The GOP Has An Issue For The Midterms-- One Of Their Most Popular Old Standards: Racism
Can Great Pizza Be A Cure For Racism?
As Bernie noted last week:
not one single Republican will vote to permanently expand the $300 per child direct monthly payments for working families that reduced the childhood poverty rate by 40% but expired on December 15.
not one single Republican will vote to create millions of good paying jobs to combat the existential threat of climate change.
not one single Republican will vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
not one single Republican will vote to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision.
not one single Republican will vote to expand home health care, repeal the Trump tax cuts, pass paid family and medical leave, universal Pre-K and the right to organize.
He added "Let the American people see what is happening. Let the American people know there is a stark and clear choice between the parties. And then let the American people vote." The Republicans, however, have a very different approach. They are doing all they can to discourage voting-- particularly by groups viewed to be in favor of the positions Bernie listed. And beyond that, they are encouraging their voters by stoking the flames of fear and of their own favorite "issues," namely bigotry, racism, hatred... you know, everything that has come to define the conservative movement-for-the-masses over the last century.
This morning, Judd Legum looked into the tragic seriousness of one of the GOP's top issues-- book-banning, an offshoot of pervasive Republican Party cancel culture. They have a new phrase to howl about: Critical Race Theory. He wrote that "An acclaimed MLK-themed novel was removed from a 10th-grade English class in North Carolina. Haywood County Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte told Popular Information that he pulled the book, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, in a matter of hours after receiving one parent complaint. Nolte said he did not read the book-- or even obtain a copy-- prior to making the decision... Dear Martin 'tells the story of an Ivy League-bound African American student named Justyce who becomes a victim of racial profiling.' The book covers Justyce's 'experiences at his mostly White prep school and the fallout from his brief detainment.' In the book, Justyce's diary includes a letter to King in which Justyce explains how he sought to emulate the civil rights icon." The parent complained that the book includes dirty words and cited, among others he found offensive, "God damned." So no one gets to teach or read the book in the Haywood County school system, a county where 36% of the voters chose Biden and where the superintendent of schools is a notorious racist.
Writing for The Nation last week, Sasha Abramsky reported that "Since the summer of 2020, nearly 900 school districts around the country, covering 35 percent of K-12 students in the United States, have been roiled by campaigns against the teaching of critical race theory... Most of the school districts in which the local anti-CRT campaigns have picked up steam have two traits in common: They are racially diverse communities that have, over the past two decades, seen large drop-offs in the percentage of white students as demographic patterns shift; and they are in politically competitive districts where Republicans and Democrats both have a realistic chance at capturing the majority of votes... The report clearly shows just how opportunistic the GOP’s anti-CRT campaign is: how it’s tailored to serve as a wedge issue in districts that are politically up for grabs, and how it’s designed specifically to foster racial resentment and cultural anxiety in communities that have recently become, or are becoming, less white."
As a sign of a little national pushback against these crackpots, CNN reported this morning that "Within weeks of a Tennessee school district moving to ban Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel depicting the horrors of the Holocaust, readers are propelling it to the top of best seller lists more than 30 years after it was first published. The hardcover edition of The Complete Maus, which includes parts one and two of Art Spiegelman's opus, is topping Amazon's list of best-selling books, holding the No. 1 and No. 2 slots at different times Monday morning."
By chance, my old friend Ian Brennan, who lives in Italy now, sent me an NPR report he wrote that highlights a very different perspective on racism. His story is about an immigrant from Burkina Faso, Ibrahim Songne, who opened a pizzeria in Trento. It has been since been named one of the top 50 in the world. But it didn't start out so smoothly. Songne had been warned that "A Black man behind the counter will drive every customer away." And sure enough that was how the saga began. "[O]n the first day open, Ibrahim stood behind the counter and a middle-aged couple entered. Silently, the pair surveyed the pizza on display, he remembers. Then, he says, they likely assumed that someone of African descent didn't speak Italian, remarked, 'This pizza looks amazing. Too bad they let Black people work here' and left. Sounds like Haywood County. But now Songne's pizzeria is packed with customers everyday.
He says his pizza distinguishes itself due to the "intensity, texture and sense of experimentation."
Over the past decade, "crunch pizza" became a trend in northeastern Italy-- Crunch pizza customarily has a lightweight but multi-layered dough-- that is sometimes fried-- and makes a loud crunching noise when bitten into. Ibrahim has created a subtler version of this crispiness.
As for the experimental toppings, they reflect Songne's belief in Italy's zero kilometer food movement, using locally and seasonally available fresh ingredients whenever possible. Working side-by-side with his younger brother, Issouf, he changes the pizza menu daily and includes non-traditional ingredients like purple-potato cream, saffron and ceci bean (chickpea).
...Ibrahim's success is all the more notable given the history of Italy – and his home province.
Racism is part of the country's past and present.
During the renaissance, young African children referred to as mori ("the dark ones") were used as household slaves in wealthy Venice households. In recent years, Italians have hurled bananas at Italy's first Black governmental minister, Cécile Kyenge, and Italian-born and -raised soccer star, Mario Balotelli. In 2021, the national television network, RAI, refused to officially ban Blackface following an uproar over Blackface impersonations of Beyonce and other musicians.
Anti-immigrant sentiments also run strong.
Filomeno Lopes, one of the first and most prolific Italian African authors and a host on Radio Vaticana Italia (Vatican Radio), states, "Ibrahim dared to get out of the kitchen
• where behind closed doors immigrants clean dishes and furtively prepare the meals
• and instead to lead in a field that Italians consider their own. By doing so, he's forged a new path to citizenship."
Trentino presents its own challenges.
The current president of the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region is a member of the far-right, anti-immigration Lega Nord political party. The IBRIS storefront signs have been vandalized, and photos have appeared on social media of teenagers standing outside the restaurant and making obscene gestures.
Nonetheless, Ibrahim's contagiously positive personality and his speaking fluent Italian with what locals describe as a "perfect" Trentino accent has helped endear him. He has even mastered Trento's regional dialect-- and of course-- as his new pizza honors prove-- he's a maestro of the Italian pie.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, 52-year-old Alessandra Gelva sat huddled excitedly on one of the pizzeria's benches with her two teenage children and a friend.
"This pizza is beautiful. It is the only place we ever come for pizza. The toppings are so original. The pistachio is one of my favorites."
Another regular, Giuliana Passamani, 60, describes IBRIS' pizza crust as "superlative."
35-year-old Maria, who declined to give a reporter her last name, gushed that she "comes here three times a week from over an hour away. He is famous."
"Big things start little," says Ibrahim. "If given enough care and value, food can change the world. It's a bridge between people — a way to pleasurably experience something new. That experience then can lead to greater tolerance and understanding.
"Once they taste my pizza, all judgment disappears."