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Friday, April 24, 2015

Sheriff Morgan: 'African-American Divisive'--An Italian-American Retort

"I'm sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What's the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort."  Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Pulp Fiction (1994)


In the August 2013 video--an excerpt from which collected at least one million views on Facebook for Occupy Pensacola 2.0--Sheriff Morgan reveals his inner white nationalism and arrogance towards Black Americans.  In his own authoritarian mind he believes that his badge makes him an authority on what is wrong in the "minority community" in Escambia County and that as a white Sheriff he is entitled to declare what is the source of "divisiveness" in America.  In the video, the mask comes off and he reveals his paternalistic, racist outlook towards the Black community.

This Street Report provides an Italian-American's retort to Sheriff Morgan.  Sheriff Morgan is clearly another in a long line of White Anglo Saxon Protestants who think it is their God-given right to lecture lesser folks about what they should call themselves, challenge their 'American-ness,' and denigrate them as the source of America's divisiveness.

In this Street Report, we will just peel the mask off a little bit more to reveal more of your inner thinking.  You are a bigot and a racist.  You are arrogant.  But worse of all, you are arrogant and intellectually-challenged.

Let me state at the outset that I come from an Italian-American family that settled and lived in Brooklyn, New York, and Long Island, New York for several decades.  When I was a child growing up in the 1950s I was fortunate to spend some time with my paternal great grandfather and paternal great grandmother.  Between the two of them, they could not speak two words of English.  My paternal grandfather--himself born in Sicily and having come to America as a four-year old in 1904--had to translate my great grandfather's Sicilian into English.  Our family stories stretched back to the early 1900s and the racism and violence that my great grandfather, a single parent with several young children, faced as an immigrant who kept traveling back forth between Brooklyn and Sicily.

When I was at Stanford University, my mentor and doctoral chair, Marty Lipset, had me research how immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century were characterized in order to compare how Mexican immigrants were being characterized as the Reagan administration was in the process of passing comprehensive immigration reform in 1986.

I opened volume after volume of a eugenics journal that was probably produced by the American Eugenics Society.  I was openly angered by the language used to describe my paternal great grandfather and those of his cohort who came to America to work, raise families, and scrimp to get by economically.  I remember reading about how Italians were feeble-minded, morons, imbeciles, lazy, criminals, immoral, disease-ridden, and would never be successful in America.  We were genetic refuse; scum; garbage that should be sent back to Italy.  National Public Radio revealed one racist exhibit from the American Eugenics Society with many of the same terms.

The "Negro problem" and Sheriff Morgan

The "Negro problem" has shifted over decades from the racist explanation that their maladies are due to bad genes (biology) to the racist explanation their problems stem from bad values (culture).  This is the general framework within which to understand Sheriff Morgan's fanatical defense of his "Super Predator" thesis.

The great sociologist, W.E.B. DuBois, opened his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, with a question from whites that troubled him because it was the Negroes responsibility to answer: "How does it feel to be a problem? they say."

Later in the book, DuBois criticized Booker T. Washington and others for shifting the burden for the solutions of the "Negro problem" onto the "Negroes."  Wrote DuBois (pp. 34-5), "His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro's shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs."

As they say, 'Stop him when he's lying.'

Sheriff's Morgan's rant about "African-Americans" and "divisiveness" is but the latest repetition of an old refrain about how the "Negroes" or "the blacks," as Sheriff Morgan derisively called the Black community, are responsible for solving a problem they did not create, while shifting responsibility away from the dominant white culture and institutions that created the problem in the first place.

Sheriff Morgan In His Own Words

I start this retort by quoting Sheriff Morgan verbatim and providing the video excerpt so that you can watch his clenched jaw and the anger that he is keeping under control.  Sheriff Morgan is attempting to keep himself under control before the cameras.  And, this written and visual record is provided so that he cannot claim that his words were taken "out of context."  My comments immediately follow his presentation.

The video excerpt is below.


"And so, let's review a little bit of this.  First, let me take issue with the title of African-American.  We're Americans.

I am fourth-generation Welsh.  I or my family do not pretend nor do we say we are Welsh-Americans; we are Americans.  I was not born in Wales.

And the blacks that currently reside in the United States of America are not from Africa.

Those sorts of terms that society has come to to use are divisive in nature.  They keep us apart as a community, and most assuredly as a nation.  We must share a common touchstone or a common understanding of who we are.


A Pensacola-based Black Lives Matter Activist Responds

Pensacola Black Lives Matter activist, Haley Morrissette, responded to this claim by Sheriff Morgan by stating that the term African-American is found everywhere--including job applications.  Wrote Ms. Morrissette, "Unfortunately, I cannot stop calling myself African-American because every time I fill out an application or give information at an important business office that pesky little check box is there using black and African-american [sic] interchangeably.  That check box is there for a reason.  I am both Black and African-American."

Ms. Morrissette also took the Sheriff to the woodshed for his arrogance and paternalism.  Ms. Morrissette stated that "I have the privilege to identify however I damn well please."

Ms. Morrissette also had to point out to the Sheriff of Escambia that unlike his relatives who chose to come to America, "My family did not choose to immigrate from Africa.  I am not a 6th or 7th generation African who has access to my family across the sea.  My only connection to my West African roots is my kinky hair and dark skin."

Ms. Morissette then challenged directly the Sheriff's claim of about "divisiveness":  "Just as you have the privilege to identify as strictly American without people asking you, 'where is your family REALLY from?'.  Sheriff, it is not divisive to identify and take pride in heritage, it is divisive when you are treated differently because of the features that come with your heritage."

Exactly, Ms. Morrissette.  It is the Sheriff of Escambia that is "divisive."

The Italian-American Response

The Italian-American, Sheriff, "most assuredly" does not view their widespread use of the term "Italian-American" and their "Italian American festivals" or "Italian festivals" as divisive.

According to the National Italian American Foundation, the foundation's mission "Is to serve as a resource for the Italian American community; to preserve the Italian American heritage and culture; to promote and inspire a positive image and legacy of Italian Americans; and to strengthen and empower ties between the United States and Italy."

Sounds really "divisive" to me.

Here is the website Life In Italy describing the tradition of Italian American festivals in the United States of America.  It noted that the tradition of holding religious festivals dated back to "the middle ages."  Many of these religious festivals were carried to America by southern Italian immigrants to "New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans."  It noted that "Many of these have been celebrated for close to one hundred years."  Life In Italy reported that as Italian Americans integrated into American society, many of these festivals became dormant and "many forgot these traditions and their ancestral language."

The Life In Italy website then pointed with pride to the rebirth of this positive ethnic spirit:  "However, on a positive note resurgence in ethnic pride among Italian Americans has seen a rebirth of the Italian festival in the last twenty years, with new festivals springing up all across the country.  Not only are these new festivals gaining momentum, but it seems that in many places the younger generations are carrying on the older festivals with renewed gusto--and becoming a boon to their respective city's tourism in the process."

Holy crap, Sheriff.  A "resurgence of ethnic pride" that is "gaining momentum"?  Goddamn, somebody tell the governor to call out the National Guard.

Hey, Sheriff, let's go to New Jersey, you know, the home of the fictional crime family The Sopranos--the guys who, if you insulted their identity as an Italian American, would send you to the fishes.

The New Jersey Leisure Guide just gushed with enthusiasm for the state's 15 Italian American festivals running from May to October.  These festivals promote "the Italian culture and family unity."  Furthermore, these festivals or feasts "are usually organized by either a Catholic Church with a large Catholic following or an Italian community service organization with an interest in promoting their culture and providing knowledge and stories for future generations to benefit from."

Let's travel, Sheriff, to Portland, Oregon, and their description of the revival of ethnic pride and the purpose of the Italian American festival in that city and area of Oregon.

The Festa Italiana Association, the organization that puts on the annual festival, explained that during the Second World War that "Italian Americans were disparaged and looked down upon.  There were situations of evacuation and internment of Italian-Americans, especially on the West Coast.  Therefore, after 1938 and up to 1991, the Italian-American culture in the city was scattered and unrecognized throughout the Portland Metropolitan area and there was a total lack of unity among Italian-Americans."

In 1991, the Italian-American community in Portland formed the Festa Italiana Association.  The mission statement and by-laws were all intended "to promote Italian culture throughout the Greater Portland Community, to provide an opportunity for people, Italian-American and non Italian-American alike, to celebrate the unique and contributions of Italy and her sons and daughters to the thought, art, and science of the Western World throughout the centuries.  A focus of the association is to promote and coordinate a cultural celebration annually as a gift to the people of Portland so that they may share the beauty of Italian culture."

And, Sheriff, guess what.  I will let you in on a secret.  They have Italian-American festivals in Florida.  You can attend one of these celebrations at the following locations: Clearwater, DelRay, Fort Walton Beach, Jupiter, Palm Coast, Port St. Lucie, Tampa, Tallahassee, Venice, and Vero Beach.

Why Sheriff Morgan Is A Racist

If you read through the statements from the National Italian American Foundation, Life In Italy, the New Jersey Leisure Guide, and the Festa Italiana Association, the following words pop out: "Italian American heritage and culture;" "legacy of Italian Americans;" "Italian culture;" "contributions of Italy;" and, "beauty of Italian culture."

Sheriff, the Italian-Americans descriptions of our feasts and festivals celebrate Italy and Italian culture and their identity as "Italian-American."  There is nothing in their mission statements about celebrating "America" or "American culture."  They may celebrate the contributions of Italian-Americans to America, but that is not the same thing as celebrating "American culture."  If you come from an Italian-American family, the first culture you learn about is Italian--especially if you come from New York City, a city filled with bustling and vibrant and colorful ethnic neighborhoods.

None of that means that Italian-Americans are not proud to be born in America or identify themselves also as "American."  It does not mean we have not also, like many Black Americans, served our country honorably and well.

But, your declaration that you "take issue with the title of African-American" is a straight forward racist statement.  You declared that it is "divisive in nature."

Do you also "take issue with the title of Italian-American"?  Are Italian-Americans with their festivals celebrating "ethnic pride" divisive?

Come on, Sheriff, speak up.  I can't hear you.

Ms. Morrissette wrote that it was not divisive to "take pride in heritage."

You take issue with the "title of African-American."


If instead of substituting "Nazi with Muslim" as you did, let me substitute "African-American" for "Italian-American;" "African culture" for "Italian culture;" and, "Africa" for "Italy."

That substitution is perfectly reasonable to me.

Does that substitution get you hot and bothered?  Does it bring out your inner Klan?  Does it make you want to tell the Black community "one more thing you know" about the problems in the "minority community."

Sheriff, beneath your badge beats the heart of a bigot.  You hide it well, but every once in a while the mask comes ajar, it slips, and we can see who you really are.

Concluding Observation

And, here's the last point I want you to remember.  You thought you could arrogantly belittle and harass the Black community with your statement, "First off, let me take issue with the title of African-American....Those sorts of terms that society has come to use are divisive in nature."

In your own little authoritarian world where everybody applauds your utterances as the statements of the Great Leader, you thought you were simply addressing the Black community.

No, Sheriff, you were addressing the Italian-American community.

And, you were addressing the Cuban-American community which sponsors their "Cuban-American Heritage Festival" in Key West, Florida, and the "Cuban-American Festival" in Miami, Florida, and the "Cuban-American Film Festival" in Coral Gables, not to mention all the professors and students and wealthy supporters of the "Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies."

Yes, Sheriff, if you ever decide to run for statewide office, I hope this CJ's Street Report becomes a political commercial for your opponent.  You thought you were insulting the Black community and could get away with it.  You have not.  The Black community has long known your racial biases.  They have been calling you out for days and years.  The news has gotten out around the country.

No, Sheriff, these "sorts of terms" includes the Italians and the Cubans and probably many other ethnic groups that have real pride in their history and their culture.

Choke on your words, Sheriff.  Choke on your words.  And watch your political career go into the toilet where it belongs.


Konovalov crewman [to Captain Tupolev]:  Torpedo, dead ahead!

Andrei Bonovia [to Captain Tupolev]:  You arrogant ass!  You've killed us.

Hunt for Red October (1990)

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