I will fake it until I make it!

All about the escapades and thoughts of a girl who thinks WAY too much for her own good!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

No Pride in Prejudice


1. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
2. A preconceived preference or idea.
3. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions.

I’m lucky. My parents did not raise me with prejudice. I have long felt that not carrying these preconceived notions about people has allowed me to expand my horizons beyond those who are limited by pre-judging those they have not met. Prejudice and racism are things I have had exceptionally little tolerance for throughout my life. As Austin Power’s dad said in Goldmember, “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world; intolerance for other people’s culture… and the Dutch!”

Italians are prejudice against African men. Notice I didn’t write African American men. I wrote African men. I say this because many, if not most, of the black men working in Italy are from Africa. Unfortunately, a very large number of these men make their living by selling tourists counterfeit goods on the street.

Without obtaining the necessary permits, these men display their illegal wears on large white bed linens so they can scoop up the ends in a Santa Claus-esque sack and make a mad dash from the Italian police whenever the police decide to enforce the anti-counterfeit laws.

While traveling around Italy and Europe I noticed this trend in many tourist destinations; black men with white bed linens on the ground displaying designer purses, wallets, and sunglasses. It’s impossible to miss. They approach you on the street and can be quite assertive in their sales pitch depending on how direct you are about saying no.

This selling of illegal designer goods has not done much to encourage the Italians to open their arms to those from Africa. Quite the contrary; it has caused resentment, distrust, and in some cases flat out hatred. But unlike the U.S. where we have a large and diverse population, Italians do not. It’s hard to convince someone they cannot judge an entire country based on a few, when their only experience with this culture has been witnessing the African male selling illegal goods on the street, while diligently avoiding the police.

As much as I hate to admit this, for the first time in my life I understand how people could form these opinions. Before, I would just write people off as closed minded, or afraid of anything unknown or different, but now it’s not that "black and white" to me.

To understand this prejudice you have to understand certain aspects of Italian culture. For one, Italians are a bit of a closed society. They have a deserved and understandable, albeit extreme, pride in their own history, in their own traditions, and in their own products.

With obvious exceptions, Italians don't mix up the nationalities as much as other countries do when it comes to marriage and making babies (Maybe this is why so many Italians are vertically challenged. Perhaps if we cross-bred the Italians with the Dutch we could stop this shortness epidemic!).

To over simplify, Italians like Italians.

Additionally, Italian design is a source of extreme pride throughout the country. Ferragamo, Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana… so many of the world’s most elite designers are Italian. Unlike other parts of the world where everything is manufactured in China; a large quantity of apparel and leather goods are still made in Italy, by Italians. Selling fakes on the street that were made in another country weakens the brand, takes jobs away from Italians, takes money away from the shop keepers who are selling the legitimate pieces, and reduces the amount of sales tax collected by the government which reduces the amount of money available for public services.

To many Italians this practice not only shows disrespect for something they take great pride in, it threatens their way of life. This explanation is not to say that I condone this view. I’m only stating I understand where it stems from and I can see how it would be hard for an Italian to not think that way.

Living in a foreign country has also opened my eyes to my own capability for prejudice that I had no idea I had. I have come to the realization that I have formed my own prejudice against… Italians.

I know how this must sound. I live in Italy. I’m dating an Italian man. I have a few Italian friends. Still, I have formed opinions of Italians based on my interactions with them and I find myself assuming things about them that I have very little basis for.

For instance, I really do believe a large number of Italian men cheat.  I really do think it’s a larger percentage than in the United States, and I really do believe that I could never marry an Italian man because of it. I have NO statistical proof of any of this mind you. I just believe it based on what I have heard and my limited experience here. On a less negative note, but just as unfounded, I also believe that most Italian men are wildly romantic and fantastic lovers. Again, I have no idea if that is true, but it is my belief.

I’m also not that fond of Italian women. I’m not sure why. The few Italian women I have actually met have been kind enough. My roommate in Rome (an Italian woman originally from Naples) is one of the most lovely people I have ever met, Italian or otherwise. The few women who have spoken to me at the gym seem fine, and the girlfriend of my boyfriend’s best friend was friendly, charming, and welcoming.

However, I find myself thinking that most Italian women are stuck up, have no sense of humor, and are only concerned with their appearance. Again, I have almost no basis for this feeling. I shouldn’t judge all Italian women by those who have felt it necessary to tell me off because I was riding my bike on a perfectly large sidewalk that gave each one of us ample room to pass, or for placing my umbrella too heavily on the ground when entering a building, or for coming into a yoga class without introducing myself first, or for constantly asking me to walk more softly in my own apartment which happens to be above hers.

I know I’m being ridiculous. However, if you make me join a queue in Italy, I’m gonna automatically have my arms on my hips, elbows back with my right leg extended a bit behind me to block the inevitable Italian woman who I just KNOW is going try to cut in front of me in line and not think twice about it.

I’m not proud of this realization about myself, but to deny it would be a lie. And to not address it would be a dishonor to all that my parents taught me and to all of the great people I could befriend. I’m hoping this realization keeps me in check. I hope it keeps me looking at things from a position of empathy and keeps me questioning why I think the way I think, and why I feel the way I feel.

I’m not perfect. I have many flaws that I want to learn to accept, but intolerance is not one of them.

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