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Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso found himself the center of online ridicule after he told a debate audience this week that he is not a ‘white man’ because he is Italian American.
Telemundo journalist Dunia Elvir, the debate moderator, stated that “the next mayor of Los Angeles will be either an African American woman or a white man.”
The billionaire Republican faced off against Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass. If elected, Bass would make history as the city’s first Black female mayor.
“I’m Italian,” Caruso said.
“Italian American,” Elvir said.
“Thank you, that’s Latin,” Caruso responded.
Caruso continued, adding, “I connect with the Latino community, but quite frankly, my job as mayor is to connect with every community — the Latino community, the Black community, the Asian community, right? The Jewish community. If one group rises, we all rise. We do this together in unison, and we don’t separate, we don’t divide. But we all say to ourselves we can do this and we can have a better city.”
Caruso’s response sparked a plethora of mocking tweets.
Caruso is not the first Italian American to turn his back on his perceived whiteness.
NYT editorial board member Brent Staples explained in a 2019 article titled “How Italians Became’ White.” In the article, Staples nods to historian Matthew Frye Jacobson’s “Whiteness of a Different Color.”
“Journalists, politicians, social scientists and immigration officials embraced the habit, separating ostensibly white Europeans into “races.” Some were designated “whiter” — and more worthy of citizenship — than others, while some were ranked as too close to blackness to be socially redeemable,” wrote Staples. “The story of how Italian immigrants went from racialized pariah status in the 19th century to white Americans in good standing in the 20th offers a window onto the alchemy through which race is constructed in the United States, and how racial hierarchies can sometimes change.
“Darker skinned southern Italians endured the penalties of blackness on both sides of the Atlantic. In Italy, Northerners had long held that Southerners — particularly Sicilians — were an “uncivilized” and racially inferior people, too obviously African to be part of Europe.”
Numerous publications affirm Caruso’s thinking, including Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America, written by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno, and Thomas A. Guglielmo’s White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago.
Caruso has not responded to criticism following his controversial remarks.