Dumb Guys Called Guido

November 29, 1993|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Five hundred and one years ago an Italian started American history, which, sensitive people say, has been a blood-soaked tale of unrelieved exploitation, racism, sexism, genocide, violation of the rights of old-growth forests, and victimization all around. But today the sensitive City University of New York awards Italian-Americans a coveted place on its affirmative-action list of official victims needing therapeutic preferences.

Strange. New York state has an Italian-American governor who is from New York City. And that city has an Italian-American mayor-elect. Yet the city university believes that Italian-Americans are oppressed. Professor Lawrence Castiglione, a founder of the Italian-American Legal Defense Fund, explains: ''The general image is that we are affiliated with organized crime and thuggery. People think Italian-Americans are anti-intellectual.''

Perhaps there ought to be a law against such images and thinking.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports: ''Italian-Americans admit they have never been burdened by racist laws and policies that have prevented other groups from advancing but they say they too carry particular burdens. Stereotypes persist of Italian-Americans as dumb guys named Guido with links to the Mafia. . . . Italian-American professors tell of colleagues asking them who their Godfather is and if they brought their brass

knuckles to class.''

Perhaps there ought to be a law against dumb jokes about dumb guys named Guido. Perhaps there is such a law. Today Italian-Americans' litigation about various grievances at CUNY is tangled as (is this insensitive?) linguine.

Turbulence occasioned by tender sensibilities is busting out all over. Consider the following offered survey, offered in the spirit of the holiday season, a time when we count our blessings, which may include not being a victim, or being one.

Last year Cincinnati's city council passed a human-rights ordinance forbidding discrimination on the basis of all the usual things -- race, sex, sexual preference, marital status, color, religion, national origin and disability status. But it added a new wrinkle: discrimination based on ''Appalachian regional origin.''

That means ''birth or ancestral origin from that area of the eastern United States consisting of the counties listed in the Appalachian Regional Origin Document'' kept on file by the council. If California had been as sensitive in the 1930s as everyone is today, it would have forbade discrimination based on ''Oklahoma origin.'' Okieism was then rampant.

The University of California, Riverside, recently suspended a fraternity for the offense of distributing, in conjunction with a ''south of the border'' party, T-shirts depicting, among other things, a man in a serape and sombrero, sitting on a beach with a bottle of tequila. This was judged an insensitive stereotype.

The fraternity challenged the suspension, citing the First Amendment and a new California statute protecting free speech on campuses. The university surrendered, and punished several administrators who suspended the fraternity. They were sentenced to undergo five hours of sensitivity training about the First Amendment, at the hands of a constitutional lawyer. People who applaud this mandatory consciousness-raising need their sensitivity to totalitarianism raised.

In Marietta, Georgia, the informal nickname of the Kennesaw State College ''Fighting Owls'' had been ''the Hooters.'' The basketball team played in ''the Hooterdome'' and baseball team at ''Hooter Field.'' The college has dropped the nickname now that it reminds sensitive people of a chain of restaurants where the waitresses' attire (T-shirts, orange shorts) is not calculated to cause patrons to think of women as Supreme Court justices.

The University of Illinois homecoming committee, practicing the central skill of college governance -- pre-emptive capitulation -- this year banned depictions of the university's venerable Indian symbol, ''Chief Illiniwek,'' from homecoming floats, lest offense be given.

Until 1972 they were the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Redmen. Deemed insensitive, the school's mascot was changed the Minuteman. Now advanced thinkers say: Are you kidding? A gun-toting white male militarist? Protests have been led by a black student who says the Minuteman ''is culturally biased and promotes racism.''

This student went on a four-day hunger strike that ended, according the Chronicle of Higher Education, when he and his mother and the school's chancellor ''went out for Italian food.'' It was, perhaps, a gastronomic gesture of solidarity with another victim group.

9- George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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