Friday, January 31, 2014

Amanda Knox, anti-Italian sentiment in the United States, and racism

I'm very glad that Knox has been convicted, because the reaction to her trial, the fact that she was even put on trial, in the Seattle media and to a lesser extent in the media of the United States as a whole has been terrible. It's been riddled with the idea of Italy as a country where someone can't get a fair trial, where justice isn't in the 20th century but instead dependent on corruption...almost like in a Mafia movie.

In fact, Italy is a modern country like every where else in Europe, and the Mafia doesn't have as much influence as people in the United States would like to believe, but the stereotypes that Anglo Americans have about Italians were set long before Amanda Knox participated in the slaying of Meredith Kercher.

Take this as an example: when was the last time you saw a person of obvious Italian origin in a movie playing just one of the guys, as a generic character whose identity did not depend on his ethnicity? In other words, a group of friends where one is Joe, another is Nathan, another is John, and one of them, normal in every other respect, just happens to be Italian? It doesn't happen, for the most part. People who are obviously Italian are either cast as gangsters or as idiots, as emotional and stupid good guys who you wouldn't take seriously outside of the context of the film.

Being partially Italian myself, and having ancestry involving several Eastern European ethnicities that tend to have darker skin, I can tell you that the difference in treatment is derivative of racism, and not of much else. There are plenty of European ethnicities who have cultural patterns that are different from those of Anglo-Americans. Slavic cultures, for example, tend to be more expressive and less buttoned down. However, Polish culture, if it's thought of at all, isn't really regarded as being weird and overly passionate, as Italian and Hispanic culture is, despite in some cases sharing similar attitudes.

European integration in the United States is based on skin color and facial features. People who are Polish or from elsewhere in Eastern Europe do fairly well, despite having a pretty different culture, because there are many people from these backgrounds who have fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. They can meld in and assimilate to the dominant ethnic look. Others from Southern Europe can't.

I know from personal experience, often having been mistaken for being partially Hispanic or some other ethnicity identified as Non-White, especially in Florida, that the one drop rule is still in effect in different parts of the United States. Living in the "Fake South" of Northern Florida, it was pretty apparent in the small towns that if you looked like you could be something that was non-white, in part or in whole, then you weren't one of us, so to speak. The fact that that something might not be black, or even that it might not be non-European at all, made no difference, even if the people in question knew that. The attitude was based on who was 'one of us' and who wasn't, and who wasn't was pretty well defined.

All of these attitudes, in my opinion, come down to skin color, and are present throughout the United States, even in the great tolerant city of Seattle, where because Knox was accused of killing Kercher in Italy, in Perugia, the system had to be corrupt, it had to be unfair, because the Mafia is down there, and the people look like Al Pacino.  Somehow, I think that they would be a little bit easier on the justice system if it happened in some backwater of Germany, because they're civilized.

*on edit: a perfect example of who Italians are cast as on television and film when they're not cast as Mafiosi is Matt LeBlanc's character on friends: a complete moron who's mostly there for comic relief.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

It's been riddled with the idea of Italy as a country where someone can't get a fair trial, where justice isn't in the 20th century but instead dependent on corruption...almost like in a Mafia movie.

I make a point of tuning out tabloid news, which these days includes cases seemingly made for the "true crime" genre, so I probably haven't noticed the ugly nationalist tendencies you have. Needless to say, true crime overcoverage (and the dumbing down of news in general) means I have been somewhat exposed to this story. What disturbs me more than anything else is that (in the Knoxgate reports my reflexes haven't been quick enough to tune out) the phrase "double jeopardy" hasn't come up. I'm no fan of Anglo-Saxon culture, but one thing (maybe the only thing) that culture definitely got right is inventing Common Law.