans, um you know, being ashamed of their language and culture so you know, I think kind of like Adryan said everyone is hurting under capitalism you know. And you know those guys down Marconi half of them probably were in prison related to some mob shit, you know who knows what kind of trauma they experienced both on the streets and in prison. I was just looking at the crowd and thinking like that guy needs a therapist, like that guy needs a therapist like these people are traumatized, you know and when you’re traumatized you know it’s not an excuse but like you get stuck in the past and you can’t like reason with or return to the present. So I think you know we have to acknowledge that there’s an emotional connection to Marconi and you know people may have happy memories of Columbus Day but you know, like I said, we’re not trying to erase history, no one’s gonna stop talking about Columbus. No one’s gonna stop talking about fascism and antifa is not gonna go anywhere no matter what the weirdo facebook groups in South Philly say. So you know, I think we need to look at this as an opportunity to not discard history but to engage in history. You know like in Italian protest you know there’s the one chant like “the people write the real story” like “intifada fino alla vittoria” “intifada until victory” so I think we need to take a lesson from that. For people who are upset about Columbus Day or the Columbus statue being nixed, like you know, let’s talk about what we can do, like what’s next. We deserve better and need to do better for ourselves, for our Black neighbors, for our Indigenous neighbors you know even if we may not have grown up with Indigenous community here in Philly there are organizers that are working on this and we should really connect with them in good faith, you know. Like Adryan said, this is not our land. You know our family had to leave Southern Italy, like…have you seen pictures of Southern Italy it’s beautiful but unfortunately, you know capitalism has wreaked havoc in different ways over there. So you know, this is not our land, we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to live the kind of lives we lead here but we need to acknowledge that and we need to work with our Black, Indigenous, immigrant neighbors. That’s like, all my good memories of South Philly growing up like it’s not this lily white vision of South Philly, it wasn’t the other italian kids that were bullies, you know, it was my best friend from the Mexican American community, or my classmates growing up from the Asian immigrant communities, or my Black classmates that I still keep up with from our racist middle school. You know, like they’re the ones I kept in closest contact with so you know, I think, not to go on a total rant, but I think, you know there’s a lot of hope for the younger generation. I’m hoping that the people I went to middle school, highschool with or who grew up in South Philly with me, I hope that some of them are tuning in and want to connect. I also hope that maybe some of the older generations are going to open their mind. One thing my dad told me on the phone the other day that really touched me was that um, you know he told me stories about race riots in Philly about everything that went on back in the day, you know he taught me those lessons before I became an activist or became a scholar you know so he really instilled that in me. But you know other than that he wasn’t protesting Vietnam back in the day, he wasn’t an activist or you know a radical organizer. But he said to me, he said “you know you and your brother bringing home your friends from all different backgrounds, you know your black friends, your immigrant friends, your gay friends like it really opened my eyes to a lot of things I never thought about before”. So you know we can bag on the old heads and some of the old heads need serious, you know, they need some like CBT, DBT maybe some psych meds like I dunno, they need like a lot of help. But you know there’s also a lot of people in the older generations that they get it, so I think we need to have these conversations with everybody.
Adryan: Thanks, yeah, I think, I think this is a great opportunity, yeah it’s a jump into the calls for action if that’s cool but yeah. And we’re gonna have the calls to action before the Q & A so definitely keep asking questions, there’s some that have gone through so definitely keep engaging and asking questions. I think that that’s really really great. But yeah just to add to what you were saying about you know, obviously we don’t want to pathologize other people, by principle, however speaking from own experience, like I found these to be the combination of like traditional, or like Western mental health care, for what it’s worth how violent the medical industrial complex, don’t have to tell you because you’re a healthcare worker, however, they have served me. Um they were made by white people, they are helpful to white people so like definitely use the tools that are accessible to you to engage in this healing because the point in healing all this is yes, we definitely want to repair wounds, we want to repair ourselves and heal, but that just brings us with a better foot forward when we are engaged in the struggle because there will be white guilt, there will be white shame, there will be white tears, there will be lots of feelings that we don’t want to feel because they are like considered negative. And I think you know part of Samantha and I having this conversation like, we’re not really talking to Indigenous people, we’re not talking to Black people, they already know, they’ve been here, they’ve lived it, you know they’re the same people who have been doing this work this whole time. So this is not really a conversation directed at them. However for those who come from Italian American families, or you now, maybe a lot of what you were saying too doesn’t just resonate with being Italian American but also Irish American on my side, you know that, having the violent history between you know Great Britain and Ireland and you know grappling with that. Because you know, the cool thing about my dad’s side is you know like I know the oral tradition and history down. Like you know if there’s a DNA test, like all the DNA tests like if I’m just like oh I deeply wanna know on what side my mothers on because we don’t really know other than being Irish. But my dad’s like “no I know where I am, I know where we came from” I have that like history memorized for anyone to tell me. And I think that’s really strong but like definitely like you know, if you’re tuning in and you are not only Italian American I definitely challenge you engage with the history of your heritage, of your white heritage, and really dive into it because I will guarantee you if you, if these narratives of white supremacy and class have been in your family I guarantee you there is, that’s not the full story, there are missing parts of it. Use that as an opportunity like don’t let this, I think it’s (Mariame Kaba? is this a quote?) don’t let this moment like take you all of what have you, use this as an opportunity to learn to engage with this history and coming out with the best foot forward. Because when I’m here, when I’m out, when I’m writing an article, when I’m engaging in this movement work, when I’m doing stuff you know for my friends behind bars you know what image I think of? I think of Mussolini and his mistress being fucking hanged. That’s what I think of, seriously! Like you gotta go down, and you know I come into this work with transformative justice work and you know not everyone is gonna get guillotined, however there is a very radical history and in part of like honoring our ancestors and honoring this movement that came forward, this antifascist movement that has existed for decades, you know a hundred years ago in Philadelphia. Like definitely like white people were given so much shame to you know like you know, growing up Catholic haha like we have so much guilt so much of it. However those are principles that I’ve used in the sense that you know you’re on this Earth give back, that was always something always always always growing up like, give back. I definitely think now, using that in kind of like a Marxist point of view is like well the point of doing this education is like we’re really trying to give back and give people the tools and history so that they can have their own conversation and we need to build strong leaders, we need to have more solidarity, we need to like engage with this history in a productive way that we feel empowered by it um because like we definitely like that’s another narrative of uh the far right of fascism and just of capitalism is that we are led into isolation and we wallow in these feelings and it’s very intentional based on the economic system that we are in. Poor people know this to be true. Like especially, right? So talk about it, engage with it, um and yeah if you’re not Italian American, but white, or um, I dunno, maybe you’re a non-black person of color I think it’s really important to engage with this history because we…if we’re not Black or Indigenous living on this land of the U.S. you know there’s a lot of work to do. And definitely understand a history of policing as it applies to the immigration history that you were taught and really challenge it from a transformative justice and abolitionist point of view. So, again, keep your questions coming, uh there’s a lot going on right in the comments, which is really great so, let’s keep going forward. Oh yeah and someone acknowledged that there have always been Black Italian people, we do not want to erase that in the conversation. In South Philadelphia we are bringing to this conversation you know people who are out there (at Marconi?) and they are definitely not Black Italians and that is to be assumed uh but yes Italy also has a deep history of a rich Black history especially if you learn more and more about fascism and who they were trying to kick out it was definitely refugees and immigrants coming from the more south parts of the world, of the global south. So, calls to action, keep the questions coming, it’s great we love it and again, we’re not experts either like this is a big cultural canon of work of abolition that we’re in solidarity with and we’re both lifelong students so definitely keep your input. And we mentioned this in the beginning, we’re not here to debate fascists, we’re not here to debate nazis, we’re not here to debate people who are totally totally deadset that they are correct. That’s not who we’re trying to talk to. However, um like the both of us I’m sure that you have people in your family who love and respect you that will listen to you and you know part of political education does not happen overnight. NONE of us got here overnight, I certainly took many years of being a trainwreck to get where I am today and I actually am very proud of that because I can say, “okay, well, here’s where I am today,” but I’m sure you can relate Samantha
Adryan: I think we all can so, definitely like what we want to be talking about and challenging in particular is like learn about these ecofascist movements learn about like what narratives are being driven about your history, as you start to engage with this history you’ll start to figure out what the talking points are and it’ll just be, you know, you’ll be trained, you’ll be learned to know how to respond to people because you will be actively engaging with this. Because the goal for here is to not ask, you know, you can obviously ask us questions but you know if you’re in an argument with your Italian American relative we want to give you the most knowledge and power to be able to fight your own fights yourself. Right cause we definitely want to create strong fighters and strong leaders in this movement so definitely it’s the people who love and respect you and will listen to you, like that’s your base, that’s who you should focus on. You’re not going to win everyone over, certain people just like are totally dead set on the belief but that’s okay because you don’t have to win everyone over, that’s the beauty of it. So you know, one of the things that’s been going through the conversation is contribute financially, especially if you have access to wealth, especially if you have wealth yourself , Indigenous 215 local grassroots organization, they’re been doing a lot of work in reclaiming or uh replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, they do celebrations every year but they’re also engaged with this work all the time, much longer than before right now. So you can donate via venmo, to Samantha’s venmo directly and the money will go to them. You can also donate directly to Philly for REAL Justice Paypal, uh very important and again great local Black liberation organization who were at the front lines of taking the Rizzo statue down here in Philadelphia also doing a lot a lot of legwork and heavy lifting right now during these protests that were originally sparked by George Floyd being the most recent history but again have like, you know, organizing against police brutality has a long long history so we definitely want to give back to the people who are embedded in the struggle daily who are actively doing this. In exchange this is a free public conversation however so deeply deeply encourage contributions. So um Samantha, first call to action what are some reading recommendations? I know that there’s some that we’ve mentioned and I can help you out cause I have a few of them but if there’s any off the top of your head
Samantha: Yeah um so a lot of these things are books that I’ve encountered in the past like decade and a lot of them are more academic publications so sometimes they’re a little expensive but you can kind of get previews on google books or find someone to pirate them or something. But there’s a really good volume called “Are Italian’s White?” which I think it’s edited by Jennifer Guglielmo who is a really awesome scholar who writes about Italian American radicalism. There’s also the book that I mentioned by Stefano Luconi if you wanna like learn about Philly history. Um I’m not always with his narrative but it gives a lot of really good history about the fascist and antifascist movements. I also think that reading about.. oh we didn’t talk about Sacco and Vanzetti, what is wrong with me? Um so if everyone’s familiar with um it was Bartolomeo Vanzetti Nicola Sacco they were two Italian Anarchists that were accused of a crime, they were basically given an unfair trial, the judge was opening anti-Italian and anti-radical, he said it many times. It kind of reminds me of the Mumia Abu Jamal case which, I know some people are gonna be mad about me saying that, but there are really stark parallels between like the racism and the lack of due process in both of those trials. So reading about Sacco and Vanzetti there’s so much out there, you know Vanzetti wrote a pamphlet called, you can find it everywhere on the anarchist internet, called like “Story of a Proletarian Life” there’s letters that Sacco wrote to his son that like there’s a Woody Guthrie song that always makes me cry. [note: it’s actually Pete Seeger but Woodie Guthrie has a whole album about the Sacco and Vanzetti trial]. That’s a really good place to start because you know that’s first hand info . Trying to think if there’s other good books, there’s so much out there that, the book “Blue Collar Conservatism” I just bought the e-book version of it today, it’s great. It doesn’t just talk about Italians but if um if you wanna learn about Philly definitely read that. So yeah that’s the ones that come to mind for me.
Adryan: Great yeah so, yeah you mentioned “Blue Collar Conservatism” about Frank Rizzo but also just about the climate that Rizzo grew up in. I mentioned this earlier (holds up: The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania by Phillip Jenkins) but this has a whole chapter on Italian Fascism but also just is really good for anybody in Pennsylvania who wants to learn more about it, especially of how the Klan shaped Pennsylvania you know which is really really important to know and be aware of in our history and again a lot of the talking points we mention there. And then my other on is a favorite, fan favorite (holds up Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray) This talks about the first history, talks about this history of the anti-fascist movement prior to WW2 to 1945 so you know I definitely think it’s helpful in contextualizing a little bit of the history from an explicitely like antifascist lens here because there were many Anarchists, Communists, otherewise leftist antifascists in Italy and also here, but this definitely focuses more on Europe. But it’s still a really excellent read and again those, it’s a pretty extensive history especially if you’re wanting to learn more about the history of the antifascist movement I think it’s really good for demystifying myths that are perpetrated by the media right now and just a really good educational resource. Yeah I know a lot of people are asking about captions right now and I am aware of it so that’s the one feature we can’t do so definitely I would like to say that I would transcribe it but this is very very long, if someone would volunteer to, that would be excellent. That would be really helpful to making this a lot more accessible but that is a flaw with livestream I will not lie. It is not accessible to folks who need captions and I’m literally someone who can’t watch a movie without captions like I will get distracted so it’s also, for me, an attention thing. But yeah I know there’s other reading recommendations that were in the comments. And another call to action, we should, and like this has been stressed here but engaging and learning Italian history and trying to understand where our ancestors are coming from. I learned a LOT from you about the divisiveness between Northern and Southern Italy tonight. I was, I knew of it but like I didn’t get it and you know I still have a lot of work to do in understanding that but a lot of people I know in like the Philly area, the New York area, lots of folks are from Naples in particular but also just Southern Italy, Sicily as well so that is something I’m really excited to learn more about. And also, you know, read up, you know Samantha and I are both lifelong students in abolition and that abolition was created by, or well the scholarship of it, the people at the forefront of it are the Indigenouns and Black feminists. So definitely engaging with Indigenous and Black struggles is critical and crucial to supplementing our history, especially in Philadelphia and just what we know also for LGBTQ history you know Frank Rizzo was attacking the Black Panthers while he was going around the gayborhood raiding people you know, not even just trans people or what we know to be trans now, different terminology then but like really like anyone who was gender non-conforming, Rizzo was willing to call a “faggot” um and maybe even cis-het people that he thought were “faggots” he called them anyway because as long as you fit outside of the white ethnostate it didn’t matter because there was a certain ideal. But we definitely need to engage with this radical history and contextualize it. Oh great so Neera said that she’s down to translate great, so Neera definitely hit me up after this because that would be excellent, thank you for offering that.
Samantha: I know I’m really obnoxious and use Italian words a lot so you can contact me if you’re like “what, what were you saying?” because I’ll help.
Adryan: Awesome yeah because this is all about the community here because we definitely need people coming together to get things done because there’s a lot of work. So thank you so much. And yeah so the demands of the Philly Black Radical Collective are extremely important to uplift during this time, during this political moment, so yeah there’s a long history of you know this larger abolitionist movement but these demands were released in response to the protests nationwide that were happening, not just in Philly but in response to the killing of George Floyd. And defunding the police and ending state violence against Black communities are absolutely critical to these demands but you should definitely read them for yourself because they are out there so do you have any other calls to action Samantha?
Samantha: I think we already covered that and um I also I wanna offer if people want info or resources you can get in contact with me, I think we linked to my instagram, it’s @samanthajanara, I’m always working on trying to have these conversations and there’s a few people that are like trying to organize collectives and things like that um, it’s SO much but you know, if people want to be in contact with me I’m happy to talk things through or send articles. We need to be here for each other and help each other learn. So, I’m here for all of you. But I also work like 50 hours a week so be patient with me.
Adryan: To those captioning by the way, my pronouns are they/them, I know I didn’t explicitly say that in the talk, they/them here. So, yeah, I think this is great, and we’re at 9:07 so let’s definitely wrap this up by 9:30 because I definitely want to keep this concise and to the plan. So um we’re going to get to some comments. So something that definitely struck me and I…I don’t think we can get to all of them but thank you so much for tuning in and for asking all these questions. Something that definitely came up that resonated to me was choice, you know like the choice Italian Americans made to become white..I’m gonna try to find this one, there’s a lot of comments which is like excellent, there have been a lot of people tuning in..so…while I’m finding that Samantha can you recommend any approaches to talking to other Italian Americans who might not get it.
Samantha:: Um, I mean I guess it’s kind of like meeting people where they’re at and you kind of like have to reframe things so that they’ll concede a point. And just try to identify like what are the things that are keeping them from understanding or what are the things that they’re struggling with. It can be a little bit tricky. And I guess also just like not..just being persistent because people don’t learn things automatically you know. Like I don’t say like “Mumia was innocent!” and my uncle suddenly is part of the Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia but yeah ongoing conversations and also like accepting the fact that you might have a conversation and it might feel like it doesn’t go anywhere but you know ongoing conversations, years later you might yield more of a result.
Adryan: Yeah um the question I just found Ricky commented, “I’m curious about the language that our ancestors chose to become white, I think people in power extended certain privileges to Italians in order to gain “more white power”. In this way perhaps Italians did make a choice but I think the blame isn’t really on the immigrants who were trying to survive but the systems trying to divide people” How do you react to that?
Samantha: I mean I think that’s…I mean I think that’s valid, you know I think our identities are often weaponized kind of like we talked about throughout the talk. You know and maybe like that’s something to consider too like there are certainly a lot of ways that our families chose to do certain things or chose to give up certain things. But maybe it’s, you know, looking at it more as that was the choice that they were pressured or coerced to make in that time and we’re in a different time where we have way more access to information and way more diverse interactions with different communities so, you know. Maybe like kind of looking at it with nuance. Like yes people make choices that we are looking at years later and saying oof that wasn’t the right move but also understanding the forces of coercion and also ideological domination. You know we can’t take people’s autonomy away from these choices completely and like absolve them of things. Like we can’t just say people were a product of their time, like people love to say with Columbus, even though he was arrested in his time. But at the same time you know I think we should be understanding of why choices were made and also what can we do realistically to remedy them. You know there’s no point in feeling ashamed and guilty, what can we do today to rectify that.
Adryan: Oh man I just was like scheming because the dialectical materialism definitely came up in what you were saying. So like the definition of dialectical materialism, so when we’re talking about the material conditions of Italian Americans like material conditions, what do you need to survive and with dialectical the dialectics part is that you have two opposing forces. So if you’ve ever heard the term dialectical behavioral therapy like you can be like with like a rapist being in jail, you can be really upset about that happening, like the rape happening, but then you could also be really really angry that the carceral system has yet another person. Cause I often feel that way, being like well there’s really no rectifying this harm NOW even though it’s really fucked up and I really wish that wouldn’t happen. So we have dialectic, it’s two opposing forces and when we apply the use of dialectical materialist analysis to talk about our history it’s like well you know, the material conditions back then were not and I mean I see this a lot where like you know what’s going through my head where I say well you know Italians choose to be white. Of course they were given far less resources and being systematically oppressed by the land they were coming on even though they were making active choices instead of aligning themselves, in the sense of like, the police is a really great example. Aligning themselves with the police and you know I’m not really interested in dissecting right now what motivates that, however there are different like material, there’s a different approach of ancestors who have said no, we’re not going to do that. And you know those ancestors that said hey, we’re not going to co-opt white supremacy we’re not going to engage with it and we’re actually going to actively fight against it and capitalism too. You know that’s an active choice to do that and that is the choice that we have to make today. So you know when we’re talking about autonomy and choice like don’t get me wrong, my grandfather did not graduate from…he graduated 8th grade to go work in the Depression. That was definitely because of his position of being a first generation Italian American the same way that my father grew up in a one bedroom apartment where there was a bunk bed in the living room in New York City. So it’s like you know, absolutely but also you know many of these people in exchange for that make choices where you know my grandfather worked at a country club where Black people were not allowed. The access to the education that my father had going to a Catholic highschool and you know, didn’t graduate college but had the opportunity to, that is using white supremacy and taking advantage of that to advance ourselves and that’s the thing where it’s like these material conditions have changed over time. It’s very very important that we have that analysis where we extend the sympathy of being like yes, this is what was handed to our ancestors but we can also now, generations down we don’t face the same types of oppression and while keeping our history in mind we can make these choices instead of you know aligning ourselves with the people of Marconi Plaza or doing nothing about Marconi Plaza because that’s violence in itself. Um we can do something about it and I think that that is incredibly empowering. So…this is another good one “how do you speak to other white Americans who refuse to acknowledge our whiteness in focusing on distancing themselves from accountability and whiteness?”
Samantha: Hm. I mean that’s a good question because you know you always hear people who are like, and you know I’ve probably drunkenly said this to people like “I’m not white I’m Italian” but I think like, you know you have to acknowledge that white is you know such a tenuous thing. I think I forgot to mention this earlier but I was rereading Angela Davis, I have it here, “Are Prisons Obsolete” which is a really good and short book and you can probably find it online for free. But she talks about, and this is something that tons of scholars have talked about, that whiteness is about property relations, about having private property, it’s about privileges. So I mean like to be honest like there are certainly times where I might be mistaken for a Latino or Arab and you know kind of lumped in with people of color and people perceive me as non-white for like one second until they hear me talk but at the end of the day it doesn’t take any privileges from me, it doesn’t hurt me, I still have all of the privileges associated with whiteness. So I think you kind of have to be like “listen, I see where you’re coming from there’s definitely a complex history but”. You know I’ve had people fight with me on the internet about this, I got exiled from Sicily from some girl on Tumblr like eight years ago because she thought I was telling her Sicilians aren’t white, or I was telling her Sicilians are white and she was offended. I think we can acknowledge the complex history we can acknowledge that some of these dudes at Marconi are tan as hell and that people in Southern Italy are not like Anglo Saxon looking even though some of them are. So you know we can acknowledge the complexity but like you just have to be really real with people like what is your day to day experience like? Tell me about it and let’s talk this through you know.
Adryan: Yeah thank you. There’s another really great question and I’m glad you mentioned Angela Davis but there…and you’re definitely the more Italian studies minded part of this but someone asked if there’s any resources to recommend by Black Italians or Italians of color?
Samantha: Yeah um, so I know there’s this one scholar that I’ve discovered more recently. Her name is Camilla Hawthorne, she’s written a lot of good stuff I think she’s Black and Italian American and she’s written a lot about Black immigrants in Italy. There’s a woman called Kym Ragusa, that’s K-Y-M and Ragusa is R-A-G-U-S-A she’s written a lot of like prose and poetry type writing about being Black and Italian. I’m also thinking of, in Italy there’s a lot of really good literature that’s coming out and thankfully that’s in a lot of Italian Studies curriculums at the university level. You could look up like Igiaba Scego is a really good author. There’s also, if you like music in Naples there were a lot of half Black and half Neapolitan children that came out of the Allies going to Naples and getting Neapolitan girls pregnant. So there were a lot of half Black half Neapolitan children in that generation so the jazz musician James Senese he’s awesome and his music which is in the Neapolitan dialect but then utilizes these American music forms, Black American music forms to be clear. Music you know, is such a good way to learn too so yeah definitely that.
Adryan: Awesome, thank you. This one wasn’t really a question but I thought it brought up something interesting but Kelsey asked “I would love to see some understanding of the intersection between white supremacy and that Italian machismo”. You have any thoughts?
Samantha: Yeah man I think it goes down to the whole tough guy mentality. I really like the way that the author of Blue Collar Conservatism put it where he said um you know it’s this authenticity type of identity. So I mean I think you see it so much in Italian American communities like I used to teach at this Italian nonprofit in South Philly, I’m not gonna name any names, but I saw some members and former students in the crowd at Marconi on the wrong side. And you know like they had dragged me into their events at some point and you know the women would be making coffee and cleaning up the whole time and the men would be standing around twiddling their thumbs. I think it’s just like with mainstream American society like there’s no consciousness about that at all. There’s so much I could say about that.
Adryan: A few questions kind of related to this theme, but “could you talk a little bit about segregation within South Philly, border maintenance by white violence, tensions with Point Breeze/Grey’s Ferry and all-white Catholic schools?”
Samantha: I mean so growing up, I grew up in a neighborhood where my block used to be all Italian but then if you crossed Washington Ave it was what was called the projects and it was a Black neighborhood so there was this weird kind of tension where I never felt like I was in a segregated neighborhood. Like you would see Black kids at the corner store and at the park or whatever so there was this kind of like interlap. But there were some neighborhoods, I think like Packer Park and the area around Marconi is a little more petite bourgeoisie to be honest. Like my neighborhood is super working class or it used to be. So like you know there are neighborhoods where people see themselves as high society middle class so they’re a little more isolated. But I think in general South Philly is weird because it feels so segregated sometimes but it’s also like it’s not you know? And you know my dad would tell me stories like, I think when he was a kid basically everyone just hung on the corner all day. And my dad put it really well, he was like it’s been 50 years and these guys are still on the same corner. Like they never leave unless they’re going down the shore or something. So I think definitely like kids were like “yeah we’re gonna go beat the Black kids on the other side of Broad St. up. Kids would just instigate those kinds of things. My dad said there would be race riots, you know he went to Neuman, he would have to take the trolley across Broad St., he was shot at, stabbed you know things would really escalate all the time and you know it was really bad. I think a lot of people are still stuck in that time. I was reading something about Point Breeze and Grey’s Ferry earlier in that, I forget what book it was in, I think it was Blue Collar Conservatism. One thing that’s always been a point of contention with South Philly whites and not just Italian, the Irish community too do this. Whenever [low income] housing developments were announced people freak out. So I know there have been tensions in Grey’s Ferry which used to be working class Irish, now it’s probably half yuppies and then Point Breeze which used to be a working class Black neighborhood and now is beyond gentrified. They’re trying to rename parts of it Newbold which is false consciousness. But yeah Philly it’s like such a weird thing where like we’re such a diverse city and we live on top of each other so you can’t really be segregated but like it’s the mentality and the way people try to move on up, like moving up for white Italians in Philly is getting away from Black neighborhoods euphemistically. And that’s why so many people voluntarily move to Delco and Jersey, so they can get a parking spot and not have Black neighbors even though they’ll never admit it. So you know gentrification is a huge issue for working class Italian Americans and people in South Philly but there’s also white flight, completely voluntary white flight so that’s another important thing we didn’t really talk about.
Adryan: Yeah, thank you. Another great question from Sarah “I would love to hear more about the Italian American antifascist tradition in Philly also very curious on your thoughts about how to deprogram cop culture and how people who were born into it leave it behind”
Samantha: I mean the thing is growing up, people don’t learn or talk about antifascist culture and that’s why people are going around saying “anteefa” which I’m convinced people are pronouncing it that way to obscure the meaning cause like it’s so obvious, antifa antifascist. So like I would say if you want to learn about it Stefano Luconi’s book talks about it a little bit. If somebody has a better book that talks about it explicitly please recommend it. And as far as deprogramming the police like that’s really important like 1) we need to just tell people to quit and get a new job! But you know it’s not always that simple you know. So I think that’s a really big obstacle, I don’t really know how to approach it. I’m really fortunate that my dad was like a rebel and a rocker and didn’t follow in his dad or his brother’s footsteps because I would be having a different conversation right now. But I don’t really know and if there’s people with experience with that that might be a really good point of organizing in South Philly and in other places as well.
Adryan: Yeah I don’t have an experience with it directly but from what we know about deradicalization movements to try to get like..I think the overarching term is “hate group” but like what we know this tradition was to try and recruit people who were fascists Nazis whatever organizations to try and recruit them out. So what we know about cop culture, fascist culture, being like in the heart of whiteness and genocidal beliefs is that isolation of what is perpetuated by capitalism. You know we’re not trying to pathologize people who join these movements because there’s definitely people with mental illnesses, like myself who were never involved with that but there is something to say about coming at this compassionately. And like you know when we are looking at ourselves as Italian Americans in this work you know those of us who are white Italian Americans or just you know other white settlers, other non-Black non-Indigenous people like particularly white people because it’s like our mess and helping to clean it up is definitely like the work of racial justice. While we are centering Black liberation and Indigenous liberation we can, you know, do the work that was never really theirs in the first place in the sense that when we are having these conversations we are not coming at them with like we may feel resentment, we may feel frustration and anger over time because if anyone has tried to deradicalize a family member it’s hard work, it’s exhausting. And you know Samantha and I have had conversations with other, you know, white leftists who are engaging in this work. There were a lot of narratives around um you know around the 2016 election how do we talk to our families about Trump. And I was like well, we gotta talk about capitalism we gotta talk about you know in order to talk about white supremacy we definitely need to have this class analysis and also recognize that not everyone is going to listen to us. I definitely think that’s a liberal talking point that is well intended um but my queerphobic family, not gonna listen to me. However there are definitely people in my life who maybe I’m not related to who might be sympathetic to these views who maybe aren’t aware of the full decisions they’re making and opinions that they are taking. So part of the work is having this compassionate radical love in this movement in the sense that we are seeing people as not good or bad people we are seeing them as people who do good and bad things. Because all people do good and bad things. But you know really having these deep conversations and being authentic and having vulnerability that’s part of the healing work to bring us together. So definitely when we are coming to these people we need to meet them where they’re at and acknowledge that yes we were once people who did not have the same beliefs but use that for your power and say hey I might have these frustrating conversations and the person really might not get it but you know months from now that will be changed to years. And also at the same time you know, older folks may never get there and also radically accepting that’s okay too and if we can have conversations with younger people too, you know Samantha mentioned at the beginning the younger people really will be the ones who become us who come after us and I think it’s really important that we provide context that we provide education especially in a way where like antifascist education, abolitionist education is very distant for people. Especially for white Italian Americans and other settler communities who you know maybe 100 years ago when our families got here had faced tremendous difficulties that you know being I think third generation, I’ll never be called a wop on the street, I’ll never be denied a job because I’m Italian American. I get to go to education where my grandfather you know he read a newspaper every day he loved to read he loved learning, he was very rich in education and never got a chance to go past beyond 8th grade. So you know I’m very honored to be able to have that opportunity and I’m definitely not taking it for granted. I’m trying to use this power and this knowledge to really speak to other people. I think we’re about at our time, is there anything you want to add Samantha?
Samantha: Just to conclude, again I’m so excited that we’re having this conversation and that so many people tuned in. Oh my god I’m just really grateful because I’ve always been that weird girl that people are like “why does Sam talk about Italian stuff so much? Why did Sam get a degree in Italian, what’s that gonna do?” So I feel like this is a synthesis of the studying I’ve been doing for the past decade of my life. And I think it’s really important. I also want to say that you know, looking to Italian radical history and our ancestors it really informs why I am involved in organizing and you know even though I’m not a prolific organizer like Adryan but it’s what has driven me over the years you know. Learning about Sacco and Vanzetti you know like I said made me understand the struggle for Mumia Abu Jamal and the MOVE organization and political prisoners. I remember hunger striking for Khader Adnan who was a Palestinian hunger striker like years ago and thinking of the letter Nicola Sacco wrote to his son and it made me cry. This is you know what draws me to this movement and you know sometimes it’s hard because you have to you know go against your family your community. You know in South Philly I get treated like a freak when I talk about this stuff. But you know it’s like the quote from the letter Sacco sent his son that’s like the really beautiful Woody Guthrie [Pete Seeger] song where he says “but remember son don’t use all yourself down yourself just one step to help the weak ones and the victims. They are friends of yours and mine the weak ones that fight and sometimes fall for the conquest of joy for all”. And the end of the song which is from the letter goes like “in the struggle of life you’ll find, you’ll find more love and you’ll be loved also.” So you know sometimes we might be alienated from our ethnic communities or our blood family but in the process you find love and solidarity with people who you don’t know. So not to end it on a woo-woo kumbaya note but you know I do this for my ancestors but also for my Black friends and neighbors and classmates the Indigenous people whose land we’re living on, my immigrant best friends who include me in their culture and their community so you know it might be scary but there’s a whole world you can discover if you leave the corner so I encourage it.
Adryan: I think that was a great note thank you for speaking to that. Thank you so much to you for joining me. I think it’s great because you know I learned a lot myself from this. I’m sure I’m not alone and I think I can always be doing a better job at learning more about this history because you definitely have to go out and seek it for yourself and I am just so incredibly grateful to be able to have you here and to really have a vehicle and a platform for what you’re saying so I’m really thankful. And we had a pretty great audience here today, it was very engaged, we had lots of questions. We didn’t even get to all the questions so definitely Samantha if you’re willing to I want to address some of the questions after we can come back to them and also people feel free, people who are commenting definitely feel free to engage in the comments and definitely keep having them. Like we definitely should be having this conversation. I think it’s really important. And yeah another plug for Philly REAL Justice to donate is there especially for Indigenous 215. You know we definitely want to keep it compassionate but we also ware being militant here too in the sense that when we practice our values and are giving back to Black and indigenous organizers who are you know out there every day, I think that’s really important. We might do this again, I don’t know. We might regroup after this one see how it went. I mean I think it was great, there’s a lot of people saying it was great but also you know I want to open up for constructive criticism. If you think we could have done something better definitely let us know you know. You can reach out to Samantha or myself but also if you message me on my journalist page I can be in touch with Samantha and we want to, you know, improve ourselves because we’re, again, lifelong students and this canon of abolitionist work of antifascist work is all of us. We’re not experts we’re definitely learning. We really appreciate everyone for not only watching but asking questions, engaging telling their friends so thank you. And also we might try to do this again, I know there’s some questions about the mob, not even going to get into it but uh haha there’s a lot I could say, especially about the mob and the FBI. But ANYWAY we’ll end it with the key here, spread the good word of abolition, spread the good word of antifascism spread the good word of radical Italian history, of Black liberation and indigenous liberation to anyone who will listen to you. Not arguing with fascists that is a ground rule. However you all have coworkers you all have friends you all have well…you know relatively speaking you may not have coworkers you may not be working but you know you get the point, anyone who will listen to you. So thank you again. I think this is where we’ll end it. You have anything else to say Samantha?
Samantha: No, Grazie a tutti buona notte!
Adryan: Alright everybody thank you so much for tuning in keep in touch stay engaged. This recording will be archived on my page so please feel free to share it. I know that we’re going to get a transcription going but thank you so much and definitely keep the conversation going